Freshman eager to leave imprint

Searching for answers in the season's first football practice is always difficult.

Because the practice is for newcomers only, it's more about teaching than game-simulated blocking and tackling.

So freshman Mike Clausen wasn't going to win the starting quarterback job Friday morning, but he was at Rebel Park to begin that journey.

He made clear early in the year when UNLV was recruiting him that he planned at least to play right away and maybe even start. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Todd Berry said he wants the entire offense to show up each day with that kind of determination.

"If they're not doing that, then they're really not competitive people," Berry said. "In order to be successful at this level, you've got to be a great competitor and you have to have high expectations. And at this level, guys don't inherit positions."

Rebels coach Mike Sanford echoed that last sentiment, saying junior Rocky Hinds isn't guaranteed to start when the season begins Aug. 30 at Utah State.

He lists Hinds and redshirt freshman Travis Dixon as co-starters, and Clausen could join the competition.

Clausen exhibited the athletic ability at John W. North High School in Riverside, Calif., that could fit in well in the Rebels' shotgun spread.

Last season, he rushed for 380 yards and 10 touchdowns and passed for 1,870 yards and 19 touchdowns with one interception. He took North to a 14-0 record and the state championship and was named league Most Valuable Player.

But college recruiters barely noticed. Utah State offered a scholarship, but interest from any other schools was late in coming.

"The high school offense I played in was more run-oriented, so you don't get to show all your abilities," Clausen said

UNLV, in fact, had to look closely to make sure the left-handed quarterback could throw as well as run.

Coaches studied videotape and took advantage of North's appearance in the playoffs to get a closer look.

"We went and watched him in practice and evaluated him, which was really a plus to be able to see the ball come out of his hand," Sanford said. "I think the combination of accuracy, touch and strength" impressed UNLV's coaches.

They also looked past the fact that Clausen wasn't 6 feet 4 inches. He is 6-2 and 200 pounds -- not bad, but not the size that causes Southern California coach Pete Carroll to pick up the phone.

Sanford didn't mind making the call, and he acknowledged that if Clausen had been a couple of inches taller, he probably would have landed at a higher-profile school.

"He's taller and has more of a presence than I thought he had," Sanford said. "He's every bit of 6-2, I mean the conservative 6-2 measurement."

Because this is UNLV and not a Pacific-10 Conference power or even Brigham Young, the Rebels have to look at recruiting differently.

They go after players they believe will help win games and forget about what the recruiting services say. And after the season's first practice, Sanford and Berry were saying how pleased they were by what they've seen of Clausen.

Now Clausen will try to justify their faith in him while also showing the returning quarterbacks he doesn't plan to spend all season signaling in plays from the sideline.

"It makes me more focused and more demanding to get my stuff done and learn and give it my all," Clausen said. "Even if I don't start, I'll feel like I got better and I'm one step closer."