Wednesday, July 27, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Before each season, Bobby Hauck heads up with his family to their cabin in Kalispell, Mont.
While in Northwest Montana, he'll waterski, get in some fly fishing and, in general, just try to decompress.
"Once Aug. 1 hits, there's not a day off, besides Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, until signing day (in February)," he said.
He just returned from this summer's trip on Monday, and it was immediately back to reality, as Tuesday he was peppered with questions about his team's youth and inexperience in several key areas at the annual Mountain West Conference football media day.
Whether it's on defense, at quarterback or on the offensive line, there's a realistic approach that needs to be taken heading into the 2011 campaign.
"This is a young, young group," said Hauck, whose team was picked by the league's media to finish next to last this season. "Again, it's a glass is half-full, glass is half-empty thing. I think we're talented; I just think we're very youthful.
"We'll find a way to hold up. We'll get better every week, and it's got a chance to be a really good group down the road."
Breaking down the roster, UNLV has almost as many freshmen (31) as it has juniors and seniors combined (34).
On offense, most of the focus will be on the quarterback race throughout fall practice, which likely will be similar to last year's battle between Omar Clayton and Mike Clausen. When it comes to experience, sophomore Caleb Herring has a significant leg up on junior college transfer Sean Reilly and freshmen Nick Sherry and Taylor Barnhill. He appeared in eight games last season for the 2-11 Rebels, completing 50 percent of his passes for 365 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. The longer Hauck holds out on a decision, the more he'll likely see out of all of the candidates throughout camp.
Competition will be just as intense on the offensive line, but experience is, believe it or not, even more scarce up there.
"The problem we have there is we may be the only team in the country that doesn't have a senior offensive lineman on the roster," Hauck said. "Which is a little bit eye-opening. We could potentially start four freshmen, which is interesting, to say the least."
While Hauck and his staff, — mostly due to injuries to upperclassmen — had to play several younger guys last season who may not have been ready for the spotlight, one area where they were able to restrain themselves was on the offensive line. Even as the veteran unit struggled, they resisted the urge to burn redshirts.
The downside is that promising freshmen such as Cameron Jefferson, Brett Boyko, Brian Roth and Robert Waterman could be starters come Sept. 4 with no Division-I experience. But on a unit where chemistry is crucial, they could all have the chance to form a special unit together, even if it takes some time and is frustrating along the way.
One area where UNLV can consider itself strong is in the offensive skill categories, with a healthy stable of receivers and running backs. But their effectiveness also hinges a good amount on the line's ability to hold strong.
"You can gauge potential, but you can't know how they're going to develop," Hauck said. "All of those guys have a chance to be really good players, so that's a good nucleus. If we fast-forward to 48 months from now, or even 24 months from now, we might be going, 'Wow, that's the strength of our football team.' That's what I really hope.
"But right now, they're all freshmen. And they have to play."
And then there's the defense.
The negative is that the Rebels only return four defensive starters, but the positive is that things can't get much worse on that side of the ball than they were a year ago.
UNLV ranked 109th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams last season in total defense, allowing 450.46 yards per game. They were tied for 115th with only 12 quarterback sacks in 13 games. Their 39.69 points allowed per games clocked in at 116th.
But the schedule isn't much easier.
UNLV will face a bevy of high-powered offenses in Mountain West play alone, but the non-conference slate includes Wisconsin, Hawaii and Nevada-Reno, which all ranked in the Top 10 nationally last season in points scored.
"Offensively, you get to choose what you do," Hauck said. "Defensively, you either make plays or you don't, and you've got to be good enough on defense. The No. 1 thing in terms of us growing this program to what it needs to be is we've got to get better on defense."
The defensive player that Hauck brought with him to media day is not a returning starter from 2010, but did start 31 games from 2007-09 — senior defensive back Quinton Pointer.
Pointer missed all but one snap last season with a torn ACL. While healing, all he could do was watch as the Rebels got huge point totals hung up on them seemingly every week.
"It's all about pride," he said. "(Last year) was very tough. Me, personally, I struggled with it at the beginning of the year, seeing them struggle and not being able to help them out. You'd have young guys who were out there getting experience, but they weren't really ready."
To boot, UNLV will play seven of its 12 games this fall on the road, where they went 0-7 last season and were beaten by an average margin of 34.7 points.
Hauck on Tuesday at least looked the part of a man who'd had his rest of late.
With the growing pains that likely lie ahead over the next few months, he'll be glad he got it when he could.