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July 18, 2018

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

UNLV football borrows Strip magician to present walk-on scholarship

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Ray Brewer / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV football’s Ammir Aziz hugs coach Tony Sanchez after learning he was put on scholarship on Friday, April 13, 2018.

Ammir Aziz thought his Friday couldn’t get any better when, during his early morning shift working security at the MGM Grand, he was introduced to country music star Blake Shelton.

Aziz is no stranger to Shelton’s lyrics, frequently singing them and other songs to his UNLV football teammates.

“Ask any of the guys, I love to sing,” he said.

Aziz, as he does most mornings, left work about 5 a.m. and headed to campus for spring practice and classes. He is a walk-on defensive lineman who has played just a handful of snaps in three seasons.

But coaches say he’s a valuable member of the team, nonetheless, and deeply respected by his teammates. That’s because of what the 6-foot-6, 335-pound senior endures to be a Rebel reserve.

Take Friday, for instance.

Even though Aziz was only a few hours removed from finishing a 13-hour work shift, he was still full of enthusiasm at practice. He’s also maintained a 3.0 GPA and is on track to graduate next spring with a degree in sociology.

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Magician Farrell Dillon, left, from the Masters of Illusion show at Bally’s helped UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez, right, present defensive lineman Ammir Aziz a scholarship after practice on Friday, April 13, 2018.

When practice ended, Aziz’s day got better with the help of another Strip performer.

Coach Tony Sanchez arranged for magician Farrell Dillon from the Masters of Illusion show at Bally’s to perform for the players.

Dillon, who donated his time, asked for the biggest Rebel to assist him, and the players all yelled, “Aziz.” At the end of the act, there was an envelope with Aziz’s name on it. He opened it to find a message: “Congratulations on a full ride scholarship.”

Within seconds, he was swarmed by his teammates in celebration.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Aziz said. “This is such a blessing. I am blessed to be on this team. I have 100 brothers on this team. I would take a bullet for every one of them.”

The scholarship will cover Aziz’s tuition, room and board for his final year. More important, he’ll no longer need to work the graveyard shift to make ends meet.

This is the third walk-on Sanchez has awarded a scholarship during his four years at UNLV. When he put Dalton Baker on scholarship two years ago, Sanchez did an elaborate presentation on the big screen at Sam Boyd Stadium.

That announcement went viral, even finding its way to ESPN’s College Game Day. This one may also.

“It is Vegas. We can do cooler stuff than anybody,” Sanchez said. “There were a lot of ideas, but it’s hard to incorporate 105 guys into that. This worked out perfectly.”

Aziz, whose parents live out of the country, has worked since he was a teenager at Durango High School to help support himself. During an evening shift at Little Caesars four years ago, he was spotted by a UNLV assistant coach on a dinner run.

The Rebels, in Sanchez’s initial spring, were short on linemen for practice. This big body working the pizza counter, a few months removed from playing in high school, would help fill the gap.

Little did the coaches know what type of person they were getting in Aziz. His personality is infectious, his work ethic unmatched.

“He never had expectations of being on a scholarship,” Sanchez said. “It shows everyone out there that it is not always about (football), it is about doing the right thing every single day.”

The balancing act of school, football and work isn’t easy. But quitting was never an option for Aziz — a mentality he credits Sanchez for helping instill.

“He established GATA in my life. You have to get after it,” Aziz said, referring to the acronym for Sanchez’s catchphrase: Get after them aggressively.

The Rebels have improved their win total by one game in each of Sanchez’s seasons but still fell one win shy of qualifying for a bowl last season. This season will be different, Aziz said.

If his journey has taught him anything, it’s that the reward for hard work isn’t always instant.

“We have the talent. We have everything we need to win,” he said. “We are a snap here and there away from winning, you know? Honestly, this year I think we will take it all. We have the talent. We have the brotherhood.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 702-990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21

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