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‘It means that much’: UNLV seniors eager for final Cannon showdown

Updated November 25, 2022 - 9:06 am

UNLV fifth-year defensive lineman Tavis Malakius doesn’t wear blue much anymore.

In 2018, Malakius was playing his first season at UNLV after transferring from Fort Scott Community College. It was early in the week, and Malakias randomly grabbed a blue shirt out of his dresser before heading out.

As he entered the practice facility, Malakius was stopped by former UNLV coach Tony Sanchez.

“He was like, ‘What do you have on?’” Malakius recalled.

He had accidentally committed a terrible sin. Malakius had worn blue — the color of UNR — during rivalry week. Sanchez and his teammates weren’t going to let the newcomer go without teaching him a lesson, so they confiscated his shirt.

Five years later, Malakius is one of 10 UNLV super seniors — players who gained an extra year of eligibility because of the coronavirus pandemic — preparing to play the final game of their collegiate careers when the Rebels host UNR at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Battle for the Fremont Cannon.

Now, Malakius is the one helping enforce the traditions and superstitions that make the rivalry different.

“It means that much,” Malakius said.

The Rebels (4-7, 2-5 Mountain West) and the Wolf Pack (2-9, 0-7) are desperate for a win. UNLV has lost six consecutive games. UNR is enduring its worst season since 2017, when the Wolf Pack entered the Battle for the Fremont Cannon 2-9 but defeated Sanchez’s Rebels 23-16 to prevent UNLV from becoming bowl eligible.

For fifth-year players such as Malakius, the records don’t subtract from the importance of a rivalry win.

Fellow fifth-year defensive lineman Eliel Ehimare said winning against UNR is a way for seniors to carve their legacy into the foundation of UNLV’s program. Almost literally.

Senior classes who win the Battle for the Fremont Cannon get to put their names on a plaque. It’s then hung in the entrance hall of the Fertitta Football Complex at Rebel Park to welcome players to the facility and remind them of the rivalry’s importance.

“You’re etched in the school’s history forever when you win that rivalry game against Reno,” Ehimare said.

Like Malakius, Ehimare didn’t understand the depth of the rivalry when he first arrived at UNLV in 2019 from Cabrillo College. He took a redshirt during his first season with the Rebels, but he was part of the team’s travel squad and had a chance to experience the Battle for the Fremont Cannon firsthand when UNLV traveled to Reno that season.

Ehimare said the atmosphere felt different from the moment UNLV ran out onto the field as the jeers never stopped from UNR fans. He said that first experience helped set the tone for his approach to games against the Wolf Pack for the rest of his career.

“You could feel the hate,” Ehimare said.

The two defensive lineman have felt the joy of beating UNR, as UNLV won in 2018 and 2019. However, it’s been a few years since Ehimare and Malakius have felt the rush of a rivalry win, something both want to experience one last time.

“We’re rivals,” Ehimare said. “We don’t like them. They don’t like us.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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