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UNLV football:

Rebels hope work in the kitchen will help their work on the field

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L.E. Baskow

UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez continues to motivate his players during a timeout versus San Diego State during their game at Sam Boyd Stadium on Friday, November 21, 2015.

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Volunteers prepare a breakfast of pancakes, eggs and turkey bacon for the UNLV football team in a makeshift kitchen inside the team's weight room on Friday, June 17, 2016.

Inside a cramped room that used to house random pads, weights and any other equipment lying around in the way, the Rebels are fueling up. The menu calls for eggs, and plenty of them.

“We prepare at least 10 dozen eggs (a day), and sometimes even more than that,” said football team nutrition coordinator Samantha Coogan.

Coogan and a rotating group of volunteers, mostly current or past nutrition students, comprise a newer piece of UNLV coach Tony Sanchez’s plan to up the ante for Rebel football. Two years ago, the NCAA ruled that athletic departments may feed their students, including walk-ons, as much as they want.

While Power 5 programs like Wisconsin and Oregon responded by putting millions into the food and facilities that athletes may access at any time, cash-strapped programs like UNLV have had to get creative. Sanchez began last year by clearing out the storage room in the team’s weight room at Lied Athletic Complex and making simple things like chocolate milk and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches more readily available.

Starting with this summer’s morning workouts, Coogan, a certified dietician who also works in UNLV’s nutrition department, was hired to ramp up the breakfast preparation that awaits players after intense offseason workouts.

“It’s another element of something they’ve never done here before,” Sanchez said. “There are resources here that we need to go out of our way to find on campus.”

Keith Belton, the Rebels’ gregarious strength coach, went around campus trying to create relationships that would benefit the team. At the nutrition department, he found natural allies who understand how impactful a better diet could be for an athlete.

“They’ve been phenomenal for us,” Belton said. “We have to be able to even the playing field, and it all starts with nutrition.”

Coogan and her crew make food for about 77 people and the menu usually offers a main dish of pancake and eggs or a breakfast burrito, plus sides like oatmeal or cereal. Players who need to bulk up can get an extra serving or a protein shake while the big fellas are encouraged to grab some fruit instead.

The room is filled with snacks available to them all day, but the Rebels focus on preparing a good breakfast for the same reason your mother told you to eat before getting on the school bus: breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

“Typically, if you make better choices at the start of the day you’ll continue to make better choices for the rest of the day,” Coogan said. “It’s kind of our goal to make sure they start their day off right, and then it’s that trickle-down effect.”

Not only do they hope this helps lead to healthier choices later, but it’s simply an integral part of fueling an athlete. What a person consumes after a workout largely affects how effective that workout will be to the body.

“We push these guys so hard that it’s important he help them recover properly,” Belton said. “… I can’t expect for these kids to gain weight and get stronger if I’m not going to do my part and Sam’s not going to do her part to help these kids recover.”

With only a griddle and a dual stove top, it’s a modest kitchen, no doubt, but it’s more than UNLV had before. And the Rebels are hopeful that they can do more by the season, like installing some permanent kitchen equipment and creating a little more elbow room to crack a few more eggs.

“We have a ways to go with it but it’s a first step in the right direction,” Sanchez said. “This gives our guys an opportunity, and as we go forward and we talk about building facilities and building dining halls and doing things like this, we can really take that to another level.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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