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Optimism anew for UNLV football after normal offseason

Marcus Arroyo is preparing for his second season as UNLV’s football coach. But for so many reasons, it still feels like his first.

“We joke about it as a staff — it’s the first everything,” Arroyo said. “It was the first winter conditioning. It was the first team-building stuff in person. It was the first offseason.”

All of which he detailed Wednesday at his first Mountain West football media days at the Cosmopolitan.

Arroyo and the Rebels are eager to experience some semblance of normalcy this fall, provided the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t derail the season like it did in 2020. UNLV finished with an 0-6 record last year, but optimism is anew because of a conventional spring and summer.

The 15 spring football practices provided Arroyo and his staff an opportunity to continue implementing their offensive and defensive schemes. The football camps UNLV hosted allowed Arroyo to welcome prospective recruits to campus for the first time during his tenure with the program.

“This year was back to that normal, fundamental installation, dating back to the winter,” Arroyo said.

Arroyo touched on several topics during an hour-long roundtable with reporters from markets around the conference. The Rebels return eight offensive starters and 10 on defense, but he acknowledged the team is “still young,” particularly at quarterback with the departure of last year’s starter, Max Gilliam.

Junior Justin Rogers and second-year freshman Doug Brumfield combined to throw 43 passes last season, while fellow signal caller Cameron Friel is a true freshman.

“They’ve done a really nice job of owning the fact that they’ve got to go out and do some dark-hour stuff. That’s what the quarterback position demands,” Arroyo said. “I think we’ll be closer to where we want to be fitting the offense that we do instead of just trying to tailor it around whoever we had. … Now we get to get back to kind of being our philosophical self on offense.”

Other points of discussion included the prestige of Allegiant Stadium, where the Rebels played three games last season — albeit in front of minimal fans amid stringent coronavirus protocols.

Arroyo said the stadium is “candidly, the reason many of us came here,” while touching on the value of the Fertitta Football Complex as he looks to continue building a program.

“We see the marketability. We see that certain things that have to come together in college football can come together … to create a whole new landscape for a college. For a university. For a market. For a conference,” he said. “We’re fired up.”

When asked about what would make the 2021 season a success, Arroyo said that he wants to see growth — physically, mentally and culturally — now that the Rebels have had several months to prepare for a normal slate of games.

Are they bigger, faster and stronger? Do they have a better handle on their schemes?

“You won’t know that until you’re in that fire,” Arroyo said. “I’m excited to see it because that then puts you on a trend to say ‘OK, here’s how you build a program out.’ I’m excited to see progress.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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