REBELS FOOTBALL:

Having Marcus Sullivan back in the return game makes UNLV instantly better

The Cheyenne High product set a UNLV and Mountain West Conference record for kick return yards as a freshman in 2010

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Steve Marcus

UNLV wide receiver Marcus Sullivan pulls down a pass during practice at Rebel Field Monday, March 12, 2012.

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Marcus Sullivan can’t help feeling he let his UNLV football teammates down.

Sullivan, the Rebels’ dynamic kick returner and wide receiver, was forced to miss last fall while academically ineligible. UNLV finished with just two victories — a result the 5-foot-9, 195-pound speedster from Cheyenne High in North Las Vegas feels would have been different if he was returning kicks.

This year, he plans on making up for lost time. The Rebels are in the middle of their spring practices, which run through a showcase scrimmage on April 20.

“My first goal is to get us to a bowl game,” Sullivan said. “(Sitting out) gave me big motivation to come back and help my team out.”

With Sullivan in the lineup returning kicks, the Rebels are instantly better.

As a freshman in 2010, he ranked second in the Mountain West Conference and 17th nationally in averaging 27.9 yards per kickoff return. His 976 return yards and 35 return attempts set UNLV and Mountain West records. And, against San Diego State, Sullivan set a school record with 224 kickoff return yards, including returns of 60 and 73 yards.

“He is explosive. He has good top-end speed. He has good acceleration, good change of direction, and he sees things,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. “In addition to that, he is fearless. He hits (the return hole) hard.”

Sullivan will be more than a kick returner next fall. He’s also penciled in as one of the team’s top receivers.

In a wide receiver unit that lacks depth and experience, Sullivan’s production in the offense might be more important than when he returns kicks. It's a challenge he’s embraced in spring workouts and has often excelled at in drills.

“With (Phillip Payne) gone, it’s my time to step up for the team and be a leader,” said Sullivan, who caught six passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns in 2010. “As a unit, I would say we are pretty strong — stronger than people think, with Phil being gone. We have a young group and we work hard every day. Now, it has to show up on the field.”

Sullivan spent last season on the practice squad, giving him plenty of time to think about the path his career was headed. If he couldn’t fulfill his obligations in the classroom, he wouldn’t get the chance to capitalize on the solid freshman season.

“Anytime you get games taken away from you for any reason, you get the message that those opportunities are precious,” Hauck said. “He’s come back with renewed vigor. He practiced hard last fall when he was on the scout (team) and did some good things. Hopefully, that makes him better.”

If the initial four workouts of spring practice are any indication, Sullivan has received the message. It’s just the spring, but he’s made a few exceptional plays at wide receiver that display the athletic ability UNLV desperately missed last year.

“It was pretty hard last year because, in my mind, I knew my team needed me,” Sullivan said. “I have unfinished business. It’s my job to get us to a bowl game.”

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

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  1. Hopefully, Sullivan won't have to return so many kicks this year. Setting records is all fine and good, but with as many kick return attempts, it's terrible that our D is giving up so many points. In any case, Keep up the explosiveness and hard work Sullivan. I hope you flourish as a receiver.