Nati Harnik / Associated Press
Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Quarterback Johnny Stanton went from being a four-star high school football recruit in 2013 to not seeing the field in a failed two-year stint at Nebraska.
Tony Sanchez went from winning six straight high school state championships and a mythical national title at Bishop Gorman to a three-win season last fall at UNLV.
Sanchez needs a quarterback to help turn the Rebel program into a winner, piecing it together in his inaugural season with one quarterback who battled constant injuries and another who struggled in the passing game. Stanton needs a second chance.
It’s a perfect match.
After resurrecting his career this fall at Saddleback College, passing for more than 3,000 yards and accounting for 37 touchdowns, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Stanton found himself back in position to lead a Division I team. He’s one of about six from the junior college ranks expected to sign a letter of intent today with the Rebels, helping fill holes in the lineup — especially on defense — and potentially contributing immediately.
Stanton, who as a high school senior in Southern California had scholarship offers from the likes of Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin, was quickly sold on Sanchez’s message about transforming the program. He, and most of the other transfers, will enroll in January and take part in spring practice.
“If you think about what a coach can do to turn around a program and all the pieces that need to be in place, coach Sanchez is doing a good job getting the pieces together,” Stanton said. “He’s rebranding the program.”
Stanton left Nebraska last June after he slipped to fifth on the depth chart. After redshirting in 2013, he was the third-string quarterback the following year, and completed one pass for six yards in mop-up duty against Florida Atlantic.
Whether it was a lack of game action and quality practice reps, or even a lack of confidence, Stanton needed a fresh start far away from Nebraska. Back in California at Saddleback, he got that and more — he finally played like a can’t-miss quarterback prospect.
Saddleback lost its initial two games of the season before going on a 10-game winning streak to reach the California state championship game. A dual-threat quarterback, Stanton completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,168 yards and 25 touchdowns, and rushed for 705 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“It was humbling for me, for sure,” he said of his run at Nebraska. “I was never one of those guys who was into marketing myself. But when you come in with all of the excitement and expectations from the fans, there’s a certain expectation. If it’s anyone’s fault I didn’t have success there, it’s mine.”
His time at Nebraska should help the transition to UNLV. Rebel offensive coordinator Barney Cotton and offensive line coach John Garrison were both on Nebraska’s staff through the 2014 season. Some of the terminology and plays in UNLV’s offense mirror those of when Stanton was learning the Nebraska playbook.
That should give him the edge in competing for the starter position with Kurt Palandech, who as a sophomore last season passed for 794 yards and nine touchdowns in relief of the injured Blake Decker. But Palandech was more of a runner, and struggled passing the ball, forcing Sanchez to find a junior college quarterback who could contribute immediately.
Sanchez can’t speak on midyear transfers until February when high school recruits have their signing day, but it’s safe to assume Stanton will be given every chance to win the job.
“A lot of the offense I am very familiar with and will be able to pick up right away when I get there,” Stanton said. “It’s not the same offense (as Nebraska’s), but a different version with some of the same qualities and plays.”
Help is also on the way to help the UNLV defense, which ranked 109th nationally out of 128 teams last season in points surrendered at 33.7 points per game. Junior college linebacker Brian Keyes (Scottsdale CC), three-star defensive back Robert Jackson (College of the Sequoias) and defensive back Michael Adams (Laney CC) will compete immediately for playing time. All commitments are provided by Rivals.com.
Others expected to sign today include three-star tight end Tim Holt of Fullerton College in California and offensive lineman Michael Chevalier of Mesa College in Arizona.
The group is part of 14 players committed to Sanchez’s 2016 signing class, which could wind up with more than 20 players.