Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray is known to be a bit wordy, so we're giving him 1,000 words (but no more than that) to share his thoughts from the week that was in the world of sports.
* BEFORE MY ANNUAL REVIEW of Nevada’s 2019 recruiting class, I'll give you a stat. Of the 20 players announced during Nevada’s signing day two years ago, nine are no longer on the team. Now, that was Jay Norvell’s first class (first classes are historically tough) and some of those kids were JC transfers who ran out of eligibility. But a lot of them simply washed out, or in the case of McLane Mannix of Nephi Sewell played well and upgraded. A lot of the players the Wolf Pack signed this week will wash out, too. Most of them won’t become local household names. Nobody really knows how a recruit will shake out in college. But let’s sift through all the names and get you more familiar with Nevada’s 2019 class. (Full press conference video here).
* TOP OFFENSIVE SIGNEE: Henry Ikahihifo – Norvell gushed about the 6-foot-2, 255-pound Ikahihifo, whose middle name is literally “Michael Jordan” (that's not a joke). “I absolutely fell in love with him,” Norvell said of Ikahihifo, rated as a three-star prospect and the 58th-best tight end in his class. “Really a super physical versatile player, the kind of guy who can do the dirty work, the kind of guy athletic enough to get open, the kind of guy you win a lot of football games with.” Norvell said Ikahihifo is “a diamond,” raved about him being an eagle scout and compared him to the caliber of players he signed at Oklahoma. He even gushed about his mom. “I’d like to ship his mother here to crack the whip on some of our guys.”
* TOP DEFENSIVE SIGNEE: Breylon Garcia – The defensive end from East Texas is the top-rated player in the class and the only one to get a national ranking (three stars, 778th overall in his class). He committed to Nevada in June, de-committed and then ended up signing with the Wolf Pack anyway. Garcia, whose dad played football at Arkansas, is 6-3 and 235 pounds and physically looks different than the rest of the class. “The kind of guys you want at defensive end is they play defensive end on defense and play split receiver on offense,” Norvell said. “He’s a super athletic kid.” Garcia, who missed his junior season with injury, did play receiver in high school. He should play right away and help pressure the quarterback immediately.
* A PACKAGE DUO? In addition to Garcia’s surprise late addition, his prep teammate Javasia Brunson (a 6-3, 240-pound defensive end) also signed with Nevada. They both took visits to Nevada last summer and while they weren’t a package duo, the fact Garcia was coming to Nevada helped land Brunson, who reportedly had an Oklahoma State offer. Norvell said East Texas football was like stepping back in time 30 years. “I love the way they coach their kids,” he said. “It’s old school. The kids are coached very hard, a physical program.” Brunson had three interceptions this season, showing his athleticism, and he and Garcia must help make up for the lost pass rush of Malik Reed and Korey Rush, who are graduating.
* EVERYBODY LOVES QBs: We must mention the quarterback. Austin Kirksey, a three-star recruit from Georgia, was the first player to commit to Nevada in this class and will enroll in January and participate in spring practice (so will WR Melquan Stovall). Norvell made it sound like the 6-3 Kirksey could compete for playing time in 2019. He threw for 4,732 yards and 36 touchdowns in high school while rushing for 809 yards and 15 scores. “Really smart, really accurate,” Norvell said. “There were some other kids on the West Coast we really liked and with Kirksey we’re a long way from Marietta, Ga., but he played incredible competition, a fiery competitor. He was hurt for part of the season and fought through and played through injury. He's accurate. We place high importance on intelligence and accuracy for our quarterbacks.”
* DON’T SLEEP ON: Jalen Williams – Williams is the sixth-highest-rated player in the class, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him end up the best. He’s a pure athlete who lettered in football, basketball (playing for Mike Bibby) and soccer in high school in Arizona. Williams had multiple Pac-12 offers. Norvell said Notre Dame liked Williams as a receiver, but he’ll be a linebacker for the Wolf Pack. “Jalen Williams could line up and play wide receiver for us, but he’s a defensive-minded kid who wants to run and hit somebody, which is very rare, because everybody wants to play receiver these days," Norvell said. Nevada loses two starting linebackers, so don’t be shocked to see Williams play an important role next season if he can add some weight.
* GUY I WANT TO SEE IN CAMP: Justin Lockhart – Norvell has a great eye for receivers. There are two in this class in Lockhart and Stovall, both from Serra High in Gardena, Calif. Lockhart is 6-3 and caught 52 passes for 862 yards (16.6 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns. He’s listed as a two-star recruit (and the third-lowest-rated prospect in the class) but he could develop into one of the better players in this class. “Very, very talented guy who has super upside with we’re looking for in an outside receiver,” Norvell said.
* THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY: After three recruiting classes, Norvell still has not signed a Northern Nevada kid (he has added a lot of walk-ons). Does that ultimately matter? Norvell did not seem to think so. Some fans do. Either way, the one Nevada missed out on this year was Bishop Manogue RB Peyton Dixon, who pledged to Fresno State and didn’t include Nevada among the cardboard cutouts on his signing day table, per the Wolf Pack’s request. It's worth noting Fresno State did not announce Dixon's signing, so he's probably blueshirting (meaning he'll join the team in August and his scholarship will count in the 2020 class) or grayshirting (meaning he'll delay enrollment until the 2020 season). Nevada didn’t add a running back in the class, so it wasn't a big need, but if Dixon, who Nevada did offer a scholarship and recruited hard, has a stellar career at Fresno State, local fans won’t forget.
* SO, HOW GOOD IS THE CLASS? It looks good on paper. 247 Sports listed Nevada’s class as the second best in the MW (behind only Boise State) and 89th in the nation. Again, these recruiting experts miss quite a bit. Nevada’s 2006 class, which featured six future NFL players and 10 all-conference standouts , was rated 117th in the FBS and sixth out of 10 WAC teams at the time. Malik Reed was rated the third-worst recruit in Nevada’s 2014 class, but he became one of the best defensive players in school history. It’s a guessing game college coaches are asked to perfect. “The one big thing in recruiting is it’s easy to find athletes,” Norvell said. “It’s hard to find special athletes who have great character.” Time will reveal how many of those Nevada netted this week.
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.