Hired by UNLV in December 2014, Rebels football coach Tony Sanchez had less than three months to cobble together his first recruiting class. Given a full year since then to compile UNLV’s 2016 crop, Sanchez and his staff have produced arguably the best recruiting class in school history.
Providing the 15 high school seniors who have orally committed to UNLV sign their letters of intent on National Signing Day on Wednesday, the Rebels will have landed a school-record 10 three-star recruits, as ranked by Rivals.com. UNLV’s class is ranked No. 66 in the nation, its highest ranking since 2003, when the Rebels were slotted No. 54 under College Football Hall of Fame coach John Robinson.
“It’s the start of the Tony Sanchez era,” Rivals recruiting analyst Blair Angulo said of the former Bishop Gorman High School coach. “He understands what recruiting is, obviously, coming from a high school program that develops so many college players. And Tony can relate to these younger guys.”
Greg Biggins, Scout.com’s director of recruiting, also attributes UNLV’s rise in the recruiting ranks to Sanchez’s infectious personality and experience with college recruiters at Gorman, which he guided to the mythical 2014 national title.
“Tony’s awesome. He’s the kind of guy you can sit back and hang out with at a bar, but on the football field, he’s intense, high energy and all over the field,” Biggins said. “He had every school in the country visiting Gorman when he was there, so he knows what’s phony and what’s not.”
UNLV’s class is ranked No. 3 in the Mountain West — behind Boise State (12 three-star recruits) and Colorado State (nine three-star recruits) — and second in the conference in three-star players. By comparison, previous Rebels coach Bobby Hauck’s final recruiting class in 2014 was ranked last in the league and had only one three-star recruit.
“I definitely see an uptick in UNLV’s recruiting. I think they’ll be putting together a nice, solid roster in the next couple of years,” Biggins said. “I like Bobby, but I think Tony has an A-plus staff. They have a lot of real solid recruiters. It’s probably the best staff they’ve had, and Tony has always been a really aggressive guy.
“That’s not to say Bobby wasn’t (aggressive), but they never seemed to prioritize in-state kids. He almost looked at them as an afterthought after he missed out on other guys. All of the (locals’) first offer should be from UNLV, and Tony is making the in-state guys a little more of a priority.”
The first two players to commit to UNLV’s 2016 class were three-star Gorman offensive linemen Jaron Caldwell and Julio Garcia, team captains who helped pave the way for the Gaels to win the past two national titles.
“People talk about (quarterback Tate) Martell and (receiver Tyjon) Lindsey, but I don’t think anything is possible without the two pillars on the offensive line,” Angulo said. “Sanchez is going to build from within, in the trenches.”
Donovan Outlaw, a two-star offensive lineman from Coronado High, also has committed to UNLV.
At the top of the Rebels’ recruiting class are dual-threat quarterbacks Armani Rogers and Johnny Stanton. The 6-foot-5-inch Rogers — a former California commit from Los Angeles’ Hamilton High who also had scholarship offers from Arizona State, UCLA and Utah, among others — is rated a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and a four-star recruit by ESPN.
“We think he’s definitely a Pac-12-level player,” Angulo said. “I’m not sure he’s going to make an impact right away and contribute right away, but he’s a guy you develop in that offense. With his dual-threat capability, he has the ability to extend plays, and he has a big-time arm.”
The 6-2, 235-pound Stanton, a junior college midyear addition, played sparingly at Nebraska before regrouping at Saddleback College last season, where he earned All-America honors while leading the Gauchos to the national title game.
“I love Johnny Stanton. I’ve been covering him since he was a sophomore in high school,” Biggins said. “It kind of surprised me that it didn’t work out at Nebraska. He’s such a gamer. I compare him to Tim Tebow. He’s tough, physical, and his leadership is off the charts.
“I’d be surprised if he’s not an impact guy.”
Stanton, who was recruited by the likes of Oregon and Wisconsin coming out of Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) High, was impressed with Sanchez during the recruiting process.
“He’s the most active recruiting head coach I’ve ever seen,” Stanton said. “If you’re trying to turn around the program, you’re doing exactly what coach Sanchez is doing.”
UNLV also landed three promising three-star players from Fresno, Calif., in linebacker David Tate Jr., defensive lineman Leveel Tatum and running back Charles Williams, all of whom have the potential to contribute as true freshmen.
“I love the Fresno kids,” Biggins said. “They definitely can play.”
The Rebels received commitments from two three-star tight ends as well as junior college midyear addition Tim Holt and Gio Fauolo.
“We really like Tim Holt. He can make plays down the middle of the field, is a really good route runner and, like any other juco player, he’s physically ready to step in right away and make an impact,” Angulo said. “A guy who flew under the radar and is maybe a steal for them is Gio Fauolo. He’s a very physical guy who had a lot of Pac-12 attention.
“It all adds up to a really good class.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33