It was early in training camp last August when tight end Austin Harrington went to his position coach and told him freshman Jake Phillips could play.
Brent Myers already had figured that out, but he appreciated the confirmation from one of his players.
The question, however, wasn't whether Phillips could play. It was whether he should play.
UNLV's coaches resisted the temptation to throw him in last football season, and now with an extra year of eligibility, Phillips has spent this spring justifying the team's widespread optimism about his talent.
"I think he's got a chance to be an excellent, excellent tight end," said Myers, now also UNLV's offensive coordinator. "He's what you're looking for."
It's not just Phillips (6 feet 6 inches, 245 pounds) who has stood out at tight end. Fellow freshmen Nick Gstrein (6-4, 275) and Tyler Bergsten (6-4, 240) also have shown the potential to give the Rebels the type of physical offense coach Bobby Hauck craves.
"I've always thought good tight ends are hard to find in the recruiting process," Hauck said. "I think we have some good young tight ends, and we've got to grow them up. They look the part, and I'm pretty excited about them."
Not only do those three tight ends provide extra blockers for the running game and for pass protection, the Rebels have involved them as receivers this spring.
Phillips has stood out with numerous catches, but the best might have been made Monday by Gstrein. He tipped up Nick Sherry's pass with his left hand and then used both hands to trap the ball against the upper back part of his helmet for a touchdown.
Myers said that while Phillips is the clear leader, the other two players will be used extensively, particularly in two-tight end sets.
UNLV hasn't had an impact tight end since 2005 when Greg Estandia caught 49 passes for 563 yards and seven touchdowns. He then spent five seasons in the NFL, four with Jacksonville and the other with Cleveland.
No one is saying Phillips will be that kind of player, but his talent has been apparent since he arrived on campus. It certainly was to Harrington and fellow tight ends Anthony Vidal and Kyle Watkins.
The veterans worked with Phillips, who practiced with the main squad all season and traveled with the team, which was valuable after he made the leap from the familiar surroundings of Lakewood, Calif., to college life and the stepped-up demands of college football.
"It was a hard transition for me, and they made it so much easier," Phillips said. "So for them to say I was going to be good, they showed respect for me, and it really meant a lot to me. I made a whole new family here."
The tight end spot belonged to seniors last season. Now it's in the hands of two redshirt freshmen and one incoming freshman, led by a player who has the potential to be special.
It's one thing, of course, to look good in April. The key will be looking good beginning in late August.
"It's a ton more responsibility because we're not looking up to Anthony and Austin to tell us what plays we're supposed to run and what routes we're supposed to run," Phillips said. "We need to learn it ourselves."
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.