Sanford's best class? Rebels sign 22

Count UNLV head football coach Mike Sanford among those who believes in the old proverb, "He who hesitates is lost." The fourth-year Rebel coach made it a point to get a head start on his 2008 recruiting class last spring. The result is a group of signees that is being ranked as high as third in the MWC by recruiting analysts and could be the finest under Sanford's helm.

"I'm very happy with this class," Sanford said of the group which consisted of 21 high school players and one mid-year junior college transfer. "This process started way back. I felt like we did a better job of evaluating and watching film this year early and also getting (scholarship) offers out early which led us to getting more early commitments. We got players that we are very excited about."

Among the highlights:

* The Rebels landed three of the top prospects in southern Nevada in athletic wide receiver Phillip Payne (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) of Western High School, explosive quarterback Chris Jones (6-3, 190) of Shadow Ridge and safety Beau Orth (6-1, 200) of state champion Bishop Gorman.

Jones is the son of the late Kirk Jones who starred as a running back for Harvey Hyde's Rebels back in the early 80's. He is a dynamic runner in the Omar Clayton mold only three inches taller.

"I feel great about the guys that we got from Las Vegas," Sanford said.

* The Rebels took advantage of recruiting coordinator Gary Bernardi's strong Arizona ties to land two all-state linebackers in Travis Trickey (6-4, 225) of Springerville Round Valley and David Blair (6-2, 220) of Tempe McClintock.

"(Trickey) is a very tough player, very physical, who made a ton of tackles," Sanford said. "Blair is also a very tough, physical player."

* The Rebels landed a strong group of lineman on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball led by the team's one junior college signee, defensive end Heivaha Mafi (6-2, 235), a former teammate of Frank "The Tank" Summers at Laney College in Oakland, Calif.

Mafi, who enrolled in January and will take part in spring practice that begins on March 10, should help soften the unexpected departure of junior defensive end Jeremy Geathers to the NFL.

"He has a very fast motor," Sanford said. "He plays really hard and plays really fast. He's a very impressive guy who originally was offered by Kansas State."

* A strong wide receiver group led by one of the top prospects in northern California, Gerome Surrell (5-11, 200) of Stockton St. Mary's, Payne and Gordy Cooper (6-5, 215) from San Jacinto (Calif.) High School, the same school that produced UNLV kicking star Sergio Aguayo.

"He's tall, very physical, athletic and has great hands," Sanford said of Cooper. "I saw (Surrell) as a sophomore at the Stanford Combine and loved him."

Surrell and Michael Johnson (5-8, 170) of Rodriguez High in Suisun, Calif., are both explosive playmakers who should also make a big impact in the return game as well. Sanford compared Johnson favorably to a player he coached at USC, R.J. Soward, who went on to play with Jacksonville in the NFL.

"They're both guys who can make things happen with the football," Sanford said.

The Rebels are also very high on tight end recruit Alex Young (6-5, 230) of state Division III runnerup Modesto (Calif.) Central Catholic.

* Four players from talent-rich Texas including a pair of running backs, C.J. Cox (5-11, 190) of North Garland and Imari Thompson (5-9, 195) of Cedar Hill, that were heavily recruited.

The Rebels could still add one more player. They are waiting for Inglewood (Calif.) safety Marlon Johnson to pick between UNLV and Nevada.

Here's a link to bios on all the recruits:

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