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Cunningham leads pack of UNLV’s best all-time football players

Given UNLV’s struggles in football over the past quarter-century, it’s easy to forget – or fail to realize – that some outstanding players have played for the Rebels.

The names to suit up are especially impressive considering UNLV didn’t field a team until 1968, an infant of a program compared to so many others.

So, with the Rebels’ 45th season starting at 8 p.m. Thursday when they play Minnesota at Sam Boyd Stadium, the Las Vegas Review-Journal has put together a list of the top UNLV players from each year.

Our discovery – lots of punters. But one of them is the most famous Rebel of all time, Randall Cunningham, who was a pretty fair quarterback, too.

He was an obvious choice, as were standouts such as Jamaal Brimmer, Kevin Thomas and Mike Thomas.

Others were more difficult, especially from the early years, when statistics were less thorough. We relied on various UNLV football experts for the list, particularly the inaugural teams.

In putting together the graphic, we listed what made the player special during that season, how he performed throughout his UNLV career, and what happened after he moved on. We tried to update where every player is now, but tracking down all of them was, to say the least, not easy.

So we hope you enjoy reading about each player’s accomplishments and realize that though football doesn’t have the history or cachet of basketball at UNLV, many athletes left their marks in ways that should be acknowledged.

2011

DE James Dunlap

■ Why he stood out: Registered 14½ tackles for loss, including 6½ sacks, and forced three fumbles.

■ UNLV career highlights: Senior season clearly stood out. In two previous seasons, Dunlap had only 1½ tackles for loss, with no sacks.

■ What ever happened to him: Graduated with a communications degree, and is looking for a job. Lives in Las Vegas.

2010

OL Matt Murphy

■ Why he stood out: Started at left tackle, and did a sterling job protecting quarterback Omar Clayton’s back side.

■ UNLV career highlights: Started 45 consecutive games, and was named a freshman All-American in 2007 by the Football Writers Association of America.

■ What ever happened to him: Claimed off waivers in May by the Cincinnati Bengals, but was waived Friday.

2009

OL Joe Hawley

■ Why he stood out: Won Rebel Spirit Award because of toughness and a positive attitude. Didn’t allow a sack.

■ UNLV career highlights: Played in 47 games, and started 33.

■ What ever happened to him: Drafted in fourth round by the Atlanta Falcons in 2010. Enters third season with the Falcons, and started at center and guard last year.

2008

WR Ryan Wolfe

■ Why he stood out: Tied school record with 88 receptions. Also finished with 1,040 yards and six touchdowns.

■ UNLV career highlights: Set school records of 283 catches and 3,495 yards. Also was 2006 Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year.

■ What ever happened to him: Signed in 2010 as undrafted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons, but didn’t make the team. Now works for Red Bull energy drink in Las Vegas, and is a valet at Paris Las Vegas.

2007

LB Beau Bell

■ Why he stood out: Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year after leading the conference with 126 tackles and five forced fumbles. Also recorded 9½ tackles for loss, including three sacks.

■ UNLV career highlights: Third in school history with 320 tackles. Also made 27 tackles for loss, including 10½ sacks.

■ What ever happened to him: Drafted in fourth round in 2008 by the Cleveland Browns, but cut the following preseason. Played past two seasons for the Spokane Shock of the Arena Football League.

2006

CB Eric Wright

■ Why he stood out: Southern California transfer was a master at shutting down opposing receivers. Led Mountain West with 2.0 passes defended per game before an injury took him out of three games.

■ UNLV career highlights: Played one season before becoming first Rebel to declare early for the NFL Draft.

■ What ever happened to him: Drafted in the second round in 2007 by the Cleveland Browns. Now entering sixth season, playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

2005

TE Greg Estandia

■ Why he stood out: Led the Rebels with 49 receptions for 563 yards and seven touchdowns.

■ UNLV career highlights: Caught 70 passes for 807 yards and 10 touchdowns in a little more than two seasons.

