Santoro: Spring practice more like spring cleaning for Pack

Nevada wide receiver Dalevon Campbell turns upfield against the Colorado State defense during last season’s game in Fort Collins, Colo.

Nevada wide receiver Dalevon Campbell turns upfield against the Colorado State defense during last season’s game in Fort Collins, Colo.
David Zalubowski | AP

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Sports Fodder:

The Nevada Wolf Pack’s recent spring football practices it seems, were actually more of a spring-cleaning exercise.

Eight players have jumped into the transfer portal since the Pack’s annual Silver & Blue scrimmage on April 13. Those eight men out include talented and explosive wide receiver Dalevon Campbell, who caught 69 passes for 1,053 yards (15.3 a catch) and three touchdowns.

Also seeking fame and fortune elsewhere over the last 10 days or so are running back Jacques Badolato-Birdsell, linebacker Davion Blackwell and his defensive back brother Dorian Blackwell, defensive lineman Louie Cresto and linebacker Marcel Walker, wide receiver Dariyan Wiley and tight end Cooper Shults. Shults and Cresto were part of the never-ending haul of former Oregon castoffs that former coach Ken Wilson brought with him from the Ducks.

Campbell, the Wolf Pack’s top offensive weapon the last two years, by far, seems to be the biggest loss. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound speedster led the team last year in receiving yards (594) and touchdown catches (two). He averaged 19.2 yards a catch and was responsible for 28 percent of the Pack’s 2,102 passing yards last year.

The Texas native (Missouri City) could end up back in his home state with Wilson at TCU. Wilson landed on his feet as the Horned Frogs’ linebacker coach.


The Wolf Pack men’s basketball team also recently lost a couple players to the dreaded transfer portal. Tylan Pope, who played in 21 games off the bench last year, averaging 3.6 points and 2.2 rebounds, is on the open market as is seldom-used point guard Snookey Wigington.

Wigington, a 5-9, 150-pounder from Los Angeles, only played in three games (a total of nine minutes) over the last two seasons.

The 6-6, 240-pound Pope could have been a valuable piece off the bench this year for the Pack. He battled injuries during his lone season after transferring from Tulane but did give the Pack productive minutes at times last year.

He had 10 points against San Jose State in early February and another 10 points and six rebounds in Nevada’s loss to Colorado State in the Mountain West tournament. Pope, though, only played 10 or more minutes in nine of his 21 appearances.


The Pack basketball team also lost a valuable asset in the unofficial coaches’ transfer portal. Assistant coach Kory Barnett, part of head coach Steve Alford’s Indiana connection, left to become an assistant at West Virginia. Barnett, an Indiana native who also played four years for the Indiana Hoosiers, was instrumental in guiding the Pack defense.

That leaves Alford, another Indiana native who also played for the Hoosiers, with just two Hoosiers on his staff in Craig Neal and Bill Duany, a fact that Alford will likely correct soon. There are, of course, no shortage of Hoosiers in the basketball coaching profession.

Alford, though, has more important things to do right now trying to fill his roster after the loss of guards Kenan Blackshear, Jarod Lucas and Hunter Blackshear as well as Pope off last year’s roster. There’s always a Hoosier out there that would give up all of his Bobby Knight posters to coach with Indiana legend Alford but there aren’t that many point guards and shooting guards who can carry a team to the NCAA Tournament.


Barnett coached with Alford the last 11 years at UCLA and Nevada and will be missed. But as long as Neal, Alford’s lifelong friend, is around, all will be fine at Nevada.

Neal and Alford have been close friends since the two were Indiana high school stars in the early 1980s. Alford played for his father Sam, himself a legendary Indiana high school player and coach, at New Castle while Neal played for his father Stan at Washington. Sam Alford was one of the greatest Indiana players in high school history at Washington and always remained close to the program, paving the way for his son Steve to form a bond with Neal.

“Craig is from my old hometown of Washington,” Sam Alford said in 1986. “Steve and Craig talk on the phone almost every week. They play basketball together every time we go to Washington.”


The Steve Alford-Craig Neal friendship would make a tremendous Hollywood movie every bit as heartwarming as Gene Hackman and Hickory High in “Hoosiers.”

The two have been friends since there were both in third grade, bonded together by basketball and a common background. They were born roughly 60 miles and nine months apart in 1964 and played high school basketball for their fathers about 25 miles apart.

Neal averaged 27 points a game his senior year at Washington while Alford was pumping in 37 a game for New Castle. The two were both named to the Associated Press All State First Team in Indiana as seniors in 1983.

Neal went to Georgia Tech to play for Bobby Cremins while Alford went to Indiana to play for Knight. Alford and Neal, though, have been almost inseparable since Neal joined Alford’s staff at Iowa in 2004.

Neal was with Alford at Iowa through 2007. The two then went to New Mexico (Alford as head coach) together for the 2007-08 season. Neal then replaced Alford as New Mexico head coach in 2013-14 when Alford left for UCLA. The two have been on Nevada’s sideline ever since Alford got the Pack’s top job in 2019-20. Neal was out of coaching for two years and Alford was unemployed about four months when Alford brought him to Nevada.

Neal, an Alford assistant for 14 years, has always played second fiddle to Alford in public perception only. Yes, Alford was an Indiana legend in high school at New Castle and in college at Indiana.

When you talk Indiana high school lore you lump Alford in with the likes of Oscar Robertson, George McGinnis, Larry Bird, Dick and Tom Van Arsdale, Kent Benson, Rick Mount and John Wooden. Neal was a great high school player, but he wasn’t Alford, a historic figure worthy of a statue.

But Alford and Neal on the bench together, despite the fact that Alford has always been the head coach, are basically equals. You’ll often see Neal running the timeouts and talking to the players on the Pack bench. Alford has never been fueled by ego as a coach. He coaches because he loves the game and he loves players. Neal is the same way. The game, the players is simply their life and always will be.

Nevada is fortunate to have both.


Coaches in all sports, of course, hire their buddies. The buddy system gives them a sense of security and comfort, surrounding themselves with those they can confide in and complain to while the outside world (boosters, fans, athletic directors, media) criticizes them.

New Pack football coach Jeff Choate, of course, has done the same thing and has done it as much as any coach in Pack history. He’s basically simply hired coaches he has coached with or coached as players in the past such as Mike Lynch (running backs), Brian Armstrong (offensive line), Joey Thomas (secondary), David Gilbertson (quarterbacks), Nico Johnson (defensive ends), Jason Loscalzo (strength and conditioning), Tevis Bartlett (senior analyst), Parker Henry (special teams, linebackers), Kane Ioane (defensive coordinator), Matt Lubbock (offensive coordinator) and Payam Saadat (defensive coordinator).

Ken Wilson, too, did the same thing for the most part when he came back to the Pack and, well, that produced four wins in the last two years. The difference, it seems, is that Choate’s staff has much more experience overall and experience in the roles they will have at Nevada.

Wilson and his wet-behind-the-ears staff were learning on the job. Choate and his staff have a been-there, done-that feel to them. Hopefully it will pay off with more than four wins over the next two years.


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