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Gordon: Why UNLV’s Ricky White should be an All-American

The Associated Press the last two seasons tabbed three wide receivers to each of its three All-American football teams.

If there are nine All-American wideouts again in 2023, UNLV junior Ricky White deserves to be one of them.

White has played as well this season — and meant as much to his team — as any wide receiver in the country, invigorating with his speed and savvy one of the best single seasons in program history. His 1,308 yards rank sixth nationally and are 38 shy of the single-season program record.

He has topped 100 yards in five consecutive games and totaled all seven of his touchdowns in his last seven games. His target-share percentage (35.9) ranks fourth nationally and reflects for the Rebels their rightful reliance upon him.

Plus, his team’s success matches his success, with the Rebels winning nine games for the first time in 39 years and playing Boise State at noon Saturday for the Mountain West championship at Allegiant Stadium.

“I keep my head down. I keep working. I try to block out all that noise on social media and everything,” White said last week of any prospective postseason honors.

“I just want to keep working and whatever comes, it comes.”

One of the best

One of those honors unsurprisingly arrived Tuesday: that of first-team All-Mountain West, following his omission from the list of 10 semifinalists for the Fred Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s most outstanding receiver.

The finalists, announced Tuesday — Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr., Louisiana State’s Malik Naybers and Washington’s Rome Odunze — should likely garner first-team All-America honors.

There’s no reason White should miss altogether the second and the third.

Originally a Michigan State recruit, White again validated his talents this year against a Power Five program — catching 12 passes for 165 yards in a thrilling September win over Vanderbilt. His most valiant effort of the season — eight catches, 169 yards and a score — came on the road against an Air Force team ranked at one point this year in the Top 25.

Pro Football Focus grades five of 1,071 receivers better than White, putting him sixth and ahead of Harrison (seventh) and Odunze (15th), supreme talents and surefire top NFL draft picks in April.

White’s speed tilts the field from the slot or the perimeter.

He’s as good after the catch as he is before it.

“An elite player,” Rebels coach Barry Odom said after White’s eight-catch, 165-yard, two-score outing at New Mexico earlier this season.

What’s more is that White is playing with a freshman quarterback in Jayden Maiava, among the best first-year players in college football — but not the experienced kind of signal-caller throwing to some of the nation’s other top receivers.

Naybers (1,546 yards, 14 TDs), for instance, plays with Heisman Trophy hopeful (and fifth-year senior) Jayden Daniels, while Odunze (1,326 yards, 13 TDs) fields passes from sixth-year senior standout Michael Penix Jr.

Harrison (1,211 yards, 14 TDs) fields passes from junior Kyle McCord, a former top quarterback recruit.

Maiava to White is practically as potent, relative to their competition.

No Power Five, no problem

Speaking of which, the Group of Five shouldn’t be a barrier for White, considering past precedent.

Houston’s Nathaniel “Tank” Dell was a third-team selection last season. Western Kentucky’s Jerreth Sterns made the second team in 2021. Jaelon Darden (North Texas) and Jonathan Adams Jr. (Arkansas State) comprised the second team in 2020, when only two receivers were named to each team.

White has the success, the statistics and the style to join them as stewards from the Group of Five.

All he needs now is the recognition he deserves.

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on X.

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