Matt Brayton.

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Protecting starting quarterback Armani Rogers‘s interior left side is Matt Brayton. He started the final three games in 2018 where the Rebels went 2-1 against the likes of San Diego State, Hawaii, and UNR. You would think it was all due to Armani‘s return, but he did not return until the Hawaii game. You can say it was all due to Brayton being inserted at guard, but it was not. Brayton said that the whole offense got into a rhythm. “Those three games we really came together as a team. San Diego State was big. When [backup quarterback] Max [Gilliam] was in and [starting quarterback] Armani [Rogers] was down, he found his rhythm. The whole team found a rhythm and being a part of those last three games when we went 2-1 was really big and kind of showed the team that we’re something special if we really put our minds to it.”

He pointed out that it was the team, as a whole, that was responsible for the victories. Gilliam settled down in his last full game as a starter in 2018 against San Diego State throwing for 237 yards, one touchdown, and one interception on 16-24 passing. This was good, but it was also the offensive line that helped him stay upright by only allowing one total sack on the quarterback. They were also responsible for the running game having one of its better showings of the season with 199 yards on 43 carries, equating to a 4.63 average. This was good, and it helped the team win their third game of the season.

In their final game against UNR, Armani Rogers had arguably his best game as the starting quarterback of UNLV, completing 13-20 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns. He had no turnovers and the Rebels only allowed one sack again, showing how the game these days is played through the lines. The less rattled the quarterback is, the better the chance the team has of winning. In the Hawaii game, they gave up and it wound up being the Rebels’ only loss in their final three games. The fewer sacks the better and the more rhythm the quarterback will have.

#72 Matt Brayton Makes Rebels O-Line Offensive

The final game against UNR was so big that the Rebels still remember it to this day and feed off of that energy. Winning the Fremont Cannon for the second time out of the four times the two teams have faced each other in the Tony Sanchez era was huge. The team looks at each other now and knows that they can do that again, but they know they are better than that. As Brayton said, “The UNR game, I never experienced anything like that throughout high school or my first three years here. To be down by that big, we kind of had to look at each other in the mirror and look at ourselves in the mirror and say that you can either fold right now and give up or we can buckle our chin-straps and get back out there and try to fight back and you know that’s what we did. So, carrying that chip on our shoulder and no matter what the deficit might be, we can always come back by scoring some touchdowns and putting up some points. It’s always good to know that you can come back.”

The Rebels are hoping to not put anyone through a heart attack again this season, but with that being the fourth victory for the Rebels in 2018, it was huge, especially given that it was their last game. Left Guard Matt Brayton might be a new starter, but he still felt that energy and being that the team was 2-1 when he started, he only has positive vibes heading into this season. The air is quite different around the team this year. They know that they have to get better and play consistently at that level. So the team, including Brayton himself, has been working hard this offseason to make sure of that. They have to continuously improve to get to where they want to be.

Throughout the offseason, Brayton said he and the rest of the group wake up at 5:30 in the morning to work out before classes. In the offseason, that is what the group did. Brayton said he worked on improving his maxes in bench press and squats, as well as getting the first step that Offensive Coordinator and Offensive Line Coach Garin Justice wants. Brayton said, “Big thing for me, personally, has been working in the weight room. Improving maxes in bench and squat. We did a lot of speed work, probably got a little faster, and then probably the biggest thing we did as a group, that we all improved on as a group, was stepping. The one big thing Coach Justice emphasizes is the first step. If you got a good first step on the defender, then you’re usually in a good position to win the block. So this whole offseason, I’ve been kind of working on getting the first step and getting the second step down and stuff like that.”

Improving the groups’ speed is good since there will be some more run-pass-option plays thrown into the mix this season with Armani Rogers being very effective running an RPO-style offense. Speed is a big part of that, and winning the first step is huge in helping to get your dual-threat quarterback or your multiple running backs to the second level so that they can take off and score as they did in the second half against UNR. More fans want to see an exciting style of game with more wins, and the team believes in themselves more than ever now. They are ready to deliver.

#72 Matt Brayton Makes Rebels O-Line Offensive

As an offensive line position group, Brayton said, “We’re a fun group. Our emotions are always kind of mellow compared with a lot of the other positions. We’re kind of the unsung heroes. We know that but we kind of have fun with each other. When me, or Sid [Acosta], or [Justin] Polu, make a big block we always look at each other like ‘Hey let’s go and we get pumped up off of each other’s work,’ so touchdowns are nice. We all love touchdowns but when we get a good pancake or a good knockdown that’s always good too.”

They may be the unsung heroes and the group that players thank on the back-end, but starting running back, Charles Williams, said he treats them to a milkshake and hangs out with them. The group knows that they are under-appreciated but they don’t care and Brayton says that they are getting themselves fired up for the first game on Saturday, August 31st.

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