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Brandon Presley emerges from spring practice as playmaker for UNLV football

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L.E. Baskow

UNLV Rebels wide receiver Brandon Presley (80) secures touchdown pass over BYU Cougars defensive back Chris Wilcox (32) during their football game at Sam Boyd Stadium on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017.

If there’s one UNLV football player poised to take a star turn at Saturday’s spring showcase, it’s junior wide receiver Brandon Presley.

There are a bunch of reasons why Presley figures to be the breakout performer at the scrimmage. Some of it is circumstantial — senior running back Lexington Thomas will see a light workload, and sophomore quarterback Armani Rogers will be wearing a non-contact jersey, so their highlight opportunities could be limited — but mostly, it’s because Presley is primed to become a key big-play threat in the Rebels’ offense.

As a sophomore last year, it took Presley about half the season to find his stride. After making just 15 catches over the first seven games, the shifty 6-footer finished strong, racking up 19 catches for 328 yards and two touchdowns over the final five weeks. For the year, he tied Devonte Boyd for the team lead with 34 catches, while his 552 receiving yards ranked second among the Rebels.

With Boyd’s graduation, Presley is being elevated to an even bigger role in UNLV’s burgeoning passing attack. That’s why he came into the spring practice season looking to fine-tune his skills and make himself a trusted security blanket for Rogers.

“I had goals for specific routes I wanted to get better at,” Presley said, “like stop routes and comebacks. I had very bad pad level last year, so I was really working on my pad level. And just attacking the ball more and making more competitive catches instead of just the wide open ones. I think I’ve done a pretty good job this spring of making those competitive catches.”

Head coach Tony Sanchez has seen Presley make those improvements, and that’s why Sanchez is comfortable projecting big things for his top receiver in 2018.

“He’s a guy that we truly believe can be one of those elite Mountain West players,” Sanchez said. “He’s got elite speed, he’s probably the most natural ball catcher we have on the team. He’s really smooth in the way he does it.

“Pressley is a guy we really trust,” he continued, “and we know we have to get the ball in his hands a bunch of times on Saturdays if we want to win football games.”

UNLV struggled in passing situations last season, but Presley believes the Rebels will have a receiving corps capable of breaking games open in 2018.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily just me, but the way that I’ve been making plays lately, it’s definitely a good thing to get the ball in my hands. But we have plenty of other guys that can do a lot of good things. Distributing the ball all around the field is going to also help me get open and get the catches that I need and be successful.”

Presley has been a standout through four weeks of practice, and he wants to finish strong on Saturday. He plans to approach the scrimmage with full intensity, which means a standout performance is likely in the forecast.

“It’s a live scrimmage, but we treat it like a game,” Presley said. “The defense is going to be going hard. We don’t get many opportunities to go live, so this is a great opportunity for the defense to show us how well they can cover and tackle and it’s our chance to show them how well we can make our moves, our cuts, our blocks. It’s definitely going to be a competitive spring game.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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