The Nevada football team is getting reinforcements for the 2021 season.
Almost a dozen seniors on last year's team are returning for an additional year of eligibility, including eight starters from last season. The NCAA voted prior to the 2020 season to grant an additional year of eligibility to all winter sport athletes, opening the opportunity from a second senior season for FBS players. Eleven Wolf Pack players are taking that additional year.
"It's such a unique year this year with having the opportunity to bring seniors back, and this group of seniors that we had are really a special group," Nevada football coach Jay Norvell told NSN. "They've really made a huge commitment to the Nevada program and really helped push the program forward. For us, the timing of having an opportunity to bring a group of kids back probably couldn't be better for our program. A lot of programs are in a different situation. A lot of programs are fighting to keep kids there. Our program, our kids, are really happy, really enjoying their experience."
Here are the 11 Wolf Pack seniors returning to the team for the 2021 season.
* DE Sam Hammond: The Yerington High graduate who walked on at Nevada in 2016 became a full-time starter this season and has 85 tackles, including 11.5 for loss, 6.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries in his career. Hammond earned second-team All-MW honors in 2020 after compiling 32 tackles, including 7.5 for loss, and four sacks.
* DE Kameron Toomer: Toomer will be one of four sixth-year players on this list. He's started the last two seasons and has 60 career tackles, including seven for loss, and two sacks. In 2020, Toomer had a career-high 29 tackles, including three for loss, and a sack and fumble recovery. He'll be in the mix for a starting defensive end job again next season.
* DT Tristan Nichols: A JC transfer who joined Nevada last season, Nichols has been a pass-rushing specialist, with his 2020 curtailed by injuries. Nichols has nine tackles in his career, six being sacks. "He really showed what he can do in the bowl game," Norvell said. "He dealt with injuries and played in the bowl game more than any game he's played here at Nevada."
* DT Zak Mahannah: A walk-on from Reno High who went to a junior college out of high school before returning home, Mahannah has played for Nevada the last two seasons and was the team's starting defensive tackle in 2020. He has 20 tackles, including two for loss, and 1.5 sacks in his career. He was surprisingly good in 2020 despite taking a tough road to the FBS.
* LB Lawson Hall: Considered by many the heart and soul of Nevada's roster in 2020, Hall was a second-team All-MW pick in 2020 after racking up 65 tackles, 8.5 TFL and three sacks during his first senior season. Hall is a two-year starter with 180 tackles, 16 TFL, 4.5 sacks and two interceptions in his career. He'll be Nevada's starting middle linebacker in 2021.
* WR Elijah Cooks: After a breakout 2019 season, Cooks' 2020 campaign was cut short after only a couple of series after he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Nevada's season opener. Cooks caught 76 passes for 926 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019 and will be paired up with Romeo Doubs in 2021, giving Nevada one of the nation's top receiving duos.
* OL Jermaine Ledbetter: Ledbetter is a junior-college transfer who has spent three seasons with the Wolf Pack, including last year as a starter at left guard. Ledbetter was voted one of the team's four captains prior to the season, so he has the respect of the locker room and his return will give Nevada some continuity on the interior of its line.
* OL Tyler Orsini: Another junior-college transfer, Orsini has started at center for the last two seasons at Nevada after walking on from Ventura College. Orsini was a key part of the offensive line's improvement from 2019 and 2020, and his return gives Nevada an experienced player at one of the most important positions on the field.
* CB Berdale Robins: Robins became a full-time starter in 2020 and more than held his own with his play being more eye-popping than his stats. Robins had 25 tackles, one interception, five passes defended and a fumble recovery last season, although the advanced metrics rated him as one of the best man-to-man cover corners in the nation. His return is key for Nevada.
* P Julian Diaz: A former walk-on from American River College, Diaz won Nevada's starting punting job last season and averaged 46.3 yards per punt on 23 attempts. Eleven of his kicks went 50-plus yards and he had only one touchback as Nevada rated among the FBS leaders in net punting. "He's still improving, but he's got an NFL leg," Norvell said.
* TE Reagan Roberson: The Douglas High graduate walked on to Nevada in 2017 before earning a starting role that season and a scholarship entering his sophomore campaign. Roberson has started 10 games in his career, largely as a fullback. He scored the game-winning touchdown in the 2018 Arizona Bowl. "Reagan definitely has a role in our run packages," Norvell said.
The Wolf Pack returns almost all of its key seniors from last season, the only notable departures being cornerback EJ Muhammad, offensive guard Nate Brown, center Nathan Edwards and safety Austin Arnold, all of whom have started during their Nevada careers.
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.