Mark Anderson, a 1988 graduate of the University of Florida, has covered UNLV football, baseball, women's basketball and the Gladiators of the Arena Football League since January 1999. Prior to that, he covered high school sports for the Tallahassee Democrat, and the University of Nevada for the Reno Gazette-Journal. He is on the board of the Football Writers Association of America.
Here is Part 1 of our Q&A with Anderson:
Badger Nation: The Rebels have developed a reputation as an underachieving group over the last few seasons. Why hasn't UNLV reached the level people have expected, and do you see that changing in the near future?
Anderson: There are a number of factors that went into not living up to
expectations. For one, quarterback Jason Thomas was never the same
after undergoing shoulder surgery following his big sophomore season.
His throwing motion was affected and he lost confidence in himself.
Thomas never got over the opener of the 2001 season at Arkansas when
he played horribly and the team lost in the final minute. Also, the
coaching staff never could figure out how to properly use him. Thomas
was the best running back on the team, but the coaches tried too hard
to make him a dropback passer instead of using his best skills. Once
it became clear that Thomas' passing was never going to be what it
was in 2000, there was a division on the team concerning who should
start. Coach John Robinson stood by Thomas, but also made sure Kurt
Nantkes got his share of work. Now that Thomas is gone and Nantkes
becomes the starter, there is the opportunity for the fresh start the
program desperately needs. But the first two games will tell the
story. The Rebels host Toledo and then play at Kansas. Either game
could go either way. They must win at least one of those games before
playing at Wisconsin. If UNLV loses both, it will head to Madison
looking at 0-3 and facing the familiar questions returning about
whether the program is on the right path, and that will create a
Badger Nation: How will John Robinson's announcement that he's stepping down as AD effect the football program, if at all?
Anderson: There probably will be even more pressure on him to succeed. Before,
who was going to put heat on Robinson? Now he will have to answer to
someone, meaning Robinson must start producing. From a practical
standpoint, he will be able to devote all of his time to football and
not be nagged by issues that come up with other sports. Robinson
didn't realize all that was involved in becoming AD, and it took a
toll on him.
Badger Nation: What is your opinion of Kurk Nantkes? Is he a guy that can lead UNLV to a Mountain West championship?
Anderson: If last year's season finale is any indication, he could. Nantkes
received a last-minute start and led the Rebels to an upset of
Colorado State, which won the league championship. He has talented
backs and receivers and a big offensive line to help him make the
transition to full-time starter, but there is some inexperience on
the line, which could cause some problems early. How Nantkes handles
the responsibility of being The Guy will tell a lot. The ability is
Badger Nation: It seems the general opinion is that Nantkes has a better arm than Thomas. Will his arm help make Earvin Johnson a star receiver?
Anderson: Johnson was starting to become a star receiver last season even with
Thomas' struggles, so Nantkes should make him that much better. There
was a lot of hype when UNLV signed Johnson because he could have gone
to a much bigger school. He is a true star in the making and is
beginning to show the ability to play in the NFL.
UNLV Q&A: Mark Anderson
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