When Gabe Sewell walked onto Wolf Pack Park on Wednesday to prepare for Nevada’s bowl game, he did so with the No. 6 helmet in his hands. This was noticeable because Sewell doesn’t wear No. 6. He wears No. 7. But it was no mistake. The No. 6 belonged to his brother, Nephi, a member of the Wolf Pack until last week.
Instead of preparing for the Arizona Bowl against Arkansas State, the younger Sewell decided to transfer, citing homesickness. Meanwhile, Gabe remains committed to Nevada at least through the end of the season and is grateful for the two years he played with his brother.
“Not many people get to play with their own family, so I’m thankful for the games I did get with him and I know everybody’s path is different,” said Sewell, whose brother is expected to transfer to a school closer to their home in Utah. “His path is leading somewhere else, and I can only hope the best for him.”
Gabe said his favorite memory playing with Nephi at Nevada was when the younger Sewell grabbed an interception against Boise State and Gabe landed a block to spring him for a longer return. They also had their share of gang tackles, and Gabe said wearing the No. 6 helmet provides more motivation.
“There’s just something having your brother on the field with you,” Gabe said. “You have to give the extra 10 percent on top of the 110 percent you’re already giving. Growing up with him, there’s an unspoken communication we both have.”
Asked what advice he gave his brother when he was considering a transfer, Sewell said he told Nephi to do what was in his best interest.
“At the end of the day, you have to do what is best for you and make sure you’re happy with the decision,” Sewell said (Nephi had 53 tackles, including six for loss, in 2018). “You can’t look back at it and say, ‘I should have done this. I should have stayed. I should have waited and see how it all played out.’ Whatever decision you make, everybody is their own man and you have to live with it.”
The elder Sewell said he would “play it day-by-day” at Nevada. As a senior-to-be who already used his redshirt season, Sewell’s options for a potential transfer would be limited. Norvell said last week he expects Sewell to stay with the Wolf Pack, and that’s good news for Nevada based on his play this year.
Sewell helped spearhead an improved defensive unit this season. In addition to leading Nevada with a career-high 85 tackles, he had 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.
“I definitely played a lot better than the previous years,” Sewell said. “There are still a lot of things to work on, but there’s definitely an improvement, a huge improvement. If anybody’s been watching, it’s obvious I played a lot better this year then the last two years. I just had a better mindset. I guess my redshirt freshman and sophomore years, I had a couple more games. Now, it’s coming down to it and the games are starting to get less and less and they’re about to get into single digits pretty soon.”
Sewell said the defense took Nevada’s 3-9 record in 2017 personal and "took to heart all the posts saying our defense sucks and stuff like that.” While he won’t get to play with his brother again, Sewell will play one last time with a class of seniors – guys like Malik Reed, Korey Rush, Dameon Baber, Asauni Rufus and Lucas Weber – who have become his brothers over the years. He’s looking forward to a final game with them.
“I’m going to enjoy it and soak the moment up because those are the guys who hosted me on my visit,” Sewell said. “There are a lot of memories we’ve had since I first went to campus on my visit. It’s sad it has to come to an end, but I know the brotherhood will continue on long after football.”
Korey Rush making good progress
When Nevada drew the Arizona Bowl, which will be played Dec. 29, it was good news for Rush, who is recovering from a broken foot and ensuing surgery suffered Oct. 27 in a win over San Diego State.
Had Nevada played in one of the MW’s earlier bowls (two will be played this Saturday), Rush wouldn’t have been able to play. But the senior defensive lineman, who was at practice this week in football cleats and showing good movement, is on track to potentially play in the Arizona Bowl.
“He’s getting better every day,” Norvell said of Rush, a first-team All-MW selection. “That’s another real big plus with our Dec. 29 bowl date. It gave him an extra couple of weeks to get ready. We’re hopeful he’ll continue to improve and we could see him one more time in a Wolf Pack jersey.”
Rush had 30 tackles, including 11.5 for loss, and six sacks in nine games for Nevada this season.
One of the other bonuses of the late bowl game is the fact final examinations started Thursday, so the Wolf Pack can focus on academics over the next couple of days rather than fully preparing for its bowl game.
“We’ve kind of canceled some days of practice where it’s really heavy finals days,” Norvell said. “We’re really putting extra time into studying for finals and getting ready. It’s a balance this time of year. That’s why I’m really glad we have the later bowl date because it puts less pressure on the guys trying to get ready for finals.”
Waiting to prep for Arkansas State
Nevada has not started working on Arkansas State yet, and that’s by design.
“We’re just trying to make practice fun and competitive,” Norvell said. “We’re really not looking quite on Arkansas State yet. We’re still doing bonus practices where we’re working against each other and it’s very, very competitive. We had the old guys (Wednesday). (Thursday) we’ll take the seniors out and work with our team that’s really coming back next year and really look at the young quarterbacks.”
Norvell said he’s delaying a focus on Arkansas State so his team is mentally fresh when it plays the Red Wolves. Nevada won’t break into scout teams until Sunday and won’t put in the game plan until the week of the bowl game.
“We have to be careful not to start on Arkansas State too early because then we’re practicing the same plays for three works and that’s not what we want,” Norvell said. “This gives us a chance to really look at some different strengths of our roster and try to grow. That’s what we’re doing. We’ve added some different schemes and are looking at different personnel guys in different spots. That’s really something we can look to the future and what our football team can be. It’s always new and we’re always stretching our coaches and our players. We’ll really dial in on Arkansas State in the next couple of weeks.”
Nevada’s perfect APR score honored
For the first time in program history, Nevada earned the American Football Coaches Association’s Academic Achievement Award, which is presented by the Touchdown Club of Memphis.
The Wolf Pack was one of five teams to earn the award along with Clemson, Pittsburgh, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Each school posted a perfect 1,000 Academic Progress Rate for 2016-17. That same year, Nevada saw 28 of its student-athletes earn Academic All-MW honors and 11 were named MW Scholar-Athletes. The award will be presented to the head coach of each institution during the Honors Luncheon on Jan. 7 at the 2019 AFCA Convention in San Antonio, Texas.
“This award recognizes all of the hard work put in by our football student-athletes over the past four years,” said Andrew Caudill, Nevada’s assistant AD for academics. “To go from one of the worst academic programs in the nation to one of the best is a testament of the commitment to student success by our entire university community. I am thankful to all of the faculty and staff at the University of Nevada, and I am blessed to have had the opportunity to work with so many great young men in the football program.”
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.