Garin Justice knows what it’s like to lead a room full of football players, so when he was asked to take over as UNLV’s offensive coordinator two weeks ago, he was prepared to handle the situation.
Rebels coach Tony Sanchez had to make a late change on his staff after offensive coordinator Barney Cotton stepped aside because he needs a heart transplant.
Sanchez turned to the 37-year-old Justice, who was hired last year as the Rebels’ offensive line coach. Justice also was the head coach at Concord, a Division II program in Athens, West Virginia, where he went 40-17 from 2011 to 2015.
“Being a head coach for five years, it allows you to really get command of the room,” Justice said after Friday’s first day of training camp at Rebel Park. “Now you go from 100 guys to now offensively you’re only going to 50, so having that gives you a presence. It gives you a voice. It gives you a comfort as far as what you’re doing.”
Along with the familiarity of being in charge of an entire team, Justice is well-served with the year he has been in the UNLV program.
The Rebels began working in the spring on implementing more of the run-pass option to better suit junior quarterback Armani Rogers’ dual-threat abilities, so that process will continue under Justice.
“Any time there’s a different personality, there might be little nuances in there,” Sanchez said. “But the one thing we’ve done a good job of is having a collaborative process. At the end of the day, I’m not going to micromanage Garin. He’ll go in and he’ll call it, but we’ll all be involved in the game plan and talking about what we’re doing.”
Any other changes are expected to be subtle as the Rebels prepare for their Aug. 31 season opener against Southern Utah at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The Rebels already operate a run-based offense, and Justice is the run game coordinator. UNLV has averaged at least 224.3 yards rushing per game each of the past three seasons.
“I kind of know our strengths and weaknesses over all this offense,” Justice said. “I know what some of the guys can and can’t do. And then we’ve got to test guys to see if maybe they can do some of the things we didn’t think they did, but walking in and having familiarity helps big time.”
From a player standpoint, they also know what to expect from Justice, especially those on the offensive line.
“We’ve had multiple guys go and see him, and there’s not one time we’ve gone in there when he’s not watching film,” senior center Sid Acosta said. “He’s always learning something new, and it’s sparked a lot in the guys ourselves to want to learn.”
Acosta said Justice is a great teacher.
“My first year here (2017), I didn’t even play, and my second year when Coach Justice got here, he basically taught me the offense that I was supposed to learn my first year,” Acosta said. “He just makes everything so simple, and he actually made it simpler by cutting down the terms and everything we have. Give it about a week and everybody’s going to be catching on.”
Notes from Friday’s first day of training camp at Rebel Park:
— The NCAA turned down UNLV’s request for a waiver so that sophomore running back Biaggio Ali Walsh can play this season. The school is appealing the decision, but coach Tony Sanchez said it was doubtful it will be overturned. Ali Walsh, who went to Bishop Gorman High and is Muhammad Ali’s grandson, transferred from California in January.
— Freshman defensive backs Jeremiah Houston and Gamon Howard did not qualify academically.
— Juniors Farrell Hester II and Vic Viramontes are sharing first-team snaps at middle linebacker, and Sanchez said both are expected to split plays during the season.
— The Rebels are being eased into camp, with practice ending 40 minutes early. Practice began at 8 a.m. and ended at 9:50.
Mark Anderson Review-Journal