RENO — Brandon Wimberly knows what he means to the Nevada Wolf Pack football team.
“I have to catch the football and score to help my team win,” Wimberly said this week as the Wolf Pack prepared to meet the San Jose Spartans at Mackay Stadium Saturday night (7:30 p.m.).
Wimberly has done exactly that and more, grabbing a team-high 76 catches for 779 yards and six touchdowns.
Head coach Brian Polian, though, says Wimberley’s contributions to the Wolf Pack go well beyond simply catching the football and scoring.
“His maturity and preparation are incredible,” Polian said. “You know, you always have to teach young players how to prepare to play college football because none of them know how. Just having Brandon around is a great benefit to us because he teaches our your players how to prepare.
“He prepares like a pro. That preparation, frankly, is why he’s so productive.”
The 24-year-old Wimberly, now in his sixth season in the Nevada program, is one of the more productive wide receivers in the nation. He leads all active players in the nation with at least one reception in 50 consecutive games. He also leads all active players in the nation with 240 career catches and is 10th in career yards at 2,839.
The Los Angeles native will go down in history as one of the greatest wide receivers in Wolf Pack history. His 240 catches are fourth in school history and his 2,839 yards are eighth. Another 21 receptions over the final two games of the season will make him one of just five Pack receivers with 100 or more catches in a year and another 161 yards will make him one of just seven with 3,000 or more career yards.
“My focus hasn’t changed,” Wimberly said. “I play for my coaches, my teammates and my family and to help my team win.”
The 38-year-old Polian has enjoyed having a veteran like Wimberly on his roster this year.
“I sometimes think he’s closer to y age than he is the freshman,” smiled Polian. “The great thing about Brandon is that he never comes in and says, ‘Hey, coach, I can’t practice today.’ He just keeps working. I will always be grateful for Brandon for buying in to what we’re trying to do.”
FAJARDO HURT AGAIN
Polian said quarterback Cody Fajardo is still feeling pain in his foot and is limited in practice this week.
“He won’t participate in full at least early in the week,” Polian said.
Fajardo missed two games earlier this season (against Florida State and Hawaii in September) because of a knee injury. He has worn a brace on his right knee ever since.
“The knee is fine,” Polian said. “It’s just the foot.”
Fajardo is coming off one of his better games of the year in a 38-17 loss at Colorado State last Saturday. He rushed for 87 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown in the third quarter that gave the Pack a 14-13 lead. He also completed 31-of-46 passes for 247 yards.
Polian said offensive linemen Connor Talbot (guard) and Matt Galas (center), wide receiver Aaron Bradley and linebacker Jordan Dobrich are also questionable with various bumps and bruises for Saturday’s game.
“I don’t anticipate any major issues with any of them but I also can’t tell you right now that any of them will absolutely play on Saturday,” Polian said.
The loss at Colorado State means the Wolf Pack will finish the season without a victory away from Mackay Stadium.
It will be the Pack’s first winless season on the road since 2004 when Chris Ault’s Pack also went 0-6. The 2004 season was also the last time the Pack made a change in head coaches.
Polian is also the first head coach in Wolf Pack history to lose his first six road games.
The Wolf Pack was outscored 284-128 on the road this season, an average of 47-21 a game.
BOWL STREAK OVER
The loss to Colorado State also ended the Wolf Pack’s streak of eight consecutive bowl games. It also means that this will be the first season for the Pack without a victory over UNLV or a bowl game since 2004. Chris Tormey’s teams from 2000-03 also never beat UNLV or qualified for a bowl game.
“I want everybody to know that we are very disappointed,” Polian said, “especially for all of the former coaches who helped build the eight-year bowl streak.”
The Wolf Pack will also see its streak of five consecutive winning seasons end this year. This will also be the first season since 2004 that the Pack will finish the regular season with a losing record.
STREAKING THE WRONG WAY: The Wolf Pack’s five-game losing streak is its long skid since the 2000 team under first-year head coach Chris Tormey lost seven in a row.
The Wolf Pack’s struggles, though, go well beyond the last five games. The Wolf Pack has gone just 11-16 in its last 27 games, since a stunning 24-20 loss at home to Louisiana Tech on Nov. 19, 2011.
The Pack has also gone just 17-19 since the end of the 2010 season.
FAILED AT NEVADA, FALES IS SUCCESS AT SAN JOSE: San Jose State quarterback David Fales wasn’t good enough to play at Nevada.
“Coach (Chris) Ault, he looked at me in the face and said, ‘You’re probably not going to play here,’” Fales told Sports Illustrated last year.
Fales, a red-shirt freshman at Nevada in 2009, lasted just one season at Nevada and never played for the Pack.
“I realized that what they wanted to do wasn’t a good fit for me,” Fales said. “They wanted me to be more of a runner. In fall camp, all the plays I was doing were zone-read, naked bootlegs. I wasn’t a runner to begin with and I’m not going to out-sprint anyone so I didn’t have the best fall camp that year.”
Fales left the Pack and spent two years at Monterrey Peninsula College in 2010 and 2011 and passed for 4,637 yards and 37 touchdowns. He went to San Jose last year and passed for 4,193 yards and 33 touchdowns as the Spartans went 11-2. This year he has thrown for 2,876 yards and 21 touchdowns for the 5-4 Spartans.
Was Ault wrong about Fales’ running ability? Well, the senior has run the ball 78 times in two seasons at San Jose for a total of minus-142 yards and one touchdown.
“Fales is an excellent thrower,” Polian said. “He’s not a guy who is going to just take off and run. He just runs to throw or to stay alive. He’s not a guy who will just tuck it away and go.”