No spring practices, a new defensive system, an unfamiliar position.
Daniel Harper had plenty working against him when UNLV's football training camp opened in early August.
But he had played at and graduated from Southern California for a reason, and Harper quickly picked up UNLV's defense and let it be known he would be an integral part of the Rebels' lineup.
Harper became a starter at safety when the season began, and again will be with the first team when the Rebels (1-2) play Southern Utah (2-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium. Harper (5 feet 10 inches, 180 pounds) has made 13 tackles -- three share the team lead with 14 -- and broken up a pass.
"I thought it would take him longer to learn the system, but he applied himself and buried himself in the playbook," defensive backs coach J.D. Williams said. "I think it was probably about the fourth or fifth day up in Ely he was in for a starting position, and then took it and never looked back.
"He's a very smart kid. All you've got to do is spend about five minutes with him, and you'll understand what I'm talking about."
Harper's intelligence was obvious during an interview loaded with lengthy and thoughtful answers. Perhaps that's to be expected from someone who graduated in May from USC with a business degree, and is pursuing his master's at UNLV in management information systems.
"He's a smart guy," cornerback Sidney Hodge said. "That's what everybody notices. Harp is really attuned with everything that has to do with all coverages or scheme or play-calling. Daniel knows probably everybody's position."
Harper first played for coach Pete Carroll at USC, before Carroll left following the 2009 season to take over the Seattle Seahawks. When Lane Kiffin succeeded Carroll, Harper knew the new coach would bring in his own players, but stayed for one more season.
Harper said many reasons went into the decision not to stay for an additional year, and he told Kiffin after last season he would be moving on.
"I wished (Kiffin) all the best, but I'm a grown man now, I'm a college graduate, and sometimes you have to make adult decisions, and this is one of them," Harper said. "I feel I'll have a better chance of making it to the next level if I can go somewhere where I can have a tremendous impact with a team. This has worked out well so far, but I still have a lot of work to do."
Harper said he considered 10 to 15 schools, many from the Pac-12 Conference, but was intrigued by UNLV and, in particular, the coaches' vision.
"It was a gut instinct, probably," Harper said. "I felt like this place was right for me. I knew I could come here right away and have an impact, God willing, if I stayed healthy and stayed focused during training camp and studied my playbook."
As a graduate student, Harper could transfer and play right away, similar to quarterback Russell Wilson's move from North Carolina State to Wisconsin.
Harper had to do more than learn a new defense. He had to get to know his new teammates, but he brought instant respect of being a former player for one of the country's traditional powers.
"I've seen talent at USC and I've seen talent here, and this team is definitely capable of doing big things," Harper said. "It's a mindset that we have to develop over time. We're definitely starting to see that."
Harper is a newcomer, but he's been doing his part to help teammates believe they are moving in the right direction.
"I didn't know how much of a leader he was truly going to be, but he surpassed what I thought he was going to be," Williams said. "He's the type of person you need on the field. He's intense when he has to be intense, and he's calm and knows how to calm people down when he has to. ... I'm happy we've got him."
■ NOTE -- The Rebels' game against instate rival UNR at Mackay Stadium in Reno on Oct. 8 will be televised on Cox Cable 96. The game will start at 4 p.m.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.