Rebels football:

Senior running back wants to be the one to turn around UNLV football

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Courtesy UNLV Athletics

UNLV seniors Tim Cornett, left, and Tim Hasson answer questions about the upcoming football season at Mountain West media day at the Cosmopolitan on Monday, July 22, 2013.

Tim Cornett would like to place more responsibilities and expectations on his shoulders. Because following offseason surgery for a torn labrum and chipped rotator cuff in his left shoulder, the senior running back is confident he can handle the extra weight.

“If I can get the ball every play, I know what I bring to the table and I know my want-to,” Cornett said. “That would be easier.”

Easier than leaving the workload up to anyone else. It’s not that Cornett, one of UNLV’s representatives at the Cosmopolitan for the 2013 Mountain West football media days, doesn’t trust his teammates. He does. Just not as much as he trusts himself, and with one year left, Cornett doesn’t want to leave the fate of this season up to anyone else.

He’s willing to put his body on the line because he believes the team is close enough to turning some type of corner and his sacrifice will result in more than another two-win season. Prognosticators seem to agree, though no one’s predicting major changes.

UNLV was picked to finish fifth in the new West division, ahead of only Hawaii and trailing rival UNR. Fresno State was picked to win the division while Boise State received 40 of 41 first-place votes in the Mountain division. Both of those teams placed several players on the preseason All-Mountain West team. UNLV had none.

At the LVH, UNLV’s season win total was listed at 3.5, up one from the past two seasons. And there’s heavy juice on the over, urging detractors to bet the under.

Going over that number would require a few early-season victories on a schedule that seemingly gets harder as the year goes on. Last year, foundation victories like that instead resulted in three straight defeats to open the season, losing by three, three and eight.

“Slow progress is better than no progress,” Cornett said. “In 2011, the (losses) would have been by 13, 13 and 24.”

That’s the way the Rebels see it because if they judged themselves only by wins and losses, it would be difficult to keep showing up for work. They believe things will be better this year, and senior linebacker Tim Hasson is OK if you don’t believe the same.

“They don’t have anything to be excited about,” Hasson said of UNLV football fans.

Changing that requires more than losing close. Some of those need to be wins, and in a conference suddenly loaded with quarterback talent, that’s going to put an extra strain on first-year defensive coordinator Tim Hauck’s system.

And on offense, the game plan starts with Cornett, just like he wants it. Cornett said he knows he will have to take some rest during the season and that a two-back system with Northwestern transfer Adonis Smith is best for the long term. But that doesn’t mean he’ll ever come out willingly, not after a season that was very productive despite being filled with pain.

Cornett said he tore his labrum in the first game against Minnesota and then chipped his rotator cuff in the season finale at Hawaii. In between, he dealt with the shoulder pain as best he could, some days participating in every practice drill and some days skipping a few.

The only fix for his injury was surgery, and since Cornett didn’t want to miss the season, he simply endured. Close games pumped up his adrenaline and made it easier to play, though sometimes it didn’t matter and he simply couldn’t play.

It’s those memories, and the thought that this is his last chance to leave a meaningful legacy at UNLV, motivating Cornett to be on the field for every play possible. Even when he’s not entirely healthy, Cornett was the Rebels’ best weapon.

With a repaired shoulder, Cornett wants to reassert that position. If he can’t be out there for every play, he at least wants to be there for the most important ones.

“When it’s crunch time, I want to be in,” Cornett said. “When we can step on a team’s throat or pull away from them, that’s when I want to be in.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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