■ What ever happened to him: Signed in 2006 as an undrafted free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Played four years in the NFL, moving to the Cleveland Browns during the 2009 season.

2004

RB Dominique Dorsey

■ Why he stood out: Rushed for 1,261 yards and six TDs, averaging 5.6 yards a carry.

■ UNLV career highlights: 2001 Mountain West Freshman of the Year after averaging 36.4 yards per kickoff return and 6.6 per rush. Second in school history with 2,834 yards rushing.

■ What ever happened to him: Became a top return specialist in the Canadian Football League, averaging 22.1 yards on kickoff returns and 10.2 on punt returns.

2003, 2002

S Jamaal Brimmer

■ Why he stood out: Voted Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year by the coaches and media in 2002 and media in 2003. Made 100 tackles, including 17 for loss and 5½ sacks, in 2002. Ended 2003 with 77 tackles (10 for loss, three sacks) to go with six interceptions and four forced fumbles.

■ UNLV career highlights: Football News first-team All-American in 2003, and in 2004 a second-team selection by Sporting News and third-teamer by The Associated Press. In 2003 upset victory at Wisconsin, he made 11 tackles, including two sacks, intercepted two passes, forced a fumble and returned a fumble 55 yards for a touchdown.

■ What ever happened to him: Signed as undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks, but did not make the team. Also played in NFL Europe. Works at Clark County Juvenile Detention Center, and is an assistant football coach at Faith Lutheran High School.

2001, 1999

CB Kevin Thomas

■ Why he stood out: Named 2001 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year after establishing school records with seven interceptions and three returned for TDs. In 1999, intercepted five passes and set school record with 24 pass breakups.

■ UNLV career highlights: Known mostly for his role in the greatest play in school history. Scooped up a fumble in his own end zone and returned it 100 yards to beat Baylor 27-24 on the final play of a 1999 game. Third-team All-American by Football News in 2001 and fourth-teamer by Sporting News. Will be inducted into UNLV’s Hall of Fame in October.

■ What ever happened to him: Drafted in the sixth round in 2002 by the Buffalo Bills. Played four seasons for the Bills. Now lives in Dallas, and is seeking a job in coaching.

2000

QB Jason Thomas

■ Why he stood out: Southern California transfer led UNLV to 31-14 win over Arkansas in the Las Vegas Bowl, passing for 217 yards and three touchdowns. Ended season with 1,708 yards passing and 599 rushing.

■ UNLV career highlights: Had 4,997 career yards passing, sixth in school history.

■ What ever happened to him: Signed as undrafted free agent with the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons, but didn’t play in the NFL. Now lives in Oklahoma City, and is a probation and parole officer.

1998

P Joe Kristosik

■ Why he stood out: Led the nation with a 46.2-yard average, earning consensus first-team All-America honors.

■ UNLV career highlights: Averaged 42 yards, seventh in Rebels history. Inducted into UNLV’s Hall of Fame in 2008.

■ What ever happened to him: Substitute teacher in Clark County.

1997

LB Scott Patton

■ Why he stood out: Made a school-record 147 tackles. Five were for loss, and he broke up four passes.

■ UNLV career highlights: Finished two seasons with 228 tackles, 14 for loss.

■ What ever happened to him: Whereabouts are unknown.

1996

QB Jon Denton

■ Why he stood out: Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year (Mountain Division) after passing for 3,591 yards and 25 touchdowns, both NCAA freshman records. Broke 10 national freshman records overall.

■ UNLV career highlights: Played one more season before being indefinitely suspended. Transferred in 1998 to Eastern Kentucky.

■ What ever happened to him: Backup in 2003 for Las Vegas Gladiators of the Arena Football League. Now a partner in 1 Source Media Group, a digital advertising agency in Las Vegas. Also serves on the board of Elite Youth Sports.

1995

LB Marvin Robinson

■ Why he stood out: Made 88 tackles, including nine for loss and 5½ sacks.

