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UNLV vs Vanderbilt: Pregame

Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels wide receiver Jacob De Jesus (21) warms up before an NCAA football game against Vanderbilt at Allegiant Stadium Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.

The UNLV football team’s remarkable 2023 campaign has resumed following a brief intermission.

The Scarlet and Gray took the field on Monday for their first practice since the Mountain West championship game on Dec. 2, and for the players who powered the program’s historic turnaround, the return to action couldn’t have come soon enough.

Junior receiver Jacob De Jesus said he spent the intervening time studying film and staying sharp by working with the quarterbacks, but nothing can beat the real thing.

“It felt great to be back out there again,” De Jesus said. “I missed practicing and being out there with the team and playing with the guys.”

It was an energetic 90-minute session, the first of five before UNLV travels to Phoenix to take on Kansas in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Dec. 26. It will be the program’s first bowl game since the 2013 season.

Junior linebacker Jackson Woodard reported that the two weeks off gave the roster a chance to heal from the nagging injuries that can accrue over a 13-game season. That allowed the team to pick up where it left off, with an intense full-speed practice.

Though head coach Barry Odom has not been able to hold any official practices since the bowl game was announced on Dec. 3, that hasn’t stopped his players from putting in work behind the scenes. In addition to De Jesus running routes with the quarterbacks, Woodard said the players have been at the Fertitta Football Complex every day for stretching, weight-lifting sessions and film study.

UNLV is heading into the Guaranteed Rate Bowl with a sparkling 9-4 record. A win would give the team double-digit victories for only the second time in program history, though the 1984 team that went 11-2 officially had its wins vacated by the NCAA.

Woodard said that round number is a big motivating factor.

“This is a huge game,” Woodard said. “Not only is it another opportunity to show the nation how hard we’ve worked and the type of team we are, it’s another opportunity to play together and get that 10th win. We all want that.”

It will take one of UNLV’s best performances to topple a Kansas squad that enters the bowl with an 8-4 record, including a 5-4 mark in the Big 12. The Jayhawks offense averages 33.6 points per game and is coming off a 51-point explosion in its most recent contest, a blowout win over Cincinnati on Nov. 25.

After racing out to a 9-2 record, UNLV has lost its last two games, falling to San Jose State in the regular-season finale and Boise State in the conference title game, both at Allegiant Stadium.

Woodard, a team captain and All-Mountain West selection, believes he and his teammates are going to give Kansas their best shot.

“This team is hungry to go out and play again,” Woodard said. “The energy was good. Everybody was ready to get back. It was a fast practice. We’re ready.”

De Jesus echoed that sentiment, declaring UNLV ready to take on all comers.

“We’re feeling pretty good going into the game. We know they’re a good team from a Power 5 conference, but we’re confident,” he said.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

Article written by #LasVegasSun