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Marcus Arroyo, Rebels talk about much more than football

Updated June 12, 2020 - 2:34 pm

UNLV football coach Marcus Arroyo calls them Rebel Roundtables, the nightly conversations between players and coaches from different position groups, different socioeconomic backgrounds and different parts of the country.

But there’s a catch.

“I don’t want (them) talking about football,” Arroyo said. “I wanted to get down to some tough stuff. I want to get down to things that matter.”

There’s been plenty of things for Arroyo and the Rebels to talk about in the last several weeks, such as the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery — and the social justice they hope to help achieve. Arroyo was among the first Division I coaches to speak publicly in solidarity with the black communities and against inequality.

He said Friday that the Rebels have continued to have a healthy dialogue about the social unrest and reaffirmed his support for his players during a monumental time in America.

“You talk about an iceberg that you get a chance to tackle as a coach and a program and a staff and as a man and a parent and just as a human,” Arroyo said. “We really hit it right between the eyes. I started with those guys having a very humbling, authentic, open dialogue that was really focused on a ton of humility. That’s where our meetings really took off right away.”

Arroyo had sought to establish that kind of culture well before Floyd died in Minneapolis after being held on the ground by a knee placed against his head by then-police officer Derek Chauvin. There’s been plenty of conversation about football, too, and the coaching staff’s new philosophies and schemes.

But the coronavirus and its parameters created a space for vulnerable, personal conversations that may not have happened if football were the focal point. UNLV defensive end Nate Neal said Tuesday during the school’s virtual Rebel Caravan that his teammates had never communicated more.

Arroyo realized that was the case during the first virtual meeting about social unrest after Floyd’s death, noting that he may coach 20 years “and not have something like this pop up.”

“It took us two minutes in that conversation before we had guys, African Americans and white young men from different sides of the planet that voted different and feel different open up and hear each other,” Arroyo said. “That to me was the flag right there. What we just went through with COVID and what we did in three months, that in this moment is coming to life. It just reiterated what we believe in as a staff. If you think that stuff is not important, then you’re missing the boat because we won’t do it any other way.”

Arroyo revealed during the caravan on Tuesday that the football program is working with the school’s political science department, a move unanimously supported by the players. They’ve already had discussions with some in the department about things such as voting and navigating the political structure.

He believes the partnership “is going to pay dividends.”

“The first thing you’re doing is creating more and more dialogue,” Arroyo said. “Hopefully, what you end up doing is (our players) end up organizing and demonstrating the right way, sitting in and standing up and leading with each other. That in turn leads to a community aspect that I think is a huge piece, which is really important for them, to get out of our little bubble and embrace the larger things around them.”

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

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