When the 2019 football season starts for UNLV, there will be a couple new faces on the team, and no group more revamped than the wide receivers. The Rebels lost Kendal Keys to graduation, Drew Tejchman changed positions to safety, and Brandon Presley is lost for the season due to an ACL tear. This year is Darren Wood’s year to lead the group out of the tunnel, in the locker room, and show his leadership on and off the field. Offensive Coordinator, Garin Justice, expects a lot from him, “I think Darren’s kind of the glue that holds that together. He’s a guy who we really ask a lot out of him as far as asking him to play multiple positions both on the outside and the inside some stuff in the backfield. We’re trying to do a lot with him and the good thing is he has the experience, has the intelligence, and has the skill to be able to handle all of that.”

UNLV's Flight Crew is Ready for Take Off this Season

A lot of guys are going to be leaning on Darren Woods for mentorship and leadership, and Coach Justice expects him to be one of the key guys in the locker room. It isn’t just Darren’s leadership that Coach Justice expects from him, it is to be a leader on the field and to contribute a lot. Last year, Woods had 355 yards on 24 receptions with five touchdowns to go along with it. He can contribute but now he’s also expected to be a senior that leads the team. He isn’t a captain, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have a big presence in the locker room. He is going to be a guy that others will lean on and he knows it. Woods knew that once Presley went down it was his turn to lead and he accepted the task head on. Darren Woods said, “Well he knows me and Brandon, we came in together as freshman and just growing up together, me and Brandon got really close and now coming into our senior year we knew that we had to kind of take the reigns of the whole thing. Kind of be the leaders on and off the field, especially in the receiving room knowing that we’re two of the seniors and a lot of guys are still young in the game but then with [Brandon Presley] going down that kind of I took it upon myself to make a promise to him that I would make sure to step up in every way on the field, off the field, especially in the leadership role and in that performance room knowing that both me and him can make plays, knowing that such a huge target. We’re going to be able to utilize him knowing that I got to be that much more of a target in the game and knowing that I got to hold many more of my younger teammates accountable to a standard so they can step up and make those plays.”

UNLV's Flight Crew is Ready for Take Off this Season

Being a bigger presence will help improve the passing offense. The Rebels passing game ranked 113th in the nation with only 2002 passing yards all season. This ranked 10th in the Mountain West. It is expected to improve with the addition of Randal Grimes and with speedy wide receiver Tyleek Collins in the fold. Junior wide receiver, Jacob, is also expected to contribute some. One thing that Head Coach Tony Sanchez keeps raving about is the depth on the roster, and it is true. It is something that UNLV hasn’t had in a long time, and with Woods being more of a leader amongst the wide receivers, the offense looks to be trending up.

UNLV's Flight Crew is Ready for Take Off this Season

Darren Woods will help lead the room already filled with several athletes like Tyleek Collins, Mekhi Stevenson, and Patrick Ballard, and he will also help newcomers Randal Grimes and Jacob Gasser become acclimated to the offense. So far, he has helped the group with chemistry, getting on the same page and helping each other improve by watching film and hanging out with each other more. He said, “This summer we definitely started to attack the film room more, we started to watch more NFL cut-ups, starting to see how guys at the next level attack defensive backs, attacks leverages in coverages. Me being experienced as a senior, I have a lot more knowledge of the game and film study and things like that, is just being able to help the younger guys out to start to help them learn the playbook a little bit more, the concepts a little bit more, grasp those concepts, and understanding different coverages, and understanding how defensive backs want to attack you and how you can utilize every defensive backs strategy to your advantage. At the end of the day you know what you’re doing, the Defensive back doesn’t know what you’re doing, so if you’re able to utilize those things and attack them in the film room it will translate to the field.”

