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UNLV defender plays important role in Rebels’ resurgence

It was a simple question about a UNLV linebacker and what sets him apart. About what makes him, as football coach Barry Odom attests, one of the nation’s best at his position.

The answer was anything but simple.

“The consistency every single day,” Odom said. “The ability to retain information from film study and then actively do it on the field. Slight changes. Slight technique. Movement. His ability to understand schematically what we’re seeing on the other side of the ball and where he needs to be.

“His ability to play man coverage and zone coverage. His blitzing technique. The ability to play multiple positions for us within a drive or series on how we want to attack an offense. Team leadership. Work ethic. Selfless nature and attitude. He’s in a category of a very select few.”

Yep. Believe it.

Jackson Woodard is one heck of a football player.

He will be front and center again defensively when the Rebels meet Boise State in a Mountain West championship game at Allegiant Stadium on Saturday.

Woodard this past week in a 37-31 loss to San Jose State went past 100 tackles on the season. He’s now at 104, almost 30 more than the next closest Rebel.

The junior also has six tackles for loss, 1½ sacks, an interception and three pass breakups.

He arrived in the spring from Arkansas, following Odom to UNLV when the Razorbacks’ assistant head coach/defensive coordinator assumed control of the Rebels. There wasn’t any doubt where Woodard would land once entering the transfer portal. No question for whom he wanted to compete.

“I didn’t know much about UNLV or Las Vegas, but I knew what type of man and coach (Odom) is,” Woodard said. “I knew things would be special with him leading us. I just wanted to win. That’s why I practice the way I do and work the way I do. Coach Odom is a winner. When you work as hard as he does, you’re going to win.”

The Rebels at 9-3 have done just that, now playing for their first Mountain West football title in conference history.

Woodard has always loved to hit. From the time his older brother first put on pads and Jackson followed him out to the yard in Little Rock, Ark., to practice, the physical part of the game drew him in. It hasn’t stopped. He appears slight at a listed 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds but plays much bigger. Definitely much tougher.

“He’s doesn’t look that big but packs a real punch,” UNLV defensive back Cameron Oliver said. “He brings a lot of energy and smarts to the game. Knows the ins and outs of the defense having played it at Arkansas. Always knows where to be. Just another great, vocal leader for us.”

You’re a football player who grows up in Arkansas. Your parents and brother went to the school in Fayetteville. It sort of becomes a dream to play for the Razorbacks.

To one day suit up for the Hogs.

Woodard had that goal as a preferred walk-on for the SEC school before being put on scholarship his final season. He appeared in 28 games overall on defense and special teams, totaling 16 tackles.

But he desired a bigger role and has discovered it with the Rebels.

“As soon as I got here, I started watching film of the conference and said, ‘We’re going to win this,’” Woodard said. “Now, we have a chance. We have so many good players on this team. When I came in, they accepted me and helped and competed with me and made me mentally stronger. All the credit goes to those guys in the locker room.”

Much credit goes to Jackson Woodard, as well. One heck of a football player.

Contact sports columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @edgraney on X.

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