■ UNLV career highlights: Finished with 201 career tackles, with 17 for loss and 8½ sacks.

■ What ever happened to him: Whereabouts are unknown.

1994

LB Mark Byers

■ Why he stood out: Led the nation with 20½ sacks, setting a school record.

■ UNLV career highlights: Played two seasons, with sack total equaling his career output and ranking third in team history.

■ What ever happened to him: Played a season in Canadian Football League. Went on to become a champion bodybuilder.

1993

WR Demond Thompkins

■ Why he stood out: Caught 62 passes for 1,068 yards and eight touchdowns. Also averaged 27.6 yards per kickoff return.

■ UNLV career highlights: Led Rebels in receiving in 1992 and 1993, and his three-year total of 142 catches is 10th in school history. Also had 2,396 yards, fifth most, and 17 touchdowns receiving, sixth most.

■ What ever happened to him: Whereabouts are unknown.

1992

WR/Ret Henry Bailey

■ Why he stood out: Recorded school-record 1,883 all-purpose yards. Caught 832 yards in passes and returned kickoffs for 817 yards (24.0 average) and punts for 219 (14.6). Returned one kick and one punt for touchdown.

■ UNLV career highlights: First in school history with 4,889 all-purpose yards, ending four-year career in 1994. Fourth in receiving yards (2,515) and eighth in catches (156).

■ What ever happened to him: Drafted in seventh round in 1995 by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Spent two seasons with the Steelers and one with the New York Jets. Works in sales for Williams-Sonoma in Las Vegas.

1991

QB/WR/Ret Hunkie Cooper

■ Why he stood out: Totaled 1,066 all-purpose yards – 436 rushing, 135 receiving, 186 on punt returns and 309 on kick returns.

■ UNLV career highlights: Recorded 2,771 all-purpose yards in 1990 and 1991, with 1990 a better year statistically.

■ What ever happened to him: Named fifth-best player in Arena Football League history. Played 12 seasons with Arizona Rattlers, and was inducted into AFL Hall of Fame in 2011. Won ArenaBowls in 1994 and 1997. Now football head coach at Canyon Springs High School.

1990

WR Keenan McCardell

■ Why he stood out: Caught 68 passes for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns.

■ UNLV career highlights: Led Rebels in receiving in 1989 and 1990. In 1989, caught 54 passes for 883 yards and five TDs.

■ What ever happened to him: Drafted in 12th round in 1991 by the Washington Redskins. Went on to play 17 NFL seasons, catching 883 passes for 11,373 yards and 63 touchdowns. Part of Super Bowl-winning teams with Redskins in 1991 and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002. Selected to two Pro Bowls. Was Redskins’ receivers coach in 2010 and 2011, but is looking for another coaching position.

1989

DL Doc Wise

■ Why he stood out: Totaled 119 tackles, including 10 for loss and one sack.

■ UNLV career highlights: Made first-team All-Big West Conference in 1988 and 1989. Tied with Jamaal Brimmer for seventh place in school history with 280 tackles. Also made 23 tackles for loss, including nine sacks.

■ What ever happened to him: Played in Arena Football League from 1992 to 1994.

1988

P Tony Rhynes

■ Why he stood out: Averaged 44 yards per punt.

■ UNLV career highlights: First-team All-Big West in 1987 and 1988. Averaged 42.4 yards for his career, ranking sixth in school history.

■ What ever happened to him: Is a Clark County juvenile probation officer.

1987

RB Ickey Woods

■ Why he stood out: Pacific Coast Athletic Association Player of the Year after leading nation with 1,658 yards rushing. Averaged 6.4 yards and rushed for 10 TDs.

■ UNLV career highlights: Ranks seventh in school history with 1,925 yards rushing. Inducted into UNLV’s Hall of Fame in 1998.

