All UNLV linebacker Matt Lea wants is to get a chance to play against Fresno State in front of family and friends.
It didn’t seem possible for the former Central High star when he tore knee ligaments in the first quarter against Michigan on Sept. 19. He’s since had surgery, said his recovery is ahead of schedule and he potentially could return Friday against Fresno State at Bulldog Stadium.
“It was very disappointing, but there’s a good side to it and that’s not missing the whole season,” Lea said. “I’m aiming to come back this week and play against the hometown, but it depends on how my knee feels and how my trainers feel as well. If not this week, we have a bye next week and I’ll be back playing against Boise.”
Lea (pronounced Lee) has missed three weeks after starting the Rebels’ first three games at outside linebacker. He recorded 12 tackles before he suffered the injury
“I went in for a tackle and my foot got caught in the turf,” Lea said. “Foot went one way and my knee went the other.”
Lea said he quickened his rehab in hopes to get back on the field in time to face the Bulldogs.
“The season was going pretty well for me,” said the 5-foot-10, 215-pound redshirt sophomore. “As soon as I found out (the injury) wasn’t season-ending and the amount of time I would be out after surgery, I wanted to live in the training room so I could make it back to play against Fresno.”
Lea helped Central to an 8-3 record his senior year; the Grizzlies went 7-3 during his sophomore and junior seasons. He earned All-Tri-River Athletic Conference honors all three seasons and was named to The Bee’s second team as a senior.
Last season, Lea played in all 13 games for the Rebels and started six, making his first collegiate start at San Diego State. He finished sixth on the team with 52 tackles, including three for loss and recovered one fumble.
Lea said he’s been running with no pain and feels good.
“(Coaches) know how bad I want to play in front of my hometown, so it’s all up to them at the end of the day,” Lea said. “It would mean everything. Last time I played in front of (my family and friends) was four years ago in high school. Some players never get a chance to play in front of their hometown, so it’s something I’ve been looking forward to all year.”
Long time ago – UNLV is aiming for its first road victory against Fresno State since 1983. The Bulldogs are 7-2 all-time against the Rebels in Fresno.
And more – The last time UNLV picked up a victory at Bulldog Stadium was in 1984 when quarterback Randall Cunningham and freshman running back Ickey Woods (Edison) helped defeat Toledo 30-13 in the California Bowl.
We meet again – Fresno State and UNLV have played each other in three conferences: Big West, Western Athletic Conference and Mountain West.
Fresno State connection – UNLV cornerbacks coach J.D. Williams was an All-American player at Fresno State who was the 16th overall selection in the 1990 NFL draft. He coached for the Bulldogs in the 2000-01 seasons.
Friday night lights success – The Rebels have a 7-2-1 record all-time on Friday. UNLV went 1-1 last season on Fridays.
FRESNO STATE VS. UNLV
- Friday: 7:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 1-5, 0-3 MW; Rebels 2-4, 1-1
- Series: Bulldogs lead 12-5