Three hours, 37 minutes.
That’s how far it is from the Cotton Bowl to North Shore High in Houston, from where some key UNLV football players will compete in the program’s first bowl game since 2000 on Wednesday to where they played for a prep program led by one of the winningest coaches in Texas history.
The story, however, begins with a UNLV assistant: Cedric Cormier was a standout wide receiver at North Shore in the late 1990s when he signed with Colorado, whose recruiting coordinator at the time was a guy named Bobby Hauck.
A connection was made.
Cormier’s picture still hangs on a wall at North Shore, one of the many talented players to learn under the strict guidance of David Aymond, who this season won his 200th game at the school and over the last 20 years has produced 170 college players, five of whom are on current NFL rosters.
“It’s all about structure at North Shore,” Cormier said. “It’s about discipline. Players must dress the same way, do things the right way, from water breaks to how they stretch. It’s almost like being in the military.
“But it’s also the biggest show in town. That team is larger than life. Little kids grow up wanting to be Mustangs and worshipping the guys on that team. My dad still goes to every game. I think Coach Aymond trusts me and I’m getting to an age now where I know a lot of the kids’ parents there, which is a good thing when it comes (to recruiting).”
Cormier assisted on Hauck’s staff at Montana for two seasons and then joined the coach at UNLV in 2010, arriving with that Houston connection that has delivered the Rebels a level of player desperately needed to turn a losing program into a 7-5 one that meets North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
It began with a running back.
It often does.
Tim Cornett believed in the pitch four years ago, confident in the vision Hauck and Cormier sold when they recruited him out of North Shore. They painted a picture of what could transpire with him in the UNLV backfield, of how one’s legacy could be shaped by being one to embrace and lead a rebuilding project such as the one the Rebels were about to begin.
Cornett will oppose North Texas as his program’s all-time leading rusher with 3,700 yards and is second all time in rushing and overall touchdowns and career 100-yard games, all marks he could tie or break Wednesday.
He was the beginning. He was the one UNLV had to land.
He started it all.
“When you are building a program, having some recruiting tie-ins sure help,” Hauck said. “I think now that, even in a city the size of Houston, kids are seeing how well those (North Shore) players are doing at UNLV and it’s not lost on them. The guys we recruited from there are doing pretty well. It was important we got Tim and got our foot in their door all those years after having recruited (Cormier).”
The wide receiver came next.
Devante Davis was a year behind Cornett at North Shore, but the two had known each other since a young age and had played with each other since peewee days in Texas. They were close. Trusted each other.
Davis watched from afar as Cornett was given an immediate opportunity to play at UNLV, how he rushed for 546 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman, how what Hauck and Cormier preach in their recruiting message about building with young, talented players was proving true.
Davis also bought in and is producing like few wide receivers in school history. He has career bests in receptions (77) and receiving yards (1,194) this year, having set the school season record with 14 touchdown catches. The junior has opposing defensive backs nervous and NFL scouts more than intrigued.
The tight end, perhaps, might be next to make an impact.
Jacobie Russell is a 6-foot-4-inch true freshman from North Shore who redshirted this season, whose size and athleticism and physical nature have Hauck predicting a bright future for him.
The tie-in continues to produce talent.
“Playing at (North Shore) is a lot like playing in college in terms of the expectations and pressure,” Cornett said. “We went 8-4 there my senior year and it was considered a disappointment and unacceptable. Every game is like a Super Bowl to the town.
“Coach Aymond is a lot like Coach Hauck, only older. Wear the right socks, don’t wear your hat backwards, take your hat off when you enter a room, don’t wear visors. Very disciplined. Playing for a high school like that prepared us for this level more than anything could.”
Three hours, 37 minutes.
Come Wednesday, it won’t seem so far.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.
Heart of Dallas Bowl
WHERE: Cotton Bowl, Dallas
WHEN: January 1