Friday, Aug. 12, 2011 | 7 p.m.
In each of his two fall camps at UNLV, which position Taylor Spencer has found himself at was a result of a numbers game.
The former Bishop Gorman standout, after playing defense in only his senior year with the Gaels, was put at safety coming in last season as a freshman. After redshirting, he was moved back to wide receiver.
The move looked like a natural one, and Rebels coach Bobby Hauck completely agrees with that assessment.
"Basically, it suits his personality a little better," Hauck said. "He's always been a little bit of an offensive guy. Last year, when we watched him, he showed a willingness to tackle and those type of things, but we're a little more short-handed at wide receiver and have also been able to shore it up on the defensive side in terms of the numbers.
"(It's the right move) when you talk about trying to get your best guys on the field, availability of playing time and a chance to move up the depth chart."
True to form, it looks early on like the soft-spoken and far-from-flashy Spencer will be a serious contender for playing time within a young and relatively inexperienced corps of receivers. Outside of senior stalwarts Phillip Payne — who is mending from a broken foot — and Michael Johnson, playing time is completely up for grabs.
The staff approached Spencer about switching back to his natural position towards the end of last season, while Spencer was still watching home games on the sidelines as a redshirt.
"At first, I was like, "I just went through a whole camp and the whole year on defense, great,'" he said with a smile. "But it was good. I was just happy I could help the team as much as I can.
"I've just got to get theta plays down, get things in sync with the quarterbacks and it should be a pretty good year."
Through the first week of fall camp, Spencer is running with the second offensive unit and has already made some nice plays in team drills, including a touchdown grab on Tuesday morning on a pass down the middle from Sean Reilly.
Still, though, he's donning a blue practice jersey, as Spencer is at the tail end of his recovery from a broken left leg suffered after spring ball concluded. While running a route in a conditioning drill, he got tangled up with a teammate and went down.
"The toughest thing right now is just getting the strength back," he said. "I feel fast. I'm running 100 percent. I just have to get my stamina back."
Local fans know quite well what Spencer is capable of when running at his peak.
As a senior at Gorman in 2009, he helped the Gaels capture a state championship, catching 19 passes for 424 yards and five touchdowns. The year before, he had 26 grabs for 585 yards and 10 scores, but one possible reason for the minor drop-off as a senior was because he was also playing defense for the first time under first-year coach Tony Sanchez. On that side of the ball, he picked off seven passes, including a 54-yard score off of an interception in the state title game.
"When we watched him, we thought he was a guy who could play on one side (of the ball) or the either," Hauck said. "A year ago, we were so short-handed on defense in terms of numbers, we wanted to give him a look over there first."
Athletically, it was clear that Spencer could hold his own on defense. But he so far has looked like much more of a natural fit at receiver instead of playing the role of a head-hunting safety.
How much success he has at UNLV may also have a strong impact on how well Hauck is able to continue recruiting top talent from Las Vegas.
As a senior for the Gaels, Spencer emerged as a top recruiting target for former Mountain West powerhouse Utah, and for a while, it appeared highly likely that that's where he'd end up. When Hauck was hired in December 2009, Spencer became an immediate priority for him at UNLV. He won out, and when Spencer committed, it definitely made some heads turn.
Now back at his natural position, Spencer hopes that he can be a better help in Hauck fulfilling the vision he originally pitched to him for his hometown program.
"I'm so glad that I picked (UNLV)," he said. "Coming in with him, it boosted my confidence, knowing that I'm one of his recruits. Hopefully I can help turn the program around."