■ What ever happened to him: Remains the Rebels’ highest-drafted player, going in the second round and 31st overall to the Cincinnati Bengals in 1988. Rushed for 1,066 yards and team-record 15 touchdowns as a rookie, creating a national sensation with the "Ickey Shuffle." Then was plagued by injuries the following three seasons. Now owns and coaches the Cincinnati Sizzle, a team in the Women’s Football Alliance.

1986

WR George Thomas

■ Why he stood out: Set school record with a 23.8-yard average, with 34 catches for 808 yards and eight touchdowns.

■ UNLV career highlights: Followed that season by making 45 catches for 586 yards and six scores. Led team in receiving both seasons.

■ What ever happened to him: Drafted in sixth round in 1988 by the Atlanta Falcons. Played four seasons in the NFL, moving to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers part way through his final year. Finished with 56 career catches for 848 yards and three TDs. Now head football coach at Indio (Calif.) High School.

1985

LB Daryl Knox

■ Why he stood out: Shown above making a sack, Knox made 20 of them for a school-record 114 yards in losses.

■ UNLV career highlights: Holds UNLV’s career sacks record with 28, totaling that amount during 1984 and 1985 seasons.

■ What ever happened to him: Signed as undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1987 and played three games in his only season.

1984, 1983, 1982

QB Randall Cunningham

■ Why he stood out: Passed for 2,847 yards in 1982, 2,545 in 1983 and 2,628 in 1984. Threw 24 touchdown passes in final season, second-highest total in school history. Led team to 1984 Pacific Coast Athletic Association championship and California Bowl victory over Toledo. No. 12 was retired at halftime of the Southern Methodist game that season. PCAA Offensive Player of the Year in 1983 and 1984. Also, an outstanding punter, named first-team All-American in 1983 by American Football Coaches Association and second-teamer in 1983 and 1984 by The Associated Press.

■ UNLV career highlights: Owns school passing record with 8,020 yards, and ranks first with 59 TD passes. Also holds the record for highest career punting average, at 45.6 yards per attempt. Inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1997 and Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.

■ What ever happened to him: Chosen in the second round in 1985 by Philadelphia Eagles. Played in NFL for 16 seasons, throwing for 29,979 yards and 207 touchdowns. Set NFL’s career rushing record for a quarterback with 4,928 yards before it was broken by Michael Vick last season. Made Pro Bowl four times. Now minister at Remnant Ministries in Las Vegas.

1981

QB Sam King

■ Why he stood out: Threw for a UNLV record 3,778 yards while completing 59.9 percent of his passes and tossing 18 touchdowns. Engineered upset victory over No. 8 Brigham Young at Provo, Utah.

■ UNLV career highlights: Fourth in career passing yardage with 5,393. Finished with 30 TD passes. Inducted into UNLV Hall of Fame in 1994.

■ What ever happened to him: Owns State Farm insurance agency in Henderson.

1980

WR Sam Greene

■ Why he stood out: Set school record with 11 TD receptions. Also finished with 43 catches for 859 yards, a 20.2-yard average.

■ UNLV career highlights: His 21 career TD catches rank third, and his 19.8 average remains the school record.

■ What ever happened to him: The "Disco Kid" was drafted in the fourth round in 1981 by the Miami Dolphins, but didn’t make the team. Also played in the Canadian Football League and United States Football League.

1979

RB Michael Morton

■ Why he stood out: Averaged 6.2 yards while rushing for 881 yards and eight touchdowns.

■ UNLV career highlights: Ran for 2,536 yards, fourth most in school history. His 6-yard per carry average also is fourth, and his 20 TDs are tied for fourth.

■ What ever happened to him: Drafted in 12th round in 1982 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Played five seasons in the NFL, also with Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks. Rushed for 110 yards and one TD on 50 career carries. Retired and lives near Tampa Bay, Fla.

1978

DB Aaron Mitchell

■ Why he stood out: Intercepted six passes, tied for second best in school history.

■ UNLV career highlights: Inducted into UNLV Hall of Fame in 1989.

■ What ever happened to him: Drafted in second round by Dallas in 1979. Played two seasons for Cowboys and one for Tampa Bay Buccaneers, making four career interceptions.

