Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009 | 6:44 p.m.
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Steve Silver and Ray Brewer analyze the 2009 National Signing Day with a view from the valley.
Five local players were among the UNLV 2009 recruiting class released at Wednesday's news conference, tying the most ever in Rebels history and the most since Mike Sanford's initial class in 2005.
With more than 50 high schools in the valley to draw talent from, Sanford said he hopes to continue using the area as a pipeline in the future.
"It's a high priority for us," Sanford said. "One of the things we've said from the beginning is we are the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. That's our home and we're going to recruit our home. We have a coach in [Kris] Cinkovich who used to be a high school coach and recruits specifically Southern Nevada. We offered 11 guys from the area scholarships and got five of them, and we feel that's pretty good."
Cheyenne's Marcus Sullivan, Palo Verde's Sidney Hodge, Spring Valley's Nate Holloway and Bishop Gorman's Charles Childers and John Therrell make up the group of players who won't travel far to join the Rebels' roster next season.
The players could have an immediate impact on the team as many of them fall into one of the top two priorities Sanford had for this class -- adding defensive backs and speed. Hodge, Childers and Therrell were among eight defensive backs signed by the Rebels. Therrell led the state in interceptions with eight. Sullivan, who will lineup as a versatile back for the Rebels, was specifically identified by Sanford to have the breakaway speed the team has been looking for.
"Sullivan was a little under the radar and he had a tremendous year," Sanford said. "He's going to be a H-back, someone we're going to pitch to and hand off to. We'll throw it to him and we may even let him throw it. He's very fast, he took sixth in the state in the 200 meters. He's one of the fastest guys in the state of Nevada."
All five players received interest from other schools, but expressed the desire to stay close to family was a main reason for becoming a Rebel.
Despite moving around between Washington, Utah and Nevada the last four years, Holloway's parents said they would follow him wherever he chose to play. After a visit to UNLV's campus in mid-December, the defensive lineman told his family he wasn't going to be moving them again.
"My parents told me they would have moved wherever I went, but we've been moving around so much I didn't want to make them move anymore," said Holloway, who received interest from Oregon State and TCU. "My mom wants to keep me in her sights. I think it makes it more exciting, people are already making T-shirts, buying season tickets and getting excited to see me play. I know that I'll have a lot of support when I'm on that football field."
Hodge, who will actually grayshirt and not join the team until 2010, also chose UNLV only after talking about it with his family.
"They've been with me since Day 1, I couldn't go out and make a decision on my own without them," Hodge said. "The played a big factor in it. We had a good talk with coach Cinkovich, he's close to my dad. They made their interest real clear, they were straight forward and honest with me."
According to Sanford, another reason players may have chose UNLV may lie in the recent success of local athletes in the Rebels program, listing current receiver Phillip Payne and linebackers Nate Carter and Ronnie Palo as local players making an impact for the program.
"I think one thing that has happened is that there has been some local players who have had success in the program," Sanford said. "[Receiver] Phillip Payne, [linebackers] Nate Carter and Ronnie Palo, I could go on and on. I think that's helped us recruit these players."
The Rebels will receive the services of other local players in the form of walk-ons this fall.
Green Valley quarterback Nick Libonati is one of a handful of players who have received preferred-walk-on invitations, meaning they have a spot on the team but won't receive financial help for it. Some of these players will take advantage of the Millennium Scholarship, which offers Nevada students with a 3.0 GPA or higher financial help to attend college.
"If you have good grades, the Millennium Scholarship gives you money towards school," Libonati said. "It definitely helped my decision to walk on. I thought about playing at a junior college but I think UNLV is definitely the right choice."
Although walk-ons typically make up practice squads, Libonati, who has lived in Las Vegas his entire life, hasn't given up on his dream to play for the Rebels.
"They already have two guys ahead of me and I'll be a freshman," Libonati said. "But after that we'll see - crazy stuff happens. It's going to be different, but I think it's going to be fun. I've been able to watch from the sidelines before, and doing that as a player is a really good opportunity."
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or firstname.lastname@example.org.