As the University of Nevada, Las Vegas football team wrapped up its practices in Ely, it left one mainstay behind. Each year since 2008, 10-year-old Hunner Doty attends as many practices as he can along with his brother and grandparents, Jeff and Debbie Cazier. And as he’s attended the Rebels’ practices each year, he’s gotten a chance to do more than watch the players.
“It’s enjoyable to watch them and watch UNLV when they come up here,” Debbie Cazier said. “When we lived in Texas, we’d never have this chance to get this close to college…this is closer than they’ve ever been.”
At any given practice, Hunner roamed the sidelines to watch players up close and personal to pick up any tips as he works to improve as a football player.
“I like watching how they kick and how the defense goes,” Hunner said.
Hunner’s goal is to play for the Rebels and, eventually, play for the Oakland Raiders in the NFL.
And he’s hoping watching UNLV on the practice field can help set him on the path to one day joining them on Saturdays.
“I learned that there’s pads and you don’t get hurt that much,” Hunner said. I learned about how I need to stand and when I play soccer, that also helps me.”
This year, Hunner received a special hat, which players autographed throughout the training camp. But one player holds a special place. Running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence transferred to the Rebels where he is looking to make his mark on the roster. Despite being new to the team, he’s become one of Hunner’s favorite players.
“He’s new and he’s done some pretty cool stuff so far,” Hunner said.
Lawrence may be working to learn the playbook, but he’s also taken time to visit with Hunner when he can and made a good impression on him and his grandparents from the very beginning.
“Shaq was the first one to come up and talk to Hunner,” Cazier said. “All the players have been real good about talking to the kids and signing autographs. It helps them and sets a good example.”
For Lawrence, it was important to reach out to children. Growing up, Lawrence said he looked up to athletes. Now, he’s hoping he can do the same for Hunner and many more children who dream about playing football.
“It feels good,” Lawrence said. “Growing up, you look up to football players and what not, so to have kids look up to you is a good feeling.”
After a given practice, several players greet Hunner. High fives are a common sight as are talking with him before and after practices. That connection with the community is imperative, Shelton said.
“It’s very important to reach out to the community,” Lawrence said. “Kids look up to us and we’re their role models.”
UNLV is entering the 2013 season with expectations to improve on head coach Bobby Hauck’s first three seasons, where the Rebels won two games each year. How improved the Rebels remains to be seen, but for at least one fan, he has high expectations for the team, especially against UNLV’s in-state rivals, the University of Nevada, Reno.
“I think UNLV will win,” Hunner said.
As another training camp passed, Cazier said she believes getting the chance to meet the players and coaches will help inspire Hunner to continue working hard to become a collegiate and professional football player.
“It helps because you get a little more contact with them and then you want to follow that player throughout the season,” Cazier said. “Sometimes they’ll give you a football and a couple of the players said I remember you from last year. It’s good to come up here and to get to talk to them. They’re really good.”
As Hunner looks to continue working toward his dream of playing for the Rebels, his favorite player this season has some advice for him.
“Keep working hard,” Lawrence said. “Don’t ever give up on your dreams. Whatever you have to do, just do it.”