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UNLV’s Tony Sanchez turns to junior colleges for recruits

Updated February 7, 2019 - 12:08 am

People of a certain age may recall sneaking Mad magazine into fourth-period study hall and turning to a recurring feature called “Scenes We’d Like to See.” This being Mad, the scenes usually were humorous or laden with satire.

In one panel Jiminy Cricket might be shown imparting wisdom on Pinocchio. In the next, Pinocchio might be shown squishing Jiminy Cricket with his big shoe.

Here’s a scene one still longs to see on college football signing day: Coach Buzzcut telling media, and those watching via live stream, that State U. is coming off a disappointing season and the Statesmen thus weren’t able to sign enough 2.5-star recruits that would give Disco Tech a run for its money.

John Robinson might have come closest.

One year when asked to grade his UNLV recruiting class, Robinson said B-minus.

Then he tried to squish us with his big shoe.

I don’t recall if that was the season Robinson was feeling pressure to win and recruited a bunch of junior college guys hoping to fix overnight a situation that had been developing for years.

Or in the case of UNLV, eons.

Mixed results

O.J. Simpson was once a JUCO transfer, and Bill Snyder built a powerhouse at Kansas State by recruiting tons of them. But usually when one thinks of a college football program that relies heavily on junior college transfers, one thinks of somebody such as San Jose State. As they say on those courtroom TV dramas, no further questions, your honor.

Eight of the 21 recruits UNLV coach Tony Sanchez officially announced in his office on Wednesday — there was no live stream or so much as a podcast — were from junior colleges.

If one didn’t know better, one might think the higher-ups in Sanchez’s athletic administration are feeling restless, a condition that seems to grip the higher-ups every four or five football seasons. And that Sanchez is feeling pressure to go 7-5 and sneak into the Cheez-It Bowl.

Sanchez, who appeared relaxed and casual with his shirttail hanging out, issued the standard refrain about the Rebels meeting their recruiting needs. He said he was able to keep a few full rides behind glass that can be broken should spring football produce a glaring emergency or two.

When asked about recruiting all those junior college guys and the pressure to win now, Sanchez tap-danced with a deftness befitting Baryshnikov or Sammy Davis Jr.

“There’s always going to be people who think they know, they just don’t,” he said. “Every job, no matter where you’re at, you’ve got to win now. You’ve also got to build for the future.

“I believe this is the most JUCO guys we’ve had. The nice thing about that is we’ve done a nice job of bringing (underclassmen) in and redshirting guys. You don’t want to make one class too heavy. But because we’ve been able to redshirt so many guys, there’s good dispersion on the roster. We were able to do that (recruit eight junior college players) and at the same time take care of the future.”

Tough assignment

Sanchez didn’t indicate if the future was immediate or down the road after UNLV moves into the Raiders’ new stadium when the Raiders aren’t using it. Nor did he assign a letter grade to this year’s recruiting class.

John Robinson probably would have given him a B-minus and said let’s see how they pan out.

But it has to be difficult for UNLV and Mountain West schools to recruit 3-star guys instead of settling for the 2.5 ones, only to have a Power Five school swoop in like a pterodactyl — or on T. Boone Pickens’ private jet — two weeks before signing day and steal them away. Which is what Sanchez said happened this year, and what happens most years.

The Rebels finished 4-8 in Sanchez’s fourth season, following 5-7, 4-8 and 3-9 records in his first three. But as he says, roster numbers finally are up. If some of these JUCO guys can play, and quarterback Armani Rodgers can stay off the DL, perhaps the Rebels can hang with the likes of Northwestern and Vanderbilt for three quarters.

Two of the JC players UNLV brought in — defensive lineman Tavai Tuitasi and defensive back Gamon Howard — are from City College of San Francisco, which has won 10 national championships in football.

City College also was where O.J. Simpson played, and like Jiminy Cricket it turned out OK for him. At least for a little while.

More Rebels: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Rebels and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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