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Graney: Rebel greats of the past watch Spring Showcase — PHOTOS

Ron Drake traveled 27 hours from Saudi Arabia to be there, to reunite with his football brothers, to celebrate what has more and more become a UNLV football program sitting squarely on the map of relevance.

When the internet is faulty back home, Drake said he turns to a signal that pipes in (and out) a UNLV broadcast. So he’ll be lying there in the middle of the night, screaming away as the Rebels score a touchdown.

“Everyone needs to start making a commitment to the program,” Drake said. “UNLV football has so much potential, and we now have a coach who is focused on what’s important.

“It was a long trip, a long flight, but we’ve lost 20-plus members from that team. You never know what’s going to happen. Time to appreciate the moment and be a Rebel and show up — Rebels for life.”

Drake was a center for the record-breaking 1984 UNLV side, which was recognized at the Spring Showcase on Saturday before 3,500 at Allegiant Stadium.

The current Rebels scrimmaged for about 90 or so minutes while the ’84 squad was celebrated for the program’s first conference championship and bowl game appearance. That team, which won 11 games, was inducted into the UNLV Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.

‘Want to be the best’

Barry Odom is the coach Drake speaks of, and in just his second season, he has already made clear his goals for the program. It is one of the things the Rebels discuss most. They never shy away from it. Never couch their opinions.

UNLV is on a mission under Odom. One they will run toward and not from. It’s the right attitude. The only one.

“We talk about it often,” Odom said. “As a competitor, you want to be a champion. You want to be the best. So that’s what we’re chasing. I will never back down from that.

“With strong conviction, I know we’re building something really special … We’ll keep working until we get there.”

UNLV made a Mountain West championship game last season before falling to Boise State, but the Rebels’ nine wins were the most since the ’84 team and their bowl appearance the first in a decade.

Those who came before have taken notice, those who traveled 27 hours and others from much shorter distances. In all, 49 team members — including 43 players — were in attendance from 1984.

It might seem silly, the notion that a program that lost so much for so long is now defining itself with annual championship thoughts. But that’s what makes Odom different. His is a one-track mind when it comes to where he believes UNLV can and should exist.

And many agree.

“He’s a football coach who knows what it takes to build a winning foundation, for what it takes to play at a level people want here,” said Harvey Hyde, coach of the ’84 team. “(Odom) is going to awake a sleeping giant. We want them to break our record of 11 wins. It’s something the community wants, what everyone wants.”

A different mindset

The pursuit of such things begins Aug. 31 at Houston. The Rebels didn’t show much on either side of the ball Saturday, but there’s no question there are enough playmakers in space to make you believe UNLV’s offense can be ultra-explosive yet again.

UNLV is bigger, faster, stronger.

And will attack summer workouts with just one thing in mind.

“I think when Coach Odom came in last year talking about winning a championship and what needs to be done in order to do that, I’m not sure we really believed it,” wide receiver Jacob De Jesus said. “We were surprised when we had so much success.

“This year is different. Our mindset is different. We’re ready to get after it. We’re not going to be surprised by anything. We’re expecting a championship and the big things we’re going to accomplish. We know what it takes now, and we’re going to go grab it.”

It’s their stated goal, their greatest ambition, their ultimate mission.

In their eyes, nothing less will do.

It’s the right attitude. The only one.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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