1977

RB Raymond Strong

■ Why he stood out: Gained 843 yards rushing, averaging 5.9, and ran for six TDs.

■ UNLV career highlights: Holds school record with 7.3-yard per-carry average in 1976, when he had 907 yards and nine TDs. His 1,750 yards rank 10th all time and 6.5 average is second. Inducted into UNLV Hall of Fame in 1989.

■ What ever happened to him: Drafted in 10th round by Atlanta in 1978. Played five seasons for Falcons, compiling 163 yards and three touchdowns on 45 carries.

1976

QB Glenn Carano

■ Why he stood out: Passed for 2,024 yards and 13 touchdowns, leading the Rebels to the Division II quarterfinals and No. 7 national ranking.

■ UNLV career highlights: Fifth in school history with 5,095 yards. Also threw 37 touchdown passes.

■ What ever happened to him: Drafted in second round by Dallas in 1977. Played seven seasons for Cowboys, throwing for 304 yards and three TDs. Also played in the United States Football League. Now marketing director at Silver Legacy in Reno, and serves on Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority board.

1975

DL Joe Ingersoll

■ Why he stood out: First-team American Football Coaches Association All-American. Statistics are unavailable.

■ UNLV career highlights: Second-team AFCA All-American in 1974. Inducted in 1987 as part of the school’s first Hall of Fame class.

■ What ever happened to him: Drafted in seventh round by Miami Dolphins in 1976, but didn’t make the team.

1974, 1973

RB Mike Thomas

■ Why he stood out: Oklahoma transfer owns school records with 1,741 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing in 1973, and ran for 1,408 yards and 17 TDs the following season. UNLV’s first All-American, he earned first-team honors from American Football Coaches Association both seasons.

■ UNLV career highlights: Rebels’ all-time leading rusher, gaining 3,149 yards in two seasons. His 37 touchdowns rushing also is a record, as is his 6.6 per-carry average. Inducted into UNLV Hall of Fame in 1989.

■ What ever happened to him: Drafted in fifth round in 1975 by the Washington Redskins. Played four seasons for Redskins and two for San Diego Chargers. Rushed for 4,196 yards and 19 touchdowns, gaining 1,101 yards in 1976 for Washington. Owns Mae Frances Foods in Missouri City, Texas.

1972

P Jim DiFiore

■ Why he stood out: Averaged 42.1 yards per punt.

■ UNLV career highlights: Punted for four seasons, beginning in 1970. Is 11th in UNLV history with a 40.4 average.

■ What ever happened to him: Business services manager for the City of Las Vegas from 1977 to 2011 before retiring.

1971

LB Ken Mitchell

■ Why he stood out: Made 11 sacks, third best in school history.

■ UNLV career highlights: Inducted into UNLV Hall of Fame in 1989.

■ What ever happened to him: Signed as undrafted free agent with Atlanta Falcons in 1973, and played two seasons.

1970

DE Tommy Rowland

■ Why he stood out: Known for his ability to stop the run and being constantly around the ball, Rowland lettered four years and was part of the first team in 1968.

■ UNLV career highlights: Inducted into UNLV Hall of Fame in 1994.

■ What ever happened to him: Was assistant coach for three local high schools, and last year was inducted into Southern Nevada High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Retired from Clark County School District.

1969

RB Mack Gilchrist

■ Why he stood out: Rushed for 765 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 5 yards per carry.

■ UNLV career highlights: His 1,850 yards rank ninth at UNLV. Also rushed for 25 touchdowns.

■ What ever happened to him: Whereabouts are unknown.

1968

QB Bill Casey

■ Why he stood out: Completed 56.6 percent of his passes for 1,423 yards and 11 TDs. Averaged 37.4 yards per punt.

■ UNLV career highlights: Known as the Rebels’ first quarterback.

■ What ever happened to him: Registered representative in Henderson for AIG/Financial Advisors.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

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