UNLV FOOTBALL:

Marcus Sullivan’s star has only grown since scary injury at West Virginia

Former Cheyenne standout already a special teams star, now hopes for expanded role as wide receiver

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Steve Marcus

Wide receivers Marcus Sullivan (#18) and Phillip Payne (#4) take a short break during the first day of Spring practice at Rebel Park on the UNLV campus Monday, February 28, 2011.

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ELY — What was already a promising freshman season looked like it was coming to a painful, abrupt halt for Marcus Sullivan on an October afternoon last year in West Virginia.

Late in a 49-10 blowout loss to the Mountaineers, Sullivan was going up for a ball in the end zone, but while watching the pass in, he was blasted in the chest by a West Virginia safety and left lying on the turf for several minutes before being carted off.

Sullivan would be hospitalized briefly before returning to Las Vegas.

Then he only missed two games before returning.

"That injury I had last year, it gave me motivation to come back stronger and work harder," he said. "It's football, and things will happen."

When that happened, it changed Sullivan as a player and made him even more fearless. His star has only grown since then.

Sullivan would catch touchdowns in each of his first two games back from injury, but it was the fourth game back that proved to be the highlight of his 2010 campaign. In a home loss to San Diego State, Sullivan returned six kicks for a school record 224 yards, earning Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honors as a result.

In 11 games, Sullivan set both UNLV and Mountain West single-season records with 35 kick return attempts for 976 yards. His 27.9 yards per return average ranked 17th nationally in the Football Bowl Subdivision ranks.

Arguably UNLV's fastest player, Sullivan's speed made him a constant weapon on special teams, and that will again be the case in 2011. But now that speed will apparently be applied more on offense, too.

"He's sure had a nice camp," coach Bobby Hauck said. "Obviously, as he evolves as a player, a big part of it is the mental part, and the more he can handle, the more he's going to get."

His solid impression made in camp to this point at receiver has come while running mostly with the No. 1 offense. He's provided what has felt like a daily highlight involving him turning a short gain into a lengthy jaunt by blowing past defensive teammates.

Last year, he caught six passes for 102 yards and the aforementioned two scores, and from the look of it, those numbers could pale in comparison to his 2011 output.

Before grayshirting the 2009 season to get his grades straight, he was the Sunset Division's Offensive Player of the Year as a senior at Cheyenne in 2008. Most of his damage came as a running back, racking up 1,626 yards and 22 touchdowns on only 112 carries. But in the last game of his Desert Shields career, he showed how versatile his speed could make him. In the Sunset semifinals, he nearly willed Cheyenne to an upset of Bishop Gorman in his first start at quarterback, throwing for 99 yards and two scores while rushing for 167 and another TD.

While it's almost guaranteed that he won't take any snaps under center this year, he'll touch the ball in a variety of ways. Sullivan's speed makes him a downfield threat, and he'll also likely see plenty of looks on short routs and even some handoffs on reverses.

He'll try to avoid those crushing blows in the process, but if his production late last season was any indication, he won't be worrying about them anyway.

"I've set high expectations for my sophomore year — more catches and more touchdowns," the 5-foot-9 weapon said. "I've just got to lock in more, be noticeable, see what's around me and know the game better."

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