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Allure of campus life beats ‘Be home by 9’

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I made the mistake of staying out real late one night a few days after I had returned home from my freshman year in college.

Actually, that wasn’t the mistake. That was fun. The mistake was the timing of my arrival home after staying out real late. It coincided with the departure of the Kantowski family matriarch for work.

There was no way around it. Our paths were destined to cross on the third or fourth step of the front porch. My body tensed, like a stock car driver about to hit the wall. This is gonna hurt, I thought.

"Good morning, Ron," my mom said in a voice that sounded like the bluebirds I had seen and heard only in cartoons, because bluebirds don’t chirp for very long in the Rust Belt. "Have a good night?"

I checked the airspace over Lake Michigan for flying bacon. I checked the National League East standings to see if Chicago was on top. I checked everything I had previously known about the world, and then unchecked it.

My mom did not drag me inside the house by my ear. She did not ground me, or make me go to my room without supper — er, breakfast. She did not even call me by my full name — first, middle and last — like she did every time I hid the head of my brother’s G.I. Joe in our sock drawer or brought home a C-minus in arithmetic.

It would be years before I would get over my good fortune and ask my mom about her June Cleaver moment. I had gone away to college and completed my freshman year without benefit of her and my father’s considerable parenting skills or being expelled and/or arrested, she said. Who was she to tell me what time to be home?

This is why I have always cut UNLV slack when it comes to recruiting local players.

Part of the attraction of going to college — a big, big, big part — is vacating the jurisdiction of one’s parents. Like they say in those power ballads, there comes time a young man must spread his wings and fly. Without having to be home by 9 p.m.

I declare this truth to be self-evident. I also declare it the primary reason a lot of Las Vegas high school kids who are pretty good at football choose to play it somewhere else.

A secondary reason is that their hometown team is pretty lousy.

A couple of years ago, Bishop Gorman’s DeMarco Murray had to decide between staying home to play football for his hometown Rebels or going away to play football for the Sooners of Oklahoma. This is like asking a contestant on "Let’s Make a Deal" if he wants what Jay has in the box or what’s behind Door No. 2. It’s not quantum physics. It’s not like choosing between Penelope Cruz or Salma Hayek. Yet people I know blame UNLV for letting kids like DeMarco Murray "get away."

The blue-chip kids like DeMarco Murray almost always get away. That’s understandable. But I also know of local kids, who, for some bizarre reason, would have preferred to play college football at home, in front of their parents and driver’s ed teachers, only to wind up at places such as Utah and Fresno State and Boise State, where they ultimately helped those programs win football games.

They went away because UNLV showed no interest in recruiting them.

Every coach who has tried and failed to transform the woeful UNLV football program into a program less woeful has talked about the importance of recruiting local talent. All, that is, with the exception of Jim Strong, who once nearly came to blows with a local high school coach upon telling him he couldn’t win with Las Vegas kids.

But I can’t remember one obtaining oral commitments from no less than five local players during his first week on the job, which is what Bobby Hauck, the new UNLV football coach, did Sunday.

I think that’s pretty cool. I also think that if these local kids are planning on staying out real late, they should develop strong earlobes.

Ron Kantowski’s column is published Sunday and Tuesday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352.

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