Wolf Pack Football: A look ahead to 2011
First the good news.
The Nevada Wolf Pack football team heads into the off-season on the heels of its greatest season in school history. A near-perfect 13-1 record, a Western Athletic Conference championship, a bowl game victory. Memorable victories against California, BYU, UNLV, Fresno State and, yes, Boise State.
The benefits of all that glorious success should start to appear when recruits turn in their signed Letters of Intent beginning on Feb. 2.
Now the not-so-good news.
The Pack has to replace three of the greatest players in school history as well as 15 others off the 2010 team.
Playing their last game for the Wolf Pack in the 20-13 victory over Boston College in the Kraft Bowl was the Holy Trinity of Pack football: quarterback Colin Kaepernick, running back Vai Taua and defensive end Dontay Moch.
The Pack has likely never gone into an off-season having to replace such a memorable trio. All three of their names will be permanent fixtures in the Wolf Pack record book for years to come. Kaepernick’s name is all over the NCAA record book.
But, take heart, Pack fans. Yes, the Pack has three gigantic holes to fill. But it’s not like the Pack is the Beatles and all they are left with is Ringo and three gaping holes where Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison used to stand. There is plenty of talent remaining on the roster from the amazing 2010 season and plenty of talent ready to step into the spotlight that used to shine on John, Paul and George.
A look at who the Pack lost from 2010 and who will be back in 2011:
Who is leaving: Colin Kaepernick passed for 3,022 yards and 21 touchdowns last year and rushed for 1,206 yards and 20 more touchdowns. In other words, the Wolf Pack has to replace an entire team’s worth of offense (4,228 yards and 40 touchdowns) with the loss of Kaepernick.
Who is coming back: Tyler Lantrip, Mason Magleby and Cody Fajardo. Lantrip, who will be a senior in 2011, played quite well when given the chance in 2010. He completed 8-of-13 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 46 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. He can certainly execute Chris Ault’s pistol offense, having been in the program since 2007. Magleby, a red-shirt sophomore next year, played briefly against Idaho (one rushing attempt for 31 yards) and Fajardo will be a red-shirt freshman in 2011. Lantrip has the inside track on the job but the Pack might want to start the Fajardo era right away. Magleby should also see plenty of action when the Pack needs a running quarterback to remind them of Kaepernick.
Who is leaving: Vai Taua, Courtney Randall. Taua ran for 1,610 yards this year and 19 touchdowns. He also caught 18 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns. Randall was a very valuable backup, running for 234 yards this season.
Who is coming back: Mike Ball, Lampford Mark. Both Ball (259 yards, four touchdowns) and Mark (413, three) have enjoyed productive moments already in their Pack careers. But can they prove to be a true Nevada back and withstand the rigors and pounding its takes to carry the ball 250-plus times a year like Taua? Mark will be a senior in 2011 and Ball a junior.
Who is leaving: Guard John Bender and tackle Jose Acuna. Bender started 13 games this year and Acuna started all 14.
Who is coming back: Tackles Jeff Nady, Steve Haley and Joel Bitonio, guards Chris Barker and Alex Pinto and centers Jeff Meads and Jordan Mudge. Bender and Acuna will be missed. But the Pack should be fine up front in 2011. Barker and Meads each started all 14 games in 2010 and Nady started 10. Steve Haley played eight games and started four. Bitonio played in 12 games as a backup. Mudge got into seven games and Pinto four.
Who is leaving: Tight end Virgil Green, wide receivers Moe Patterson, Malcolm Shepherd and Chris Wellington. Wellington missed most of his senior year with an injury and Patterson caught just eight passes. Shepherd, though, was a very underrated performer this year with 33 catches for 383 yards and a touchdown. And Green might be the fourth missing Pack Beatle to go along with Kaepernick, Taua and Moch. Green had a 35-catch, 515-yard, five-touchdown senior year and was also one of the better blockers on the team.
Who is coming back: Rishard Matthews, Brandon Wimberly, Shane Anderson, Tray Session, Zach Sudfeld. This is a very solid group coming back. Also coming back are Necho Beard, Michael Wyman, Joseph Huber, Aaron Bradley, Lemar Durant and L.J. Washington, who all either red-shirted in 2010 or rarely saw the field. Matthews established himself as a big-time player in 2010 as a junior with a team-high 56 catches for 879 yards and five touchdowns. He also returned a punt for a score in the bowl game. Wimberly had 41 catches for 462 yards and, surprisingly, did not score a touchdown in 2010 after getting 53 catches and six touchdowns as a freshman in 2009. Session, a senior next year, finished with 17 catches for 317 yards and three scores. Sudfeld caught one pass for eight yards.
Who is leaving: Dontay Moch, Ryan Coulson and Mike Andrews. Moch had 61 tackles and 22 tackles for a loss to go along with 8.5 sacks. The Pack has had very few bigger playmakers in their history on defense. Coulson was an unsung hero on this defense with 53 tackles, eight for a loss, and 3.5 sacks. Andrews also contributed with a dozen tackles. All three played end.
Who is coming back: Tackles Zack Madonick, Brett Roy, Willie Faataualofa, Jack Reynoso and end Kaelin Burnett. Burnett, a senior next year, had a marvelous bowl game with two sacks and a forced fumble. He has a little Moch big-play ability in him (30 tackles, three sacks overall). It’s likely the Pack will use Burnett the way they used Moch in 2010, up and down the defensive line, in pass coverage, as a pass rusher and wherever he’s needed the most. Roy had an outstanding junior year with 46 tackles, 13.5 for a loss and seven sacks. He’s should find himself on the All-Western Athletic Conference team next year. Madonick was solid as a stay-at-home tackle with 28 tackles. Finding a couple ends to replace Moch and Coulson will be the biggest concern this off-season.
Who is leaving: Kevin Grimes, Adam Liranzo. Grimes got every ounce of talent out of his 6-foot, 205-pound body. He finished second on the team in tackles with 84 and also had 5.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. Liranzo had eight tackles in 14 games as a backup.
Who is coming back: Starting middle linebacker James-Michael Johnson (88 tackles) and starting outside linebacker Brandon Marshall (63 tackles). Albert Rosette (17 tackles) and DeAndre Boughton (23 tackles), who also saw extensive action this year in a backup role, are also back. This is one position the Pack isn’t worried about for 2011.
Who is leaving: Cornerback Doyle Miller. Miller (55 tackles, two interceptions) was solid and will be missed.
Who is coming back: Everybody else: Corners Isaiah Frey, Khalid Wooten, Thaddeus Brown and safeties Duke Williams, Marlon Johnson, Dean Faddis and Bubba Boudreaux. This is a solid, experienced group that should only get better in 2011. Wooten, a backup in 2010, could emerge as a big-time playmaker in 2011.
Who is leaving: Kicker Ricky Drake, punter Brad Langley. Drake, the starting place-kicker in 2009, lost his job in 2010 to freshman Anthony Martinez. Drake, though, handled the Pack’s kickoff duties in 2010. Langley averaged 42.6 yards on his 37 punts and had 15 come to rest inside the 20-yard line.
Who is coming back: Anthony Martinez. Martinez had an incredible freshman year, scoring 109 points on 76 extra points and 11 field goals. The Pack will have to find a new punter in 2011 and someone else to kick off. Langley was also the holder on field goals.