The feeling was new for UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry, striking him from the blindside along with that hit by the Boise State defender, and he didn’t know quite how to handle it.
He had never suffered a significant injury in football, and Sherry quickly had to learn how to properly rehabilitate and how to go into games concentrating on the game plan, not his pain.
The learning process didn’t go so well.
Sherry, who was well on his way to smashing the Mountain West freshman passing record, clearly was affected in the second half of the season. But even if he fell short of the record, Sherry carries valuable lessons into this season.
“I think you have to come with the mindset, ‘I’m going to play at 100 percent and not let this injury make anything different for my game,’ ” he said Monday.
Much is expected from Sherry as UNLV opens training camp at 8 a.m. today at Rebel Park. All practices are open to the public.
The Rebels open the season Aug. 29 at Minnesota.
Sherry is healthy, and so are two key offensive starters — running back Tim Cornett and left tackle Brett Boyko — who also dealt with injuries much of last season.
When all three players were at least relatively healthy, the Rebels scored more than 30 points three times during a four-game stretch. Not only are all three back, but so are six other offensive starters.
“I think with our offensive returners, we’re going to put up a lot more points this year,” Sherry said. “I think we’ll be more efficient and not turn the ball over as many times.”
Sherry (6 feet 5 inches, 235 pounds) passed for 1,771 yards through seven games last season, putting him in position to blow past the conference freshman record of 2,662 yards set by Colorado State’s Pete Thomas in 2010.
Then Sherry took that shot Oct. 20 at Boise State. He passed for 773 yards over the final five games he played — he sat out against Wyoming — and threw seven interceptions over his last three.
“I had a bad second half of the season,” Sherry said. “I let the injury affect me a little too much. Even when I finished up healthy, I was still kind of babying it and not letting it go full-go. So I’ve got to fix that, and I think I did this summer. I’m 100 percent ready to go, ready for anything.”
Coach Bobby Hauck said learning to play hurt is a natural part of the process for anyone making the leap from high school football.
“Many of them come in and never had to fight through injury,” Hauck said. “Being banged up is part of the game. It’s an acquired skill.
“The expectation ... for Nick is he plays more like a veteran player this year.”
Despite limping to the finish line last season, Sherry finished with 2,544 yards, the fourth most by a Mountain West freshman. It also was the best season by a Rebels quarterback of any class since Jon Denton threw for 2,586 yards in 1997.
Now Sherry will try to do even better, and he said the experience he received last season will only help. He begins to apply what he learned this morning in the first preseason practice.
“I’m not nervous at all,” Sherry said. “I’m excited, I’m confident, and I’m ready to go.
“That’s the mindset of this team. We’ve worked hard all summer, and we’re ready to get on the field.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@review journal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.