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‘Run it back’: Two key UNLV football players returning next season

Updated December 24, 2023 - 2:58 pm

PHOENIX — UNLV fans received some early presents with the Guaranteed Rate Bowl’s media day taking place Christmas Eve.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Jayden Maiava and junior wide receiver Ricky White — key components to the Rebels’ first-year turnaround under coach Barry Odom — told the Review-Journal on Sunday they will return for the 2024 season.

“I’m staying here,” White said. “I definitely want to be a Rebel.”

Added Maiava: “I’ll be back here. We’re going to run it back.”

Maiava and White have been central cogs to UNLV’s resurgent offense. The Rebels are averaging 34.3 points per game, tied for 21st-most among the 133 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Maiava was the Mountain West freshman of the year. White earned third-team Associated Press All-America honors and broke UNLV’s single-season receiving record.

They are a major reason why the Rebels will play their first bowl game in 10 seasons Tuesday when they face Kansas in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.

“Those two are extreme playmakers,” Odom said. “For us, if we can get them back next year, then there’s a lot of pieces we can build around them. They’re great leaders, tremendous players and unbelievable young men that I’ve really enjoyed coaching.”

Maiava, a Las Vegas native, said he wants to build a winning legacy at UNLV. He sees potential in the Rebels’ trajectory and bought into the team’s culture under Odom. He also said UNLV needs to handle its unfinished business next season. The Rebels lost their last two contests, including a 44-20 defeat to Boise State in the Mountain West championship game at Allegiant Stadium on Dec. 2.

“I got this feeling something great is about to happen here the next couple years,” Maiava said.

White, who transferred to UNLV from Michigan State before the 2022 season, admitted he considered entering the transfer portal or declaring for the NFL draft after his record-setting campaign.

He decided to stay because of offensive coordinator Brennan Marion, whose Go-Go offense allowed White to haul in 81 catches for 1,386 yards — fourth-most in the FBS — and seven touchdowns.

Maiava said Marion was a huge factor in his decision to stay as well. The former Liberty standout threw for 2,794 yards and 14 touchdowns this season as the Rebels’ starter. He added 261 yards and three scores on the ground.

“Just knowing I’ve got Ricky White back and coach Marion back next season, I feel more comfortable about going into next season and balling out,” Maiava said.

White said this season is just the beginning of the Rebels’ ascension. He’s excited about the players UNLV is bringing back and said he trusts the coaching staff to add even more offensive talent.

Odom said he hopes to retain as much of the current roster as possible. He knows his staff will have to sell some players on staying, but he won’t have to worry about Maiava and White anymore.

That solidifies the foundation the Rebels have built.

“I’ve made my decision,” White said. “I want to be here.”

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

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