Quarterback competition takes focus as spring practice begins

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Harrison Bailey (5), head coach Marcus Arroyo, Cameron Friel (7), Matthew Geeting (15), and Jared Heywood (14) in a huddle before starting a quarterback drill during the first day of spring practice. Photo by Jordan Anders-McClain.

As UNLV football wrapped up its first week of spring football practice, head coach Marcus Arroyo has made it clear that the goal this spring is to elevate the standards of the program. 

In UNLV’s second full offseason and spring practice under Arroyo, there has been a baseline created in the program on what is to be expected during spring practice. With that experience under the team’s belt, Arroyo is focused on implementing those standards in each position group battle.

The quarterback competition, with Doug Brumfield, Cameron Friel, and Harrison Bailey all in the mix, is no exception. 

“They know that the standards are gonna be raised,” Arroyo said. “The demand is gonna be much higher, the amount of attention to detail, the amount of crisp communication, all of that stuff now, the tide is going to rise.” 

While no starter is expected to be named anytime during spring practice, with freshman Jayden Maiava joining the program in the summer, Arroyo is focused on creating internal competition at the position that will help raise the level of play at that position, and the offense overall. 

The two returners from last season, Brumfield and Friel, each had their own ups and downs during UNLV’s 2-10 season.

Brumfield suffered a fracture in his lower back and missed nine of the last 10 games in 2021. Most of his recovery was just resting his back, but he took that time to reflect and look at how he can improve his game. 

“It’s a blessing just to be out here able to run and throw again coming from a couple of months ago, I could barely walk,” Brumfield said. “Just being able to be out here with these guys is amazing.”

Friel, the 2021 Mountain West Freshman of the Year, was thrusted under center in UNLV’s third game of the season against #14 Iowa State. He showed improvements throughout the season, leading UNLV to a pair of wins late in the season that he hopes can take his game to the next level. 

“For the last year I feel like I’ve grown a lot, taking the field as young freshmen,” Friel said. “Being around the system for just a year felt like I’ve grown a lot. Now we’re all improving all around.

The newcomer to the room, Bailey, the Tennessee transfer, called the offense “complicated,” with their being a play they can call for any look the defense presents. The former five-star recruit has quickly learned what will be expected from whoever is chosen to start for the Rebels’ first game. 

“They want to see a dude that commands when he steps on the field, that every player raises their game a level,” Bailey said. “Just really a guy who’s going to get the job done.” 

Another wrinkle to the competition is adjusting to new offensive coordinator Nick Holz. The former Raiders wide receivers coach has quickly gained the trust of the quarterbacks, as he looks to use his NFL experience to help elevate the offense.

Holz could not believe that Brumfield was 19 years old when he told Holz, the experience from the young quarterback room has been a pleasant surprise for Holz. 

“They’re a young group that is strong because they have experience and that’s the really interesting part,” Holz said. “And then they have some things that they know better than I do in this system.”

Arroyo has liked how the quarterbacks have responded to Holz and the other changes to his staff. He wants the players to take more ownership in practices by having them be more “player-led and not coach-fed.” 

Starting with the quarterback competition, he sees the best way for them to grow is to challenge them through situations on the field. 

“The only way to make those guys better fast is not to be comfortable is to be uncomfortable and grow and demand a lot from each other and learn and get things as fast as you go,” Arroyo said. 

Right Timing

Arroyo has tried to get Holz and new defensive coordinator Ketih Heyward on his staff at UNLV in previous seasons. But the timing wasn’t right. 

So when both coordinator positions opened up earlier this year, Arroyo had those two names on the top of his list for each position. 

Heyward worked with Arroyo at Oregon and has over 15 years of experience working with various Power 5 college football programs. The defense has responded to Heyward well as he uses his past experiences to try and help improve the defense. 

“I think it prepared me just by seeing a lot of football and the different things that you’re going to see in order to prepare your team,” Heyward said. “There have been a lot of different philosophies.”

Holz and Arroyo became close with the relationship between the Raiders and Rebels, both would text each other after their respective games. 

Arroyo interviewed Holz for another position on the staff last year and instantly knew to keep his name in mind if a spot opened up because they shared the same mindset on the game. 

“We just kind of, as the relationship grew, started talking football the same way and we realized we’re pretty philosophically aligned to those kinds of things,” Holz said. 

Though Holz has never been a coordinator at the college level, his decade experience with the Raiders, in various roles under numerous head coaches, stood out to Arroyo as someone who can help develop the offense. 

“You don’t spend 10 years at an NFL organization, with many head coaches and offensive coordinators, and stay put,” Arroyo said. “You’re either really, really good, or you’re the mascot…And he’s really good because he’s not the mascot.”

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