There have been three main figure heads in the history Nevada sports — Chris Ault, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Musselman. Each of the three have had an impact on and off the field that are the reasoning they are so integral to Nevada’s sports history.
Ault is the most well-known Nevada coach of all-time. He also served as the university’s athletic director at one time, hiring himself as the head football coach in 2004. In two stints at Nevada, he won over 230 games and created the widely-used Pistol Offense. Ault’s coaching tree has extended well into the college game and the NFL. In 28 years as the Nevada head coach, Ault only finished with a losing record three times, won nine conference titles and won nine or more games 10 times. Ault not only left a legacy at Nevada, but across the country. The field at Mackay Stadium is named Chris Ault field in his honor.
Colin Kaepernick is the best quarterback to ever play at Nevada. Much of Chris Ault’s success in his second stint is thanks to Kaepernick. Kaepernick is one of three quarterbacks to ever throw and rush for 50 touchdowns, joining Heisman winners Tim Tebow and Lamar Jackson. He’s also the only player ever to pass for 9,000 yards and rush for 4,000 yards in his career.
His post-collegiate career is also noteworthy as he helped the San Francisco 49ers reach Super Bowl XLVII. He went 12-4 with the team the year after and, even though he is currently not signed to a team, his stats are some of the best ever for a Nevada football player in the professional game. His activism alone is also worthy of him being on Nevada’s Mount Rushmore, as he founded the “Know Your Rights Camp” and created the “Million Dollar Pledge” campaign as a way to help with civil rights issues.
In just over three years, Eric Musselman has transformed Nevada Men’s Basketball into the most feared team in the Mountain West Conference. Not only has he made an impact on the floor but he, and his family, have become one with the Reno community. No matter what happens during the rest of the season and in the offseason, Musselman has left his mark on Nevada athletics. Musselman has already won over 100 games with Nevada, as Nevada is on their way to a third consecutive regular season Mountain West title and third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
Finding a fourth head to join them is the debate.
Matt Hanifan: Marion Motley
Marion Motley, along with Musselman, Ault and Kaepernick, deserves to be on the Mount Rushmore of the best all time figures when referring to Nevada athletics. It was a difficult decision to make — especially turning down Sessions after everything he has done for the university with the practice facility — but Motley is the better choice. Motley was best professional athlete to step foot on this university, which is why he should be on Nevada’s Mount Rushmore.
Prior to his sophomore season in 1941, Motley elected to transfer to Nevada from South Carolina State. He attended Nevada from 1941-43, but eventually dropped out due to a knee injury. Motley was notorious for his pass and run blocking ability, playing mainly fullback for the Wolf Pack. Motley’s No. 41 is retired by Nevada.
After serving in World War II, Motley decided to return to football. A year after Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier in Major League Baseball, Motley and four other athletes decided to go pro in football. Motley went undrafted in the 1946 NFL Draft, and signed with the Cleveland Browns, playing under legendary coach Paul Brown in the first ever year the franchise was created.
The Pro Bowl made its way back to the NFL in 1950 — after it was discontinued in 1942 due to World War II — Motley was elected to his only selection, rushing for a league-leading 810 yards, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Motley also caught eleven passes for 151 yards and a touchdown, leading the Browns to an NFL Championship title. Motley was a unanimous first-team All-Pro in 1950.
Motley rushed for 4,720 yards on 828 carries in his nine-year career, while winning 4 AAFC championships along with his lone NFL Championship. He averaged a career 5.7 yards per carry, the highest all time for any running back in history. Motley was the second-ever African American elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968, and was elected to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time team in 1994. Motley held many franchise records in rushing that were eventually broken by Jim Brown in the 1960’s.
Former coaches and teammates have high praise for Motley. According to Paul Brown’s son, Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown, Paul thought he was the best running back he has ever coached. Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham — who was teammates with both legendary back Jim Brown and Motley — thought Motley was “the best fullback ever” and a “better all around player than Brown.”
Isaiah Burrows: Ramon Sessions
Ramon Sessions’ name may slip under the radar when bringing up Nevada’s Mount Rushmore, but his solid career with the Wolf Pack and contributions towards the university places him amongst the four. Not to mention, an 11-year NBA career with two playoff appearances doesn’t hurt either.
Sessions played three seasons in the silver and blue from 2004-2007, with career averages of 8.8 points and 5.0 assists. His 478 assists and 113 steals both rank second and ninth in school history respectively. Sessions earned Second-Team All-Western Athletic Conference honors in 2007 and was a finalist for the Bob Cousy award, one that is awarded to college basketball’s premier point guard each season.
During his junior season, the Wolf Pack won the first seed in the Mountain West Conference with a 14-2 record. Sessions was also a key piece in Nevada’s NCAA Tournament run that same season. Listed at the seventh seed in the South region, Sessions scored 16 points on 7-13 shooting to advance past the Creighton Bluejays in a 77-71 win. Nevada lost the next round to the no. 2 seeded Memphis Tigers.
Sessions was a the 56th overall round pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. He has played with eight different teams throughout his 11-year career. He was acquired as a mid-season acquisition by the Los Angeles Lakers and helped them beat the Denver Nuggets in a seven-game series in the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
Sessions’ lengthy career helps him give back to his alma mater as well. His $1 million donation paved the way for a new practice facility at the University of Nevada, Reno. In his honor, the facility is named the “Ramon Sessions Basketball Performance Center” lettered in silver on the side of the building.
