Rebels football:

UNLV secondary aims to step up this season with more big plays

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UNLV Athletics

UNLV sophomore cornerback Fred Wilson smiles in between drills at spring practice on Monday, April 8, 2013.

As bad as the final 2012 record looked, one could argue UNLV football was only a few plays away from something better. Maybe a couple more victories, which would mean a lot for a program with only six of them over the past three seasons.

The plays the Rebels did, or in a lot of cases didn’t, make defined their season. And unless UNLV is suddenly blowing people out or regresses to the point it’s not staying in games, a few plays could again determine the final tally at the end of the season.

Actually making those plays this time around will require a team effort, though when it comes down to the end, it’s often one or two guys who must step up. One candidate to be that guy on defense already has the nickname to go with it: Freddy “Big Play” Wilson could turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Few would ever consider “Big Play” synonymous with anyone in the secondary who contributed to the league’s second-worst pass defense last season, giving up 238.2 yards per game. Yet, there he is — Wilson, a sophomore cornerback, who realizes now he must do more than before to live up to the nickname bestowed on him by UNLV’s media relations department.

“That’s why I work harder every day, so I can live up to my name and live up to the hype,” Wilson said.

While pass defense starts upfront, it’s the secondary that will always get most of the credit or blame. That’s because they’re the ones who can be seen swatting the ball away in tight coverage or getting beat down the sideline for a big gain. And UNLV, at or near the bottom of the league in passing yards allowed for several years now, hasn’t had nearly enough of the highlights.

Even when the defense is in position, UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said, the results haven’t always gone the Rebels’ way.

“There are a lot of plays last year where we were right there and the receiver beat us to the ball,” Hauck said.

Add those up and you get UNLV’s 2-11 record. This year the Rebels are trying to improve that with essentially the same group in the secondary, including cornerback Sidney Hodge and safety Peni Vea. The two-deep roster again will likely include only one senior — last year it was Kenny Brown, this time it’s Hodge — so youth may once again be a hindrance, or at least a crutch.

“We’re still growing, still learning the game,” Wilson said.

What is different is the guy running the show on that side of the ball — Hauck’s brother, Tim Hauck. While schematically things aren’t much different, Wilson said practices have been more competitive this spring. And considering Bobby Hauck called competition the “No. 1 key to improvement,” that can’t hurt.

A redshirt sophomore out of Bakersfield, Calif., Wilson first watched a porous UNLV defense from the sidelines and then took part in it for a year, registering two interceptions, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery. He knows how things have been and, in the midst of an optimistic spring that wraps up with Friday’s final scrimmage, he feels it will be different this time.

“I think we’re getting way better than we were last year and the year before that,” Wilson said. “If we keep doing what we’re doing, we should be a dominant secondary by the time the season starts.”

That could be as simple as making a few more big plays, or “winning on the football” as Bobby Hauck calls it. Just like Wilson’s nickname, though, people will believe that when they see it.

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  1. I'll believe it when I see it. The secondary was atrocious last year.

  2. Funny thing is, the opposition will be calling all of these guys, "Big Play". Go Rebels!

  3. Hauck's quote: "There are a lot of plays last year where we were right there and the receiver beat us to the ball." -- Yeah, it's called getting burned, and yes there were A LOT of those. I too was right there Coach, in the bleachers, and the receiver beat me to the ball too. But I was right there.

    I wouldn't hand out a single nickname to any DB until they show they can make ANY play, let alone a BIG one.

    This secondary is still all talk. They were the worst piece of the team last year and looked flat out incompetent.