When Tim Cornett was running up and down Houston high school football fields, Keith Whitely was in the stands watching.
Little did Whitely know he eventually would follow Cornett to UNLV.
Whitely (5 feet 9 inches, 185 pounds) went through his first practice Tuesday at Rebel Park as UNLV opened preseason camp. The incoming freshman could find a spot in the three-back rotation coach Bobby Hauck likes to use, or he could redshirt and better prepare himself for an even bigger impact next year.
“I’m trying to come in as focused as I can,” Whitely said. “When you’re nervous, you’re even more focused, so I’m trying to come out here and condition, adjust to the climate and that kind of stuff. Once I get on the field, I study my plays, and from there on it’s just hard work and listening, listening, listening.”
UNLV coaches hope Whitely’s role in future years more closely mirrors what he did at La Porte High School in Houston. Whitely rushed for 1,347 yards and nine touchdowns last season, and Scout.com ranked him as the nation’s No. 87 back.
He was considered one of UNLV’s top recruits in this year’s class.
“I knew I wanted to come here and kind of change the evolution of the program,” Whitely said. “I think we’re going to shock a lot of people this year, and I’m really excited. I’m really glad they brought me in, and I love it here.”
■ ALL ABOARD — For the first time since those connected with UNLV’s program could remember, every returning player is academically eligible.
“It means we’re making some progress academically,” Hauck said. “We all invest time in each other, and teammates are counting on people. When you let down the team, (academic ineligibility) is truly letting down the team. So that’s a big positive for us.”
Two newcomers, wide receiver Devonte Boyd (Basic High) running back Niko Kapeli (Liberty), are trying to get cleared academically. They might not become eligible for a few months, however.
■ NEW PICKUP — Junior defensive tackle Senituli Fakauho (6-1, 300) was added to the roster. The Liberty High and Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College product walked on but could earn a scholarship that would count against next year’s class.
■ CAREER OVER? — Fullback William Vea, who went to Pahranagat Valley High, might be finished playing football after struggling to return from back problems. Hauck said he hasn’t ruled out Vea’s return but wasn’t optimistic the junior could play again. Vea would remain on scholarship.
■ REDS FANS — UNLV practiced in red shorts and shoes, the first time the Rebels have been in that look since John Robinson coached the team in the early 2000s.
■ BIG TURNOUT — Nearly 500 children participated in Monday’s Las Vegas Bowl NCAA Youth Clinic. It was the highest turnout for the event, which is in its fifth year. UNLV coaches and players took part in the clinic at Rebel Park.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.