An historic 2018 season has Nevada football players hungry for more.
Following its first eight-win season since joining the Mountain West Conference, the Pack is ready to make a run at another postseason appearance. They topped the Arkansas State Red Wolves 16-13 in the Arizona Bowl on Dec. 29.
“It’s awesome, loving the intensity” Nevada head coach Jay Norvell said. “We’ve got a lot of guys ready to compete and some younger players jumping at the opportunity. … We want to build upon the success off last season.”
The Pack will debut its Grit Run 5K at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 27. The annual Silver and Blue Spring Game will follow at 1 p.m. at Mackay Stadium.
Nevada’s offense will be in the hands of expected starting quarterback Cristian Solano. The senior signal caller made his first collegiate start with the Pack last season in a 21-3 loss to Fresno State on Oct. 6. Solano completed 22-of-43 passes for 195 yards through the air and added a team-high 71 rushing yards.
Solano’s mobility outside the pocket makes him a dual-threat, but he’s struggled to make accurate passes down the field consistently.
Norvell offered some crucial advice as Solano heads into his first full season under center.
“The biggest thing with Solano is he just needs to dial it back a notch,” he said. “He’s so excited, he wants to do everything perfectly. And he wants to make a big play every snap and it just doesn’t happen.”
Solano will have plenty of help in the backfield, with running back Toa Taua leading the charge. Toa was named Mountain West Freshman of the Year and led the team with 872 rushing yards last season.
Toa is looking to add a new layer to his game as a receiving threat.
“I’m gonna have to be a dual-threat for our offense,” he said. “One of the things I’m working on is my releases off the ball and yards after the catch to eat up some yards.”
Returning wide receivers Kaleb Fossum, Romeo Doubs, Elijah Cooks, Ben Putman and Brendan O’Leary-Orange can provide a spark for Solano down the field.
Heading into his senior year, Fossum caught 69 passes for 734 yards and one touchdown last season.
“I think we’re gelling well as a unit,” he said. “We’ve got some kinks to work out, but I’m impressed with what we’re doing so far. I think we’ve opened some eyes.”
Nevada will feature new faces defensively, as the departures of senior defensive tackle Korey Rush and senior linebacker Malik Reed have left holes in the Pack’s 3-3-5 scheme. The duo combined for 14 sacks last season, which helped Nevada hold opponents to 26.9 points per game.
Senior defensive end Adam Lopez and senior defensive tackle Dom Peterson will help fill the void by bringing the energy and physicality in the trenches.
“I’m ready to compete out there for my guys,” Peterson said. “As a unit, we’re going hard every time we touch the field.”
In the secondary, Kaymen Cureton moved to safety to help a depleted secondary with three departed seniors. Cureton started two games at quarterback for the Wolf Pack as a true freshman in 2017.
Norvell is excited for Cureton’s progression going forward.
“He’s got such a high motor and high character,” Norvell said. “He’s been working so hard and always trying to get better. The one thing we need back there is maturity and he gives us that.”
Nevada will make its regular season debut against the Purdue Boilermakers on Aug. 30.
— Isaiah Burrows
ABOUT Isaiah Burrows
Tahoe Onstage sportswriter Isaiah Burrows also is a general assignment reporter for CarsonNow.org, an online news source in Carson City. He is a journalism major at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he writes sports for the Sagebrush student newspaper. He is the Reno Aces beat writer for Tahoe Onstage.
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