Pack opens spring camp looking for answers

Nevada football coach Ken Wilson addresses the media after the Wolf Pack’s first spring camp practice March 15, 2023.

Nevada football coach Ken Wilson addresses the media after the Wolf Pack’s first spring camp practice March 15, 2023.
Photo by Duke Ritenhouse.

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Nevada football coach Ken Wilson has a one-word message for his roster.


Pretty much every job is up for grabs as the Wolf Pack begins its second spring camp under Wilson. The 15-practice spring schedule — which began Wednesday at Wolf Pack Park — is one long audition for starting spots and playing time, Wilson said after Nevada’s first practice. And those who compete the best will have a huge advantage when the Pack gets ready to open the 2023 season in September.

“We’re evaluating everything; we’ve got competition going on out here,” Wilson said Wednesday. “We’ve got 100 guys practicing this year, which is a big difference from last year. Guys getting out playing and just competing for jobs will make us better.”

The Pack enters its second season under Wilson on a program-worst 10-game losing streak and with question marks at a number of positions, including quarterback, running back, and defensive back. Nevada was aggressive in the two signing periods, bringing in a total of 25 newcomers in an effort to find immediate help.

Wilson has two spring scrimmages planned — on April 8 and April 15 — which will be open to the public. They will also serve as game-speed auditions for dozens of Pack players looking to get on the field in the fall.

“Across the board, every job is open,” Wilson said. “That makes it fun for these guys. We’re just mixing in guys and trying to get depth.”


One indication of the need to rebuild the roster is a look at the Wolf Pack’s running back situation.

The team’s leading returner at the position is sophomore Cross Patton, who carried the ball nine times for 37 yards. After that, only one other actual running back (Wesley Kommer) recorded a rushing attempt.

That’s basically a result of relying on the same two players for the last five seasons. Both Toa Taua and Devonte Lee are now gone after combining to run the ball 1,200 times for 5,483 yards from 2018 to 2022.

One of the few areas with a proven returner for the Pack comes at kicker, where Brandon Talton returns for a fifth season. Talton, with 68 career field goals already recorded, is in position to completely rewrite the Nevada and Mountain West record books.

The Pack’s other returning leaders include:

Passing: Shane Illingworth — 84-for-145, 761 yards;

Receiving: Dalevon Campbell — 38 receptions, 459 yards;

Tackles: Drue Watts — 57;

Interceptions: Isaiah Essissima — 2.


One of the Pack’s more interesting position battles looks to come at quarterback, where six players are looking to take charge.

The incumbent is Illingworth, an Oklahoma State transfer who appeared in six games for Nevada last season while sharing time with Nate Cox. Illingworth is the only player on the roster to have thrown a pass in a game for Nevada.

He has no shortage of challengers, though, including highly-touted freshmen Jax Leatherwood (San Diego) and AJ Bianco (Honolulu).

“Quarterback is going to be a big one,” Wilson said. “We’ve got five quarterbacks here on scholarship that all want to be the starter. That’s a big position battle for us.”

Another transfer, Colorado’s Brendon Lewis, is in camp and is expected to challenge for the starting spot. He was the Buffaloes’ opening-day starter last season.


Two Carson Valley products are on Nevada’s spring roster.

Douglas’ Chris Smalley got some quality time last season as a freshman edge rusher (11 tackles, one fumble recovered). He’s listed at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds.

Carson’s Connor Davis, who also played at Dayton, has joined the Wolf Pack. He had 10.5 tackles for loss last season at Feather River College. Davis is listed as a 6-2, 275-pound defensive lineman.

A number of other Northern Nevada prep players are on the Wolf Pack’s roster, including some high-profile transfers. That list includes McQueen running back Ashton Hayes (Cal transfer), Spanish Springs linebacker Jackson LaDuke (Oregon), and Bishop Manogue linebacker Malcolm McClure (Cal).


Camp began: March 15

Camp ends: April 22

Scrimmages: April 8, April 15

Spring game: April 22


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