Nick Sherry and Blake Decker took their fight public.
They had been battling behind the scenes, throwing to wide receivers in winter conditioning.
With UNLV’s spring football practices now underway at Rebel Park, both quarterbacks officially began their competition Monday to be the next starter.
“My general perception is they did a pretty good job today,” coach Bobby Hauck said. “I can tell that they’ve been out here throwing some and were on the same page with the receivers. They were pretty accurate.”
Hauck, of course, wasn’t ready to name a starter after just one spring practice. Whoever takes the first snap Aug. 29 at Arizona won’t be determined until much closer to game time.
Both are juniors who took unusual paths to UNLV.
Sherry was set to attend Colorado, having given the Buffaloes a commitment before coach Dan Hawkins was fired in November 2010. UNLV quickly swooped in, and the early attention helped convince Sherry to choose the Rebels.
Decker went to Phoenix College in 2009 before going on a two-year Mormon mission. Then after returning from Mexico City, he walked on at Brigham Young in 2012, but said he didn’t believe it was the right fit. So Decker transferred to Scottsdale Community College, and last season led the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference with 4,241 yards and 47 touchdowns passing.
No other conference player was close to those statistics, the type of production that earned Decker notice and a scholarship offer from UNLV.
Now both quarterbacks hope to replace Caleb Herring, who last season led the Rebels to their first winning record and bowl appearance in 13 years.
Herring can serve as inspiration to Sherry (6 feet 5 inches, 235 pounds), who had beaten out Herring before the 2012 season and then went to play a strong freshman season. After faltering early last season, Herring won the job back.
One question facing Herring concerned where his mental state stood after not only losing his job, but also suffering a pair of confidence-shaking performances against Southern Utah at UNR in 2011. Herring showed his mental strength this past season in taking control of the team.
Now the onus is on Sherry to exhibit the same kind of mental toughness in this quarterback battle and, should he win it, during the season.
“Riding the bench — I love Caleb to death — but it’s not fun,” Sherry said. “So you come out here and compete hard. I had a good offseason. I’ve been working out and conditioning, so I’m ready to go.”
Decker (6-2, 205) joined UNLV with perhaps extra motivation. Even though he put up sensational numbers last season at Scottsdale, he received scholarship offers from Georgia State and Savannah State in addition to the Rebels and not schools from power conferences.
Part of that is because major colleges don’t typically recruit junior college quarterbacks. Decker also has decent height but gives away three inches to Sherry.
Decker made clear he is happy to be at UNLV, a program he sees as on the rise after last season.
“You talk to a lot of coaching staffs, and I felt like I meshed well,” Decker said. “They really do a great job of selling the program, more than anything the vision that they have to keep the program going in an upward motion. It’s something I wanted to be a part of.”
As for his competition with Sherry, it’s a friendly one. It wasn’t contentious between Sherry and Herring, either, and Decker said his competitor even has worked with him.
But Decker didn’t transfer to carry a clipboard, and he signed early to begin the competition this spring rather than wait until August.
“I think it’s great to come out and be able to build those relationships with the players, to get a feel for the atmosphere and really what the team goals are coming into the season,” Decker said.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter @markanderson65.