Sessions may not have the dozens of accolades other former Nevada athletes earned, but his steady collegiate career translated to a successful 11 years in the NBA. On top of that, Sessions gave back to the place that put him over the top.
Ryan Freeberg: Nate Burleson
Kaepernick, Musselman, and Ault are pillars of the Nevada sports landscape, it’s hard to tell a Wolf Pack sports story without mentioning one of them. Wide receiver Nate Burleson should be considered with these all-time greats. His on the field legacy still holds to this day, and his work post-football is arguably the most prolific other than Kaepernick.
In only three years, Burleson was able to etch his name in the Nevada record books. Burleson is in the top ten all-time in every major receiving category for Nevada, ranging from career receptions to career receiving yards. He’s fourth all-time at Nevada in career receptions and career receiving yards and also tied for fourth in single-season receiving touchdowns. He posted the third-best single-season receiving yardage season in school history. Burleson is ranked tied for sixth in career touchdowns with Bryan Calder and Marko Mitchell. Burleson is the school leader in two single-game records — receptions and receiving yards — and also holds the record for single-season receptions. He also led the NCAA in both receiving yards and receptions per game his senior year.
After his time with the Pack, Burleson was drafted 71st overall by the Minnesota Vikings in the third round of the 2003 NFL draft. He played alongside legendary wide receiver, Randy Moss, who helped shape Burleson into a solid professional receiver. Over his 11 years in the league, Burleson played for four teams.
At the end of his NFL career, Burleson accumulated over 5,600 receiving yards and 39 touchdowns. In addition to his respectable receiving numbers, Burleson was also a decent special teams return man, tallying over 2,800 return yards. Factoring in his total all-purpose yards, Burleson finished his career one yard short of reaching 8,700 all-purpose yards.
Once he retired, he couldn’t stay away from football very long. In 2015, Burleson was the color commentator for the Lions preseason games, and just a year later he would get a big opportunity directly from the NFL. In 2016, the NFL network debuted a daily morning show called Good Morning Football with Burleson as one of the show’s hosts. Burleson remains as one of the shows main hosts to this day, and has even expanded his broadcasting duties, also serving as a studio analyst for CBS’ The NFL Today.
If all this isn’t enough to convince someone of Burleson’s place in the top tier of Nevada sports icons, then the fact that he has a small rap career should also earn him some points. Burleson appeared with Macklemore and Wizdom in a 2008 song titled ‘Put in Work’. Burleson raps under the stage name New Balance, abbreviated as NB, just like his initials. He also was featured in the song ‘Valley of Rain’ by Wizdom — both tracks are off of the album The Book of Wizdom. Burleson has continued to put his rap skills to use every NFL offseason since 2016, putting out a rap recapping the past season.
Burleson helped to put Nevada sports on the map due to his play on the field, because of this, he earned a spot in the Nevada Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012. Burleson returns to the area every so often to be around the team and help promote it, last appearing in the area in 2017 to attend a Governor’s dinner — the event raised funds to help fund student-athlete scholarships at Nevada. Factoring all this in, Burleson should be considered a top Pack sports icon — on and off the field — in any Wolf Pack fans’ book.
Darion Strugs: Nick Fazekas
Nick Fazekas should be the fourth and final head on Nevada’s Mount Rushmore. Before Musselman, he was the one name in Nevada basketball that reigned supreme. Fazekas, whose number is being retired in Nevada’s game against UNLV, is the best basketball player in Nevada history.
In his four years, Fazekas led the Pack to four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, the only time in school history that has happened. In each of those years, Fazekas was a key component to the teams success.
Fazekas is the most accomplished Nevada athlete in terms of collegiate success, even more than Kaepernick. He was named first-team All-WAC and won the WAC Player of the Year three times. Fazekas is the only Consensus All-American in Nevada history as he was named a second-team All-American in his final season. Fazekas is the all-time leading scorer at Nevada with 2,464 points and it’s not even close as second place is over 300 points behind him. He’s second in career rebounds at the school and the only Nevada player with at least 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds. Fazekas left Nevada with the greatest winning percentage as a player, winning almost 80 percent of the games played in four years.
If his collegiate numbers aren’t good enough, his pro career should put him over the hump. Although he didn’t fare well in the NBA has has been a force in overseas basketball. In 2012, he moved to Japan to play in the NBL, now the B. League, to play for the Toshiba/Kawasaki Brave Thunders. He led the league in scoring averaging 21.5 points per game in his first year, then followed that by winning the league MVP and Championship the next season. He added another title to his trophy case in 2016 winning another title, and won the league MVP in 2017. Just like at his time at Nevada, Fazekas has dominated the Japanese game with his rebounding and scoring. He’s led the B. League in scoring four times and rebounding three times. Fazekas has become such a staple in Japan, he gained his citizenship and plays for the Japanese National Team.
Between Fazekas and the other three guys, he’s the only one to have major success at both the collegiate and professional levels. Fazekas has had a better pro career than Sessions — and arguably Burleson — and had a better collegiate career than Motley.
The Sportsdesk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.