UNLV's Flight Crew is Ready for Take Off this Season

Coach Justice came up to him after taking over the offense and wanted him to become a bigger presence and leader. Darren Woods said that Coach Justice wanted him to improve in the locker room, the weight room, and being more of a vocal leader than he already was in the film room. He took right to it and is the reason the room looked good at their scrimmage on August 17th, 2019. Woods said, ““It definitely was exciting to hear the news, but then it’s also a little shell-shocking at first understanding that he has a lot of trust in me as a senior and also as an athlete. Just understanding that he has trust in me and my abilities. Being able to move around the field a lot and learning a lot of different positions. So he came to me over the summer and said that he wants to put a lot more weight on my shoulders and responsibility as far as in and out of the playbook by playing two or three different positions. So just knowing that he has that belief in me that I can go out there and execute at any different position on the field, so that I can ultimately help the offense and also make plays at the end of the day, I truly do love the guy and I’m super excited for this season.”

It isn’t just Woods that is leading the wide receiving room. Coach Justice said that Brandon Presley is helping out a lot off the field as well. Coach Justice said, “I think we’re progressing. Our valleys aren’t as bad as they used to be. We still have bad days but all-in-all we’re pleased with stacking day on day, and it’s been a pretty good process. As long as you have guys like Darren Woods in the room and even Brandon Presley, who’s not playing but still a leadership presence in the room. Those guys along with Coach Cormier are able to show it every single day and have good effort.”

UNLV's Flight Crew is Ready for Take Off this Season

Throughout talking with Coach Justice, it became apparent that Coach Cormier is another reason why Randal Grimes and other have taken so fast to the new offensive system. He has helped the group stay together and help each other lead the group and lean on one another. Darren Woods is one part of the room, but there is more glue that holds the group together. Garin Justice said, “I think Coach Cormier does a nice job with those guys as far as forcing them to have an identity, forcing those guys to be one, take a lot of pride in who they are and what they’re about. I think, first and foremost he’s done that and then I think over time with that being established and developed it’s kind of grown and guys have taken a leadership role with it.”

Wide Receiver Coach Cormier said of the group, “It’s a good group of guys first of all, they all have one goal and they want to win. They don’t care who gets the credit. They’re all in this thing together and they’re a very tight-knit group.”

UNLV's Flight Crew is Ready for Take Off this Season

Coach Cormier cited Darren Woods as being a natural leader of the room and one who he expects to have no problem filling the void left by the seniors and the injury to Brandon Presley. He is a big presence, and besides Coach Justice noticing Darren Woods’ leadership in the room, Coach Cormier also notices it and remarked how, “Darren’s [Woods] is a natural leader. He’s a leader by nature. That’s just who he is. He’s been leading since he got here. He’s always going to be that leader on and off the field.”

Even Randal Grimes spoke about how much Darren Woods and the rest of the wide receivers have helped him acclimate to the new system. He transferred in late from Minnesota but having a room full of people who he knew from his time growing up in Las Vegas helped. He also leaned on the other wide receivers for their leadership and mentorship. While he knew certain schemes, he said the group has, “….been working all summer long. We’re getting better each and every day.”

Randal Grimes, who Garin Justice said is going to start at the ‘X’ position, said that he has acclimated well and he plans to show his abilities and lay everything on the field for the Rebels through, “Hardwork, dedication, just being a freak on the field, just doing what I know how to do and know what I’m capable of when I’m out there with my ability. Really, just working hard and being the best receiver on the field, that’s just how I look at myself and how I picture myself every day.”

UNLV's Flight Crew is Ready for Take Off this Season

Another receiver in the room, and the one who is going to back up Grimes at the ‘X’, Patrick Ballard, who showed up at the Spring Showcase with a touchdown and came up big hauling in a lot of tough catches, has caught the eye of coaches. Coach Cormier said that the showcase has increased his confidence. “His confidence definitely has grown, and he’s still a young guy. Luckily, he got in those last four games last year. We were able to redshirt him, and so he still has four more years. So he’s just now coming into his own and we expect big things out of him.

Having four games of experience under his belt is vital in order for him to understand the game offense and to know what he needed to work on come game time. Plus it helped him develop chemistry with starting quarterback Armani Rogers. Ballard is someone the coaching staff and players have a lot of faith in and believe in his abilities. Rogers said, “He’s definitely done a good job. Seeing what he did in Spring Ball and seeing what he is doing now. Especially with him being a young guy. He’s out here, he’s very mature, he’s out here doing the right assignments, and he’s just out here doing what he needs to. He’s growing as a person each and every day.”