by Stone Harper
For most college football teams, graduation is tough. However, for the Nevada Wolf Pack tough might be an understatement. The team loses Cody Fajardo, one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NCAA history. It doesn’t get any easier for the Wolf Pack because the team must also replace its leading tackler in Jonathan McNeal along with Brock Hekking, one of the better defensive ends in school history.
Through two weeks of spring practice, it is evident that the team is least prepared to replace Fajardo. Junior Tyler Stewart, redshirt sophomore Dante Mayes and redshirt freshman Hunter Fralick are all competing to replace a quarterback who is one of two signal callers in NCAA history to pass for 9,000 yards and rush for 3,000 yards in a career.
While no quarterback has separated himself, the competition has been good for the trio and it makes spring practice more entertaining.
“I think when one guy makes a good play everyone notices,” said head coach Brian Polian. “Everybody on the team is very aware of the competition going on, the thing that I do like about the competition is that they all help each other and they cheer each other on.”
The team also has to replace its defensive anchor in Hekking. In his four-year career, the man with the mullet was able to accumulate 22.5 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss.
The Wolf Pack, however, is more set to replace that position. Senior Lenny Jones will slide in to replace the All-Conference pass rusher. Jones, who started as a sophomore, moved to the bench last season with the emergence of Ian Seau.
Jones did not play like a backup though. He stood out in 13 games, securing five sacks. The 270-pounder was also able to intercept two passes including one he returned for a touchdown against UNLV. The Wolf Pack can breathe a sigh of relief knowing it has someone with starter experience to replace such a prolific player.
“[Jones] brings everything,” said Seau. “He’s got leadership, he brings a lot of energy, brings a lot of experience, a lot of play making ability. [Hekking] was a big loss, however, from a playmaking ability I don’t think we will lose a beat because [Jones] is such a good player.”
However, the Wolf Pack does not only replace talent, it has to replace the leadership that this tremendous senior class brought. McNeal and Fajardo were captains last season and were admired by the coaches, teammates and the community.
Although the team returns three-year captain Jordan Dobrich, the team cannot be led by just one man and that is where new guy’s are stepping up to the challenge of being a leader. The guy who has really stepped up and taken on the challenge of being one of those leaders is senior running back Don Jackson, and he is happy to do so.
“It’s a whole responsibility thing,” Jackson said. “You have to hold yourself to higher standard, you don’t just have a few guys looking up to you, you have the whole team looking up to you. Being considered a leader is something I enjoy.”
This senior class will always be remembered, and while it will do an admirable job replacing the talent and leadership left off the field by the fifteen graduating seniors, the team is still a work in progress. Thankfully the point of spring practice is that it allows a team extra time to try and replace what is lost by graduation.
“I have been pleased by our effort,” Polian said. “I think guys are trying and I think we are in good shape. We need better execution and there are some spots where we lost some seniors to graduation and we have young players now coming up and we need to figure out who’s going to grab those jobs and become major contributors. That’s the beauty of spring football, were trying to watch those battles and see who starts to emerge.”
Stone Harper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. and on Twitter @StoneHarperNVSB.