Las Vegas High’s football team has a new coach, seven new offensive starters and nine new defensive starters.
But there was no mention of the word “rebuilding” at a recent Wildcats practice. As long as quarterback Hasaan Henderson and running back Farrell Victor are in the backfield, there seemed no need.
“We don’t have a lot of seniors, but the ones we do have are good players,” first-year head coach James Thurman said.
Good might be an understatement.
With a 6-foot-4-inch frame, a strong arm and basketball athleticism, Henderson is a rare sight in the pocket.
The senior passed for 2,137 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushed for 356 yards and seven scores last season, and he vows to be even better at the controls of the Wildcats’ spread offense this season.
“I think I’ve gotten a lot better at my decision making and my time with the clock, evaluating time,” Henderson said. “I’ve gotten better at controlling the game, and being more of a leader.”
Henderson will be handing off to the elusive Victor, who ran for 1,383 yards and 14 TDs as a junior last season.
The Wildcats also return seniors Tony Verdugo and Fabian Lechuga to anchor their offensive line.
“We’re putting in a few things different, but it’s pretty much the same (offensive) stuff,” said Verdugo, a center and nose guard. “I have a feeling we’re going to be good this year.”
Thurman, a longtime defensive line assistant at Las Vegas, took over for Chris Faircloth, who resigned in January after he went 78-17 over seven seasons with Class 4A state titles in 2005 and 2006.
Senior linebacker and left tackle Kaveo Walker said Thurman’s familiarity with the program makes the transition easier.
“It’s the same stuff. The defense we’re running right now is pretty similar to one of the formations we ran last year,” Walker said. “So defensively, we’ve got everything down. We’re pretty sound.”
Las Vegas also has a rare talent on special teams in junior kicker Jay Mattox, who earned the nickname “Auto-Mattox” after he made 10 of 13 field goals last year.
“Hopefully he’s going to be a big weapon for us,” Thurman said of Mattox. “He’s hitting 40-yarders if there’s no wind, easy. It takes pressure off the offense to score touchdowns every time.”
Las Vegas won six straight Sunrise Region titles from 2003 to 2008 before losing to Foothill in the 2009 quarterfinals and to Liberty in last year’s region final.
That has Henderson driven to return the Wildcats to postseason glory.
“It’s kind of hard to believe it’s gone by so fast,” Henderson said. “I’ve been here with my team for four years on varsity. Hopefully we get to state this year.”
Henderson is one of UNLV’s top recruiting targets, and Arkansas, Oregon, UNR and Washington have also shown interest. Being able to watch his college stock rise has been a “blessing,” he said.
But before focusing on recruiting, Henderson has designs on helping the Wildcats compete for the Northeast League title.
Las Vegas will get a glimpse of its many new faces on both sides of the ball when it opens at home against Snow Canyon (Utah) at 7 p.m. Friday.
“We’re very excited,” Thurman said. “I can’t wait until Friday to see what we’ve got.”