UNLV receivers boast quality, not quantity

Kenny Keys left his shoulder pads and jersey on the practice field, so younger brother Kendal had no choice but to lug two sets of the equipment back to the locker room.

“Irresponsible,” Kendal Keys said in a mostly joking manner.

If anyone knows about responsibility, it’s Kendal Keys and the rest of UNLV’s receiving corps.

They have the responsibility, even with only six scholarship players, of being one of the strengths of the Rebels’ football team.

“It’s been our most consistent group,” coach Tony Sanchez said after Wednesday morning’s practice at Rebel Park.

Expectations are high at that position even with the loss of Devante Davis, the fourth-leading receiver in UNLV history. That’s partly because the Rebels — Devonte Boyd, in particular — already know what it’s like to replace Davis.

Boyd had to step up when Davis missed five games last season with a wrist injury. Boyd did more than that, catching 65 passes for 980 yards, both UNLV freshman records. That production earned him Mountain West Freshman of the Year and freshman All-America honors by the Football Writers Association of America.

Now a sophomore, Boyd (6 feet 1 inches, 175 pounds) is taking on senior-level responsibilities.

“In some (practice) periods, I feel like I can be a second coach, especially with the receivers,” said Boyd, who went to Basic High School. “After a while, a coach nagging on you and nagging on you and nagging on you every day gets annoying, so sometimes you need your brother to get on you about it.”

Wide receivers coach Cedric Cormier knows Boyd’s intentions come from a good place, but leadership presents itself in many forms.

“We’ve got to make sure he’s a positive leader,” Cormier said. “He gets on them quite a bit. Football is real important to him. He’s a very competitive kid, and he wants to do well. He wants the group to do well.”

Cormier oversees one of the more talented 1-2 duos in the Mountain West in Boyd and Kendal Keys, a fellow sophomore who showed last season why he originally signed with conference power Boise State. Keys (6-4, 200) started six games and caught 24 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns.

“He made some big-time catches last year, and then he would drop the routine ones,” Cormier said. “So we just want him to focus and be able to become a guy that plays 75, 80 plays a game and takes that next step.”

Also back are seniors Anthony Williams (5-11, 195) and Aaron Criswell (5-10, 180).

Williams has been consistent, catching 21 to 24 passes each of the past three seasons. Though he has big-play ability — Williams averaged 15.3 yards per catch in 2012 — he was more of a dependable short-yardage receiver the past two seasons.

Criswell redshirted last season because the Rebels were so deep at the position that it made little sense to play him. So now Criswell is showing in practice why the wait was worth it.

“Ant’s one of the most steady kids we have, and he’s got a workman attitude,” Cormier said. “Criswell’s been the most improved guy we’ve had from last year to this year. … He makes one big play a day, and that’s what we’re going to need out of him because he adds some speed to the group, and he’s a high-energy kid.”

Incoming freshmen Brandon Presley (6-0, 175) and Darren Woods Jr. (6-1, 220) also add plenty to the position. They signed with UNLV expecting to play right away because the Rebels need the bodies at that position, but they are more than just players to fill up a roster.

“They’ve got great hands,” Keys said. “They definitely can listen and learn. They rarely make the same mistake twice.

“They keep getting (repetitions) because they keep making plays.”

UNLV has concerns, but receiver isn’t one of them.

At least not the quality of the players.

Sanchez just wishes he had more of them.

“Unfortunately, there are six scholarship receivers,” Sanchez said. “We probably should be anywhere from eight to 10. So those guys have got to be good, and thank goodness, they’re quality, and they’re all doing a good job out here.”

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

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