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Graney: UNLV football says historic season ‘wasn’t good enough’

They have an opportunity to be better than last season because they refuse to settle. Refuse to bask in their own success.

Because despite the fact UNLV football finished with its most wins (nine) since 1984 and reached the Mountain West championship game and qualified for a bowl game for the first time in a decade, the Rebels still don’t believe things were executed at a high enough level.

It’s a philosophy that begins at the top with coach Barry Odom.

And tells you about the long-term potential of a program under his watch.

“(Last season) is over,” Odom said Saturday. “At this point, and maybe it’s not a fair statement, nobody really cares. We know what we did. We came up short in the things we wanted to achieve within our locker room.

“We have to coach them better and teach them better. We have to have more urgency. Last year wasn’t good enough.”

He spoke shortly after the Rebels concluded their first spring practice in howling winds. Might be a good omen. Last year, spring drills began under driving rain and temperatures in the high 30s. Look where it eventually led the Rebels. To a historic season.

But that’s Odom. One of the reasons the Rebels practiced in such conditions Saturday: They play at San Jose State in late November, and as much as you can’t control the Bay Area weather at such time of year, you can’t do so here now.

So strap ’em up and get after it and don’t worry about what Mother Nature has in store.

“We’re going to be competing for a championship then,” Odom said of the trip to San Jose.

That’s him. Never settling for the mere idea his team might not be up to the task.

‘Got to be better’

I’m not sure the last time such anticipation existed for the beginning of spring ball at UNLV. The Rebels have two returning All-Americans in wide receiver Ricky White and kick returner Jacob De Jesus. They have key Power Five transfers at positions of need (see the secondary). They recruit at a nationally ranked level.

They’re bigger. Faster. Stronger. Their measurables in the weight room continue to improve. On paper, it’s just a better team than the one that fell to Boise State in a league title game and to Kansas in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.

“If we want to win at the level we want, we’ve all got to be better,” Odom said. “Our kids have embraced that theme. They understand how important it is. They realize we have something special going on in our locker room, and they’re taking control of it. Pretty cool to see.”

It more than helps that Odom’s coaching staff returned, that there is such continuity in messaging and scheme.

It helps that after former starting quarterback Jayden Maiava transferred to Southern California, there should still be a healthy competition at the most important of positions.

Cam Friel is a senior and Hajj-Malik Williams a senior transfer from Campbell. They will be joined this summer by Holy Cross transfer Matthew Sluka and his career numbers of 5,916 passing yards, 3,583 rushing yards and 97 combined touchdowns.

Finish things

“We want to build on what we did last year,” linebacker Marsel McDuffie said. “We didn’t finish out the last few games. We got sloppy as a team. We didn’t accomplish what we wanted to. So now, ultimately, we want to take it a step further, get to the (conference) championship again and win.

“We got to the championship and didn’t finish. We got to the bowl game and didn’t finish. It’s about finishing. At the end of every rep. At the end of every play. That’s just the mentality we’re preaching for offense, defense and special teams.

“Finish. Finish. Finish.”

They crafted a historic season, and to a coach and player didn’t believe it was good enough.

That’s when you know something special is happening within a program.

That’s when you understand where the potential lies.

Which is to say sky high.

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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