Versatile Barnhill never out of position for Rebels

The 7-yard pass went to Taylor Barnhill near the left corner of the end zone, a catch to give UNLV an improbable 35-31 victory at Hawaii.

Or so it seemed.

It’s not news what happened in the remaining 15 seconds of that game, the Rainbow Warriors coming back to claim a controversial 37-35 victory Saturday.

What should have been Barnhill’s signature moment went for naught, but his play shouldn’t be overlooked. He was exactly where UNLV needed him, and that’s been the theme of his college football career since he signed nearly five years ago out of Justin Northwest High School north of Fort Worth, Texas.

Barnhill not only has carried out whatever task was asked of him, but he has done so without complaint.

“He cares,” coach Bobby Hauck said. “He’s a good teammate. He’s devoted to his team. He’s a good student. He’s the complete package.”

Now Barnhill is preparing to take the field at Sam Boyd Stadium for the final time. He and 24 other seniors will be honored before the Rebels face UNR at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

“I know the record (2-10) is what it is today, but in terms of the attitude, the effort level, the competitiveness, these (seniors) are special,” Hauck said. “Taylor’s one of them.”

None has been asked to do as much as Barnhill, who signed as a quarterback. After redshirting in 2010, he played seven games the following season, starting at quarterback at New Mexico and Texas Christian. But as a sign of what was to come, he also practiced that season at H-back.

Then the following spring, Barnhill was used at linebacker, then was switched to tight end/H-back for the 2012 season where he finally found a home.

But Barnhill even got some work at quarterback last week as a potential injury replacement for Blake Decker and Jared Lebowitz. Decker already was banged up and didn’t play until the fourth quarter, and Hauck didn’t want to remove freshman quarterback Kevin Thomson’s redshirt designation 11 games into the season.

Barnhill might be in play as the emergency quarterback again this weekend, though Hauck certainly hopes he doesn’t have to go that far down the depth chart and remove Barnhill as a weapon at H-back.

Barnhill confided to his parents after losing the quarterback job early in his UNLV career that he wasn’t happy about switching positions. Advice from his folks helped Barnhill quickly put the disappointment behind him and work hard at whatever position he played.

“Basically, it’s for the love of the game,” Barnhill said. “I love to play football, so any chance I have to be out on the field, no matter what position, I’m going to take it. I love to play the game, and I love my teammates and I love my coaches.”

He’s not the first Rebels quarterback under Hauck to be switched to another position. Like Barnhill, Caleb Herring didn’t divide the team when he played wide receiver in 2012. Herring, of course, moved back to quarterback last year and rescued the season.

Moving back to QB permanently wasn’t an option for Barnhill, a 6-foot-4-inch, 240-pounder who has been a valuable asset at H-back. His numbers improved each season, and he has 24 catches for 249 yards and two touchdowns this year.

One of those TDs should have been the winning catch at Hawaii, if not for the final 15 seconds that didn’t play out in UNLV’s favor.

“To think you have the game-winning catch is unbelievable,” Barnhill said.

Now the end is near for Barnhill, who made the most of his time at UNLV by earning a degree in hotel management and is working on a degree in kinesiological sciences. Barnhill made the dean’s list in the 2012 and 2014 spring semesters.

His parents and two sisters will be at Saturday’s game. One of his sisters, Brittany, pitched on Mississippi’s softball team until 2011.

“There are going to be high emotions, of course,” Barnhill said. “I’ll have to find a way to channel it and focus. I’ll leave the emotions for after the game.”

■ NOTE — UNLV wide receiver Devante Davis will play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 24 in Mobile, Ala. He is the fifth Rebel ever selected for college football’s premier all-star game and the first since linebacker Beau Bell in 2007.

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

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