Santoro: Preach ‘grit’ all you want, but Pack must find a QB

Nebraska quarterback Chubba Purdy (6) throws against Illinois in the teams’ 2022 game. Purdy transferred to Nevada after two seasons with the Cornhuskers.

Nebraska quarterback Chubba Purdy (6) throws against Illinois in the teams’ 2022 game. Purdy transferred to Nevada after two seasons with the Cornhuskers.
Rebecca S. Gratz | AP

Sports Fodder:

Jeff Choate can preach discipline, intensity and passion all he wants. That’s all well and good and hits on all the popular clichés most new coaches spew forth when introduced to their new community.

But if Choate is truly going to be successful as the Nevada Wolf Pack’s latest head football coach, he needs to find a legitimate starting quarterback.

Ken Wilson, a lifetime linebackers coach like Choate, never found that legitimate quarterback and now he’s gone. Wilson played musical chairs for two seasons with mediocre quarterbacks (Nate Cox, Shane Illingworth, Brendon Lewis, A.J. Bianco), won all of four games, and now he’s back where he belongs — coaching linebackers (TCU).

Choate, too, will be back coaching linebackers in three or four years if he also plays musical chairs with mediocre quarterbacks. Choate, though, said during his introductory press conference in early December that, “We’re going to run the damn ball.”

Fans of former (1969-75) Pack head coach Jerry Scattini at the press conference got a chill up and down their spines.

Now, don’t panic, Pack fans. That “we’re going to run the damn ball” slop is just an old linebacker coach trying to sound tough and appeal to all of those leftover Scattini fans. We’re giving Choate the benefit of the doubt and just chalking that disturbing message up to a new coach trying to look like he’s now in charge.

Remember Jay Norvell’s “Nevada Grit?” All Norvell’s Pack teams did was throw the ball around the field for five years like it was a 7-on-7 drill in April. The only grit we saw was when Norvell’s would grit his teeth after losing to UNLV in two of his first three seasons.

Make no mistake, running the ball is all well and good. It’s where a productive offense starts. But in college football it’s not about where you start on offense. It’s where you finish, you know, if you don’t want to go back to coaching linebackers.

An offense, if it isn’t going to get its head coach fired, needs to finish in the end zone at least four or five times a game. And the best way to get in the end zone, as Norvell knew all too well, is through the air.


Choate, whose Wolf Pack will stage its annual spring game on April 13, apparently will go with transfer Chubba Purdy at quarterback.

The other options are 2023 musical chair quarterbacks Lewis and Bianco (Illingworth is no longer with the program) and, well, we saw how that worked out for Wilson.

Purdy, the brother of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, spent 2020 and 2021 at Florida State and the last two years at Nebraska. He likely didn’t come to Nevada to merely “run the damn ball” and run his career into the ground.

Purdy, after all, has the skill set to become the Pack’s best two-way (run-pass) quarterback since Cody Fajardo. The Pack also just named Matt Lubick, the son of former Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick, as its offensive coordinator. Lubick has helped run offenses at places like Nebraska, Washington and Oregon and, he, too, didn’t just come here to simply “run the damn ball.”

Let’s hope.


The Wolf Pack, if Purdy is the real deal, will not be the only Mountain West team with a new starting quarterback this fall.

The most interesting changes, especially for Wolf Pack fans, will be at Boise State and UNLV. Boise State lost Taylen Green in the transfer portal to Arkansas and UNLV lost Jayden Maiava, the Mountain West Freshman of the Year in 2023, to USC.

Colorado State, another team Pack fans pay attention to, is losing former Nevada quarterback Clay Millen to Florida. Millen, who lost his starting job at Colorado State last year to Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi (another ex-Pack quarterback), apparently didn’t have enough grit to run Norvell’s pistol offense but can play for Florida.

Boise State is replacing Green with former USC recruit Malachi Nelson and UNLV is replacing Maiava with Holy Cross transfer Matthew Sluka.

Nelson, who sat the bench last year and watched Caleb Williams earn millions of NIL dollars, was one of the top high school recruits in the nation a year ago.

Sluka spent four years at Holy Cross, an FCS Division I-AA school, passing for 5,916 yards and 59 touchdowns and running for 3,583 yards and 38 touchdowns.

You can’t just “run the damn ball” and hope for the best.


Norvell, by the way, still hasn’t gotten over his penchant for stealing players from the Pack. This off-season he went out and grabbed defensive back Isaiah Essissima from Nevada for his Rams.

Essissima played in just four games last year for the Pack before leaving the program. He played his first two seasons at Wake Forest (2019-2020) before Norvell brought him to Nevada in 2021. He had one interception and 12 tackles in 2021 and stayed at Nevada when Norvell left for Colorado State in 2022 and had two interceptions and 35 tackles for Wilson’s Pack.

Essissima is one of nine former Pack players or recruits still on Colorado State’s roster along with Fowler-Nicolosi, wide receivers Justus Ross-Simmons and Tory Horton, defensive back Jack Howell, running back Avery Morrow, tight end Peter Montini and offensive linemen Trevyn Heil and Jacob Gardner.

Norvell’s Rams lost former Pack recruit Louis Brown, a wide receiver, to San Diego State this off-season.


Wolf Pack men’s basketball coach Steve Alford said in a news release last week that he is “busy putting together next year’s team.”

The reason for the release, of course, was that Alford was frequently mentioned in the media last week as one of the finalists for the Oklahoma State head coaching job. The release, however, never mentioned Oklahoma State, the rumors or even that Alford was merely taking his name out of consideration for the job.

In fact, it had all the clarity and non-specific charm of a computer-generated AI news release.

“Tanya (his wife) and I love this Reno community, our boosters, the fan support and the program we are building,” the Alford Intelligence robot press release stated.

A few days later, Oklahoma State announced it had hired Steve Lutz, a former head coach at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Western Kentucky. Alford can now safely concentrate on finding a new starting point guard and shooting guard for next year’s roster.


There are quite a number of interesting and productive Mountain West basketball players currently in the transfer portal that could help the Wolf Pack next season.

Fresno State’s Xavier DuSell, who led the conference in 3-point shooting percentage (.395), and Wyoming’s Brendan Wenzel, who had 63 3-pointers as well as 5.1 rebounds a game, could certainly help.

New Mexico’s Jamal Mashburn’s 14.1 scoring average, 40 3-pointers, as well as his .817 free-throw shooting percentage (100-of-118) would seem to catch Alford’s attention, as would Air Force’s Rytis Petraitis’ skills (15.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, .485 field goal percentage).

Another potential future Pack player is San Jose State point guard Alvaro Cardenas, who averaged 13.3 points and 5.5 assists last year. San Jose State’s Tibet Gorener (63 3-pointers) and Myron Amey (15.7 points, 71 3-pointers, 5.0 rebounds) are also in the portal and could add juice and production to the Pack.

Fresno State’s Enoch Boakye averaged 7.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks a game and would certainly improve the Pack defense under the basket and help prevent opponents from going on a 24-4 run in the final seven minutes of an NCAA Tournament game.


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