Wolf Pack Caravan kicks off spring tour in Fallon

Nevada Athletics Director Doug Knuth talks to Wolf Pack booster Roger Diedrichsen.

Nevada Athletics Director Doug Knuth talks to Wolf Pack booster Roger Diedrichsen.

Mayor Ken Tedford has always considered Fallon a good supporter of University of Nevada athletics.

Hall of Fame players who attended Churchill County schools generations ago competed for the Wolf Pack. Tedford also cited the recent success of two Fallon alums — Harvey Dahl and Josh Mauga — who played football for the Greenwave and Nevada before having NFL careers. Tedford’s daughter currently plays on the Wolf Pack’s softball team.

After Nevada Athletics Director Doug Knuth spoke to Wolf Pack fans and alumni Tuesday to kick off the first Wolf Pack Coaches Caravan of the spring in Fallon, Tedford commended Knuth for what he has done for the sports program.

“It makes me proud to have you speak on behalf of the university,” Tedford said. “I’m proud of our university and our community.”

Not only did fans hear from Knuth about the state of the athletics program, but they also had a chance to meet second-year Nevada football coach Jay Norvell, who talked about his program and the changes he and his staff have made.

This was the first Wolf Pack Caravan to visit Fallon in five years, prompting Knuth to say he and the coaches need to come to Fallon more often.

“We love coming here,” Knuth said. “Invite us back whenever you can.”

Knuth said Fallon serves as a rallying point and gives Norvell an opportunity to meet the fans and talk some football.

“It also dispels rumors or misunderstandings of what’s going on,” Knuth said.

Knuth said something special is happening in Nevada with the Truckee Meadows and the university growing and the student population increasing. He said Nevada sports are also excelling.

“Men’s basketball had a pretty darn good year, and women’s basketball had a pretty darn good year with first-year coach Amanda Levens,” Knuth pointed out. “Baseball is in first place after sweeping Fresno last weekend.”

Knuth, though, encouraged Wolf Pack fans to invest in the success of the athletics program. He said Nevada can be the dominant university in the Mountain West. Three ways he said Pack fans can help is buying season tickets, joining a diehard football fan club called the Blitz or donating to the Pack Excellence Fund that serves as a booster club for the entire athletic program.

Attendance has fallen during the past four years for the football program, but Knuth would like to reverse that downward spiral. He pointed out four years ago, the men’s basketball program couldn’t pack Lawlor Events Center until Nevada hired Eric Musselman. By winning the 2016 CBI (College Basketball Invitational) title and making NCAA postseason appearance in 2017 and this year, Lawlor is nearly full.

“With football we’re building excitement and a new brand of football,” Knuth said. “We’re excited about the upcoming season.”

Both Knuth and Norvell said the home schedule is the most competitive one Nevada has had in its history’s program. Portland State comes to Reno on Aug. 31, while other teams traveling to Mackay Stadium include nonconference Oregon State and MWC foes Fresno State, Boise State, San Diego State and Colorado State, the final home game of the season.

Norvell fit in with the Wolf Pak faithful who had gathered for 90 minutes at the Old Post Office.

“It’s great to get out and see the people, shake their hands,” he said.

Settling in as the team’s head coach, Norvell said his staff has recruited every community in Nevada including the Lahontan Valley.

“So happens, there’s some pretty good players in Nevada,” he said, adding several high-school players have caught the coach’s eye. “They’re learning about our program first hand.”

Norvell began the 2017 season with little time to prepare for a rigorous year, but the team showed vast improvement at the end of the season. Although Nevada compiled a 3-9 season, the Pack won three of its last four games including a 23-16 win over UNLV.

“We had a lot of changes last year,” he said after becoming the program’s 26th head coach. “But now they know the expectations, and we’re way ahead of where we were last year.”

Norvell, who has coached for 30 years, presented Tedford with a special coin that has a Nevada grid on it and the team’s core values. He also thanked Knuth for his support. The veteran coach then discussed what success for his team means.

According to Norvell, success depends on three characteristics, the first being respect.

“Humility is a key to their success,” he said. “The first time I met them (the team), I told them I wanted gentlemen.”

The second characteristic is accountability for their actions.

“That’s the easiest thing to say, but the hardest thing to do,” he said.

The third area is hustle and how to work with others.

Much has happened when the Pack walked off the field in November after defeating UNLV. Norvell said his goal last year was for the fans to respect the Pack, and then for his team to play each snap as it were the last. The strong finish helped in recruiting.

Norvell said Nevada has recruited skill players for wide receiver, and the team is beefing up the offensive and defensive lines. This year’s success also hinges on quarterback Ty Gangi, the No. 1 passer in the MWC.

“Our offensive line must be bigger and stronger,” he said, adding that there’s been an emphasis in better nutrition.

Furthermore, he said he wants motivated players, and from that, he and his staff have implemented a Captains’ Committee consisting of 20 players. Norvell said the Pack had a good spring and many of the leadership decisions will be coming from the coaches to the captains.

“We saw huge improvements in 8 weeks of training,” Norvell added.

Integrity is also important for Norvell, saying he wants to hear less talk and more action of all the players.

Norvell discussed recruiting and said he’s encouraged by what he has seen.

“I believe we can flip our record with the work on our defensive and offensive lines,” he said.

While the 2017 season didn’t finish as expected, Tedford said he was impressed with Norvell’s demeanor.

“He may have been disappointed, but he never showed it with the players,” Tedford said.

Norvell has coached at Iowa, Northern Iowa, Wisconsin, Iowa State, the Indianapolis Colts, the Oakland Raiders, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, UCLA and Arizona State before coming to Reno. The next stop for Norvell and Knuth is Saturday to meet with Wolf Pack fans on the UNLV campus for a pregame tailgate at noon before the Wolf Pack baseball team plays the Rebels.

Norvell returns to Northern Nevada for a caravan at the Carson Valley Inn on May 15 from 6-7 p.m., and the final Wolf Pack Caravan is May 18 at Somersett Country Club in Reno.


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