UNLV picks up key transfer from Washington

UNLV’s defensive line received a much-needed boost Friday.

Defensive end Josh Shirley transferred from Washington and went through his first day of practice at Rebel Park. He is eligible to play this season.

“I think our D-line shored up to a degree,” coach Bobby Hauck said. “A player of Josh’s abilities will help us.”

Shirley (6 feet 3 inches, 228 pounds) can play immediately because he has received his undergraduate degree at Washington. He will pursue a master’s degree in public administration.

He made 8½ sacks for the Huskies in 2011, but his playing time dropped and numbers fell to 6½ the following season and to three last year. Shirley, however, showed his big-play ability against Boise State in the 2012 MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, forcing two fumbles and making a tackle for loss.

If he had stayed at Washington, Shirley likely would have been stuck behind Hau’oli Kikaha, who made 13 sacks last season and is on the watch list for the Bednarik Award, which goes to the nation’s top defensive player.

Shirley’s potential was considered great enough, however, to be pegged by at least one site early last year as a possible NFL Draft first-round pick.

Now he’s at UNLV, which needs to improve its defensive line after losing its top three tackles. That has forced the Rebels to consider shifting players, a process now made easier with Shirley’s presence.

“As practice goes on, I’m going to try to benefit and help the team out as much as I can,” Shirley said.

He said he began to think about leaving Washington because his mother in Southern California became sick, and he wanted to return to the area to be closer to her. She became better, Shirley said, so he began to look beyond the Los Angeles area.

He began his collegiate career at UCLA, signing out of Kaiser High School in Fontana, Calif., but was let go after being arrested with two others on suspicion of stealing a purse. He later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and told The Seattle Times that incident “was not in my character.”

Former Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, now the head coach at Southern California, told the Times that Shirley has “been a good student, he’s been great in the community, he’s been a good teammate. I couldn’t ask for more than what he’s brought.”

Shirley, as per NCAA rules, did not practice in pads Friday and won’t be allowed to today, either. He will go into half pads Sunday, and will practice in full pads beginning Tuesday.

He is a welcome sight for the Rebels to provide help to a part of the defense that badly needs it. UNLV must hope Shirley is the kind of playmaker he was early in his Washington career, and if he becomes that performer, the Rebels have taken a step toward being even more competitive in the Mountain West’s wide-open West Division.

UNLV opens its season Aug. 29 at Arizona.

“It’s good to have him in camp and moving forward,” Hauck said. “Our people did a good job of getting it done. Our grad school had to admit him, and we appreciate that. That’s the spirit of cooperation on the campus. It’s good to have him out here.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

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