Rebels counting on local players

ELY — Even incoming freshman Phillip Payne, a Western High School graduate, didn’t realize how many locals played football for UNLV when he signed.

He isn’t alone. Coach Mike Sanford said he fights the perception that the Rebels coaching staff doesn’t aggressively recruit in the Las Vegas area. The Rebels will count on many local players this season, which opens Aug. 30 against Utah State at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Four locals signed by Sanford’s staff are starters — defensive tackle Jacob Hales, linebacker Ronnie Paulo, tight end Ryan Worthen and kicker Ben Jaekle. A fifth player, Payne, could start at wide receiver.

Six are second on the depth chart — linebackers Nate Carter and Rusty Worthen, center Mike Donato, offensive tackles Mario Jeberaeel and Richie Plunkett and defensive tackle Perry Eppenger.

Also, safety Chris Jones looks ready to make an immediate impact, and fellow incoming freshman Beau Orth could play at defensive back.

The Rebels recruit heaviest in talent-rich California and have made headway into Arizona, Hawaii and Texas.

UNLV’s roster comprises 49 players from California, 19 from the Las Vegas area, seven each from Arizona and Texas and six from Hawaii.

But Sanford acknowledged there is a perception that the Rebels ignore most local recruits, particularly the bigger names who might be more inclined to play for a Pacific-10 or Big 12 conference power if given the opportunity.

"In building this program, we would like to be able to keep more guys in Las Vegas," Sanford said. "We’d like to get to the point where we don’t lose guys to other places, but unfortunately that’s going to happen."

• CATCH ME IF YOU CAN — Hitting the quarterback was fair game for the first time this preseason in a team drill Wednesday morning, but no designed runs were called for Omar Clayton or Mike Clausen.

Clayton ran twice, breaking free the first time for a 40-yard touchdown down the left sideline. He gained 4 yards on his second attempt, getting stopped cold by Rusty Worthen of Palo Verde High.

"It’s always fun the first time you get to go live," Clayton said. "I think the defensive guys like it more than anybody because they get tired of hearing, ‘The quarterback is not live in this drill.’ … They definitely get fired up. But we need contact before that first game."

Because Clausen didn’t run, Sanford said he probably would make him "live" again at some point.

• BATTLE FOR NO. 2 — No one will unseat Frank Summers as the Rebels’ starting tailback, but there is an intense competition to be his backup.

Channing Trotter helped himself with a big play. After patiently waiting behind his blockers until space opened up on the right side, he broke free for a 38-yard touchdown run down the sideline.

"Being able to break one, to do something that a couple of other guys haven’t done yet, will maybe get the coaches’ eyes a little bit more," Trotter said.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at or 702-387-2914.

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