UNLV’s wide receivers not named Devante Davis will have to prove themselves early this football season.
And they should have every opportunity to do just that.
Expect opposing defensive coordinators to double team Davis, a probable future NFL receiver, at least until the Rebels prove they can beat them with other pass catchers.
And the Rebels have the players to do it, returning Marcus Sullivan, Maika Mataele and Anthony Williams and bringing in Devonte Boyd, Trent Riley and Kendal Keys.
“We’ve got a good group of weapons,” receivers coach Cedric Cormier said. “Everyone brings something different to the table. That’s what I like about it. We’ve got big guys to go up and make catches on fades and stuff down the field. We’ve got guys that can make people miss. We’ve got third-down guys.”
The talent certainly is there, and in the cases of Sullivan, Mataele and Williams, it’s proven talent. Boyd, Riley and Keys need to show they also can perform beginning Aug. 29 at Arizona.
Otherwise, opponents will try to lock up Davis.
“The wide receiver position, if teams choose to (double team), is probably the easiest position to take a guy out of the game,” coach Bobby Hauck said. “If they do that, then there are some soft spots elsewhere that in order to be successful we’ll have to take advantage of.”
Davis, a senior, has earned the right to draw additional defensive attention. The 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pounder caught 87 passes for 1,290 yards and a school-record 14 touchdowns last season. He was unstoppable at times.
Opposing defenses can’t let him reproduce those back-breaking numbers, and if coordinators send an extra defender at Davis, that creates opportunities for his teammates.
“We have talent all across the field,” Sullivan said. “Once they forget about us, it’s a nightmare out there.”
Sullivan (5-9, 195), a senior from Cheyenne High School, has the ability to create big plays. He caught 100 passes for 1,164 yards and nine touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Mataele (5-11, 180) comes off a breakthrough season in which he made several outstanding catches to finish with 36 receptions for 411 yards and three touchdowns. He is back for his senior season after the NCAA granted him an extra year of eligibility.
Williams (5-11, 195), a junior, caught 21 passes for 188 yards and a TD.
They are joined by three freshmen — grayshirts Boyd (6-2, 175) and Riley (6-2, 200) as well as Keys (6-3, 190). Boyd was ranked the state’s No. 3 recruit by ESPN when he signed out of Basic High, and Riley made the 3A all-state team in Washington.
Keys originally signed with Boise State last year, but later opted to go to UNLV, where his brother, Kenny, is a safety. It was a big pick-up for the Rebels, but the NCAA didn’t clear Keys to play last season because he needed to take care of a core class.
“It’s really good knowing I can actually play because last year I came in and I was competing, but in the back of my mind, I was like, ‘I probably can’t play.’” Keys said. “This time, I can really focus on that.
“It really humbled me, to be honest, that whole year that I sat out.”
Now that Keys can play, the Rebels expect a lot out of him.
The same can be said for the rest of the receivers as well.
Hauck, entering in his fifth season, said this group of receivers is “by far the best we’ve had” at UNLV.
“They’re the most talented,” Hauck said. “They’re the most physical. They’re the toughest. They all understand. They catch it. They play hard in the run game. They’re the most complete group in terms of what they’re doing by a large margin.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.