UNLV’s offensive line at the heart of team’s success

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The right side of UNLV's offensive line is down in position and ready for the snap from center Leif Fautanu (holding the ball) during the Rebels' Oct. game against Air Force at Allegiant Stadium. Photo by Paxtyn Graham.

At the center of every team’s offense stands the offensive line, a position group, sometimes overlooked, but arguably the most valuable. 

They’re the protectors, blocking every play to prevent movement toward the quarterback. Eleven players rush out every time for the offense. Front and center are the five offensive linemen. 

Being an offensive lineman doesn’t generate the notoriety or the credit that quarterbacks, receivers and running backs get, but they prove to be the key to victories, the backbone of the team, that the people relied on heavily in every practice and every game.

UNLV football’s offensive line has helped put them in a spot where a bowl game is obtainable for the first time since 2013. The Rebels are 4-4 and 2-2 in Mountain West play entering Saturday’s matchup at San Diego State.

Though the offensive line doesn’t appear on the highlight reel, their presence on the field is not forgotten. Their strength and power to hold off the opposing defensive line gives the quarterback time to find an open receiver or the running backs time to find a running lane. 

The Rebels’ starting offensive linemen from left to right starts with Daviyon McDaniel at left tackle, Preston Nichols at left guard, Leif Fautanu at center, Amani Trigg-Wright at right guard and Tiger Shanks at right tackle. 

TJ Woods is the offensive line coach at UNLV. He’s been an o-line coach for 12 years and has been coaching for UNLV since 2021. 

Woods complimented the incredible work ethic of the UNLV linemen and expressed that the position, though tough, could also be fun. 

“We pride ourselves on being the hardest working group on the team,” Woods said.

The UNLV offensive line has made their presence known this season, shining through and leaving their mark on the field which will be remembered this year and for years to come. 

Located directly in the middle of this offensive line is the position of center.

The center is the first man to touch the ball every play, snapping it to the quarterback, and pushing straight ahead to block. Leif Fautanu is the starting center for UNLV football and a leader on the team. 

“Woods emphasizes this a lot that the offensive line is really the engine of the team, so when you have this position in leadership, everybody kind of feeds off of your energy,” Fautanu said. “So when the offensive line is doing good, all the receivers, running backs and quarterbacks can see that. If they can do it, we can do it too.”

Aside from his leadership role on the team, Fautanu also values the personal meaning of the sport.

“I really love football because it’s kind of paved the way for where I am now,” Fautanu said.

The bond of the offensive line has been special this season. McDaniel is a starting senior left guard at UNLV, transferring from Charleston Southern before the 2021 season. McDaniel highlighted the diversity among the group and the close bond they shared as reasons for their success.

McDaniel gave insight into his position, saying that playing on the offensive has taught many important lessons.

“It teaches discipline and toughness,” said McDaniel, “having to depend on other people around you. It’s really just being able to rely on your brother and also just being accountable, like somebody that other people can count on as well.”

Nichols, a more recent transfer, doesn’t only share the offensive line with McDaniel, but also played with him before, as they both transferred from Charleston Southern. 

Nichols’ first season with the Rebels has been positive, he earned a starting spot on the line after fall camp. Getting the opportunity to play football at this level is special to him.

“It means a lot to me,” Nichols said. “I’ve been playing this game since I was about seven, playing different positions. I’ve learned so much about life when I’m playing football, it’s just a big part of me.”

Together, the UNLV offensive line has power, a strong work ethic and the mentality to play tough every week at Allegiant Stadium and on the road against tough road environments. 

Each athlete on the offensive line has individualistic traits that show the game has a personal meaning to them and shows a true statement of what the game of football truly represents: strength and heart.

The players of UNLV’s offensive line have built a close-knit community that’s like a family. It’s not just a sport to them, but just a pure love for the game that is never-ending.

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