The battles for starting jobs usually draw the most attention, but the competition for UNLV’s backup quarterback almost can’t be overstated.
No quarterback has started every game in a season for the Rebels since Jon Denton in 1996, putting junior Max Gilliam and redshirt freshman Kenyon Oblad in the spotlight.
Coach Tony Sanchez said Gilliam is slightly ahead of Oblad to back up junior Armani Rogers, but the decision won’t be made until training camp in August.
“They both have different skill sets,” Sanchez said. “Gilliam is probably a little more savvy right now just because of experience, because of age (21), the things that he does. Runs the ball better than Oblad. Oblad probably has a livelier arm. He’s figuring it out and still learning it. It’s still new to him, but I think both of them bring a lot of value in different ways.”
Gilliam (6 feet 3 inches, 200 pounds) learned first hand the importance of being ready in case the starter gets hurt. Rogers injured a toe four weeks into last season and Gilliam started the following seven games.
He completed 55.3 percent of his passes for 1,394 yards with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
The Rebels lost his first five starts, but Gilliam improved and led the Rebels to a 27-24 victory at San Diego State in Week 10. He passed for 237 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown to give UNLV its first victory at San Diego State since 2000.
“The confidence aspect of (last season) for sure carries over (to spring),” Gilliam said. “I feel like nobody can really stop me, nobody can really stop us, when I’m on the field.”
His experience, the good and the bad, should help Gilliam in case he’s called on again.
“I definitely have the same mindset as last year,” Gilliam said. “I’m going to prepare like I’m the starter. Obviously, I hope it doesn’t, but if something does happen to Armani, I’ll be ready.”
Oblad (6-3, 190) sat out last season but took advantage of the NCAA’s new redshirt rule to play against Fresno State and not lose a year of eligibility. He completed 1 of 5 passes for 7 yards, certainly too small a sample size to make any kind of credible judgment about his ability.
Now Oblad, who at Liberty High School became Nevada’s career passing leader with 11,828 yards, is trying to show his ability in spring practices. He threw several on-the-mark passes in a team session Monday morning at Rebel Park.
“I feel I’ve been pretty good on my accuracy,” Oblad said. “I know it can definitely improve a lot, but that’s probably one of my strong points.”
Oblad has more than a year of experience in the system and with a coaching staff that remained intact. He left Liberty a semester early to enroll in UNLV.
“This is my second spring, so that’s really big for me,” Oblad said. “It’s helped me learn a lot and really get the offense down.”