Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 | 2 a.m.
We are starting to see a shift in how local high school players view the UNLV football program.
The days of recruits looking down on playing for the University of Never Leave Vegas are starting to fade because the modern-day Rebels have significantly more to offer.
When you are two seasons away from moving into an NFL stadium, and expected to break ground next month on a state-of-the-art training facility, there’s plenty to get excited about.
Oblad is Tony Sanchez’s most important get in four years on the recruiting trail and the most celebrated local to stay home since John Ford and Dyante Perkins more than 15 years ago. Anyone remember them?
The three-star recruit Oblad wasn’t as heavily sought after as current quarterback Armani Rogers of California, and other Sanchez recruits have filled more pressing needs in the program. But by buying into the message of becoming the “hometown hero,” Oblad could pave the way for others, especially others with better offers, to follow.
Oblad isn’t any ordinary recruit.
There’s the obvious: The 6-foot-2 pocket passer helped Liberty move into the national top 25 with wins against ranked opponents from Texas, Arizona and Hawaii and surpassed more than 11,000 career yards to establish a new Nevada record.
And the not so obvious: Oblad is very popular with his peers — a leader, not a follower. The Twitter post announcing his commitment has more than 1,200 likes, and it was clear other locals admired his decision.
They are starting to realize how significant it will be to become part of the scarlet and gray when they run onto the field for the first game in 2020 at the new stadium shared with the Raiders. They see plans for the on-campus Fertitta Football Complex, a 73,000-square-foot building that will be the top complex in the Mountain West, and realize better days are ahead for the Rebels.
There are about 20 locals on the roster, including returning starters such as Jaron Caldwell and Farrell Hester who have played as true freshmen. All of the starters on the offensive line, including 2018 recruit Eric Brown of Green Valley and Washington State transfer Keenen King (Arbor View grad), could be locals.
Sanchez tells anyone willing to listen that this is Las Vegas' program, and Las Vegas' program must have locals as its leaders. He puts the players on billboards, makes them team captains, picks them for media events and coordinates community outreach projects for them to participate in.
Sure, kids are still going to leave town for the college experience, because getting away from mom and dad always will be attractive for teenagers. And kids recruited to play for the likes of USC and Ohio State, programs with multiple locals, surely can’t say no.
That’s what makes Oblad’s commitment so significant. He wants to play for Las Vegas and have the college experience at home. He’s buying into the future and confident he can flip the narrative when describing the program that’s played in just four all-time bowl games.
That narrative will soon include locals taking a longer look at UNLV. And if Oblad’s college career mirrors his high school achievement, the Rebels could have a few more bowl-game trips.