Junior running back Smith getting plenty of action in spring practice

Space keeps clearing for Adonis Smith, and he has plenty of open field this spring to show his talent.

Gone are his two top competitors at running back, with Bradley Randle leaving UNLV early for the NFL Draft and Tim Cornett being sidelined for spring football practices because of arm surgery.

That means extra snaps for Smith, a junior who transferred from Northwestern a year ago.

“He needs the plays,” coach Bobby Hauck said. “The repetitions in practice will be really good for him. The more he can get, the more he can handle this spring, the better.”

Smith and Randle, who last season rushed for 635 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns, figured to have a heated competition this spring and in August for the No. 2 spot behind Cornett.

Randle’s decision to leave thins the position, but running back still could be the Rebels’ strongest unit. Cornett had 1,232 yards and seven touchdowns rushing last year.

UNLV added some depth to the position Tuesday by announcing the signing of Shaquille Murray-Lawrence (5 feet 8 inches, 190 pounds) of Tyler (Texas) Junior College.

So the backfield should be crowded in training camp, especially with incoming freshmen Niko Kapeli (5-8, 205) of Liberty High School and Keith Whitely (5-9, 185) of Houston’s La Porte High joining the mix in the summer.

Smith (5-11, 200) first signed with Northwestern out of Junipero Serra High in San Mateo, Calif., where he was ranked the nation’s No. 62 running back by SuperPrep. Scout.com and Tom Lemming rated him Northern California’s top back.

Northwestern played Smith right away, and he appeared in nine games as a freshman and started one. He played eight games the next year. In the two seasons combined, he rushed for 462 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 4.3 yards per carry.

“If you look at his film at Northwestern, he was a pretty talented guy,” running backs coach Dominic Daste said. “So he understands what to do. But he’s been a little rusty. He’s got to pick up some things he hasn’t done in a year.”

Smith said he wanted to play closer to home, and when he decided to leave the Wildcats, UNLV offered him the opportunity to return to the West.

“They can come watch me,” Smith said of his family. “It’s easier. It was a great opportunity to be at this place. I see nothing but positives from here.”

NCAA transfer rules forced him to sit last season, but with the redshirt having gone unused at Northwestern, Smith will have two seasons of eligibility.

His first taste of Rebels football occurred in camp last year when he showed promise but knew his season would be spent on the scout team.

Now that Smith is competing for playing time, this is a learning time for coaches as well to get a better idea of what he can contribute.

“I have not coached him really on the field,” Daste said. “A lot of it was him on the scout team last year, so I haven’t had a whole bunch of time with him.”

Smith is hungry not only to play well for himself but for the team.

He watched the Rebels blow three fourth-quarter leads last season, and he expects better days ahead.

“I think those scores showed that we can compete with a lot of these guys,” Smith said. “It was little mistakes that we had. If we correct those things with what we’re doing in the spring, I think we’ll be a team that’s hard to beat.”

■ NOTE — The Rebels also added offensive lineman Doug Saeks (6-6, 300) of Palomar College in San Marcos, Calif.

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

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