It’s what you might expect from a college football team picked to finish seventh out of eight in its conference: The best tackler for UNLV this season could be a guy coming off a second knee surgery and who played just one snap last year.
“If we’re ever going to be a good football program, a solid, consistent contender, we better become a good defensive team,” Rebels coach Bobby Hauck said. “Tackling is a big part of that.
“It has been a long time since UNLV played defense.”
It has been a long time since Quinton Pointer played much at all.
It’s usually not a good thing when a cornerback is one of your most physical defensive players, but that’s what the Rebels have in Pointer. He also owns a left knee that has undergone two operations for a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Tackling is part technique and part guts. Most guys have no problem with the technique part. Many have a problem with throwing their bodies in front of fast-moving objects. UNLV has had far too many of those guys lately.
Pointer isn’t one. He played a senior season of high school ball in Florida with his first torn ACL, an injury suffered running track as a junior. Then at fall camp last year, he felt that same, sickening, knife-in-your-stomach ache, which in Ely usually means a busted knee or having consumed too many cherry rickies at the downtown Economy Drug.
“For the next few days, I was just miserable,” Pointer said. “All bad thoughts. But then a friend reminded me all things happen for a reason, and maybe this happened to me again so I could better myself in areas I wasn’t strong.”
He tried playing in 2010. He tried toughing it out as he did in high school. He ran/jogged/gimped onto the field at Utah in the season’s second game and lined up opposite a tight end who ran a drag route across the middle, caught the ball and turned up field. Pointer tackled him after an 18-yard gain. The Utes needed 19 for a first down.
“They had to punt,” Pointer said.
He gimped/walked/crawled off the field.
His season was over.
He says all is better now, appearing fit and confident while representing the Rebels at the Mountain West Conference football media gathering Wednesday at Red Rock Resort. He is a senior in a program expected to produce its 11th straight nonwinning season, one that opens Sept. 1 at a Wisconsin team you figure will be favored by at least three touchdowns utilizing a game plan coated in vanilla.
Oddsmakers have assigned UNLV’s win total at 2½, and when you get past that titanic clash against Southern Utah, well, finding games in which the Rebels will be favored is tougher than finding discretionary funds in the athletic department’s budget.
Pointer has seen this film all too often.
But he also has 167 career tackles, having started 31 of 36 games. He has shown the willingness to do what others haven’t, which is to sacrifice his limbs each play. The Rebels allowed averages of 39.7 points, 450.5 yards and nearly 7 yards per play last year.
There wasn’t a lot of sacrificing going on.
“I think we’ve had some guys who shied away (from tackling), for whatever reason,” Pointer said. “Maybe they were scared. I don’t know. Tackling is a want-to type of thing. But now we have some guys who really want to prove themselves, so that should help.
“This is truly a rebuilding year for us. It’s tough to always get stuck with that label. But I think Coach Hauck is going to turn the program around and produce much better UNLV teams in the future.”
It’s his way of saying what everyone knows — the Rebels this season will be younger than Hugh Hefner’s next housemate. There is even talk of four freshmen playing on the offensive front. Read that sentence again.
Somewhere, coaches at Southern Utah are talking about having a puncher’s chance. Coaches at Wisconsin are talking about Oregon State, their second opponent.
It’s not nuclear chemistry. For the Rebels to beat anyone, they can’t continue allowing 7 to 9 yards on plays that should be stopped for 3 or fewer. They have to put people down on first contact more often. They have to find people able to tackle those fast-moving objects. Pointer is, knees willing.
“It might be hard for him to come back after a second surgery, but he has done it before, so he knows what to expect, and hopefully that will be productive for him and us,” Hauck said. “We want to win more games. We want that tangible evidence that we’re getting better and improving as a program. Hopefully, we are going in the right direction without too many steps headed the wrong way.”
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday and Thursday on “Monsters of the Midday,” Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.