Nevada football’s offensive line is different from a typical unit—their impact and companionship with one another spreads farther than the trenches. This camaraderie was on full display during a Tuesday morning practice at Wolf Pack Park.
Head coach Jay Norvell blew the final whistle, which signaled the end of a warm 80-degree September practice in full pads and helmets. After a team speech, dozens of players swarmed the sidelines and headed toward the exit gate.
Much of the field was empty, but five members of the offensive line remained huddled in a circle with arms linked and a knee to the turf. The huddle broke with plenty of smiles, hugs, laughs and fist bumps from each player.
It’s these small components that form The Union, an offensive line tradition that has spanned over different teams for decades at the University of Nevada, Reno. Their communication and friendship on and off the field has formed an unbreakable bond between them.
“It’s like a brotherhood,” left tackle Jake Nelson said. “This is a family to me. We’re spending all day together. Whether it’s watching film, eating or training, we always do it together which is really special to be apart of.”
No matter what happens throughout the course of each game, a single word sums up their chemistry as a group, “brotherhood”. It’s a contagious message that spreads from players to coaches.
“Being apart of The Union means everything to me,” center Nate Edwards said. “They’re my brothers. When you see one of us, you’ll usually see two, three or five of us. It’s so important to build that chemistry and it’s helped for sure.”
Nelson anchors the offensive unit. The senior tackle has started every game dating back to his sophomore year and has racked up awards along the way. He was awarded All-Mountain West honors last season and was placed on the Outland Trophy watch list this season.
Nelson suffered a broken arm against Hawai’i on Sept. 28. He will miss the remainder of the season, but his experience will continue to influence the group.
“It’s important for me to lead by example and be that vocal presence,” he said. “Knowing that I’m going to be gone after this, I need to set the foundation for the rest of the guys so we can carry on this tradition.”
Nelson made the switch from right tackle to left tackle during his time at Nevada. The reps at both starting spots has pointed toward a bright future ahead at the next level.
“The last few years, bouncing between both tackle spots has really helped,” he said. “It’s just about being consistent. As long as I’m consistent, the rest will come and that’s what has happened over these past couple of years.”
Before his tenure with Nevada, Nelson competed in track and field at San Juan Hills High School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. His athletic traits helps him get to the opposing defense’s second level with ease.
“That athleticism from track and field really helps me bounce between both sports,” he said. “It helps me get to that next level and open some lanes.”
Left guard Miles Beach joins Nelson on the left side of the offensive line. The redshirt junior had 10 starts last year and has taken an increased role this season. He made a permanent switch to offensive line after playing tight end as a redshirt freshman in 2017.
“Some guys need to make those adjustments,” offensive line coach Angus McClure said. “They need to be a schematic fit in order to compete for a spot and some of our players have made those adjustments.”
At the center position, Edwards wasn’t sure he’d even start this season. The junior primarily served with the special teams unit in 2018 and didn’t make a single start on the offensive line.
Fast forward six months and he’s front and center in the Wolf Pack offense. His adjustments and calls at the line of scrimmage keeps the rest of the offense on the same page.
“It can make or break a play if I don’t communicate with them,” he said. “I’m not only responsible for myself, but I’m responsible for four other guys on the line. If I don’t readjust something, it can bust a play for us and it’d all be my fault. So it’s important for me to prepare.”
A Reno native, Edwards didn’t have to make the long trip to suit up for the Wolf Pack. He played football at Galena High School, just 11 miles away from the university. His father, Tony Edwards, was also a member of The Union in the 1980s.
Through hard work and dedication, Nate Edwards has kept his local roots intact.
“There’s a lot of kids growing up who could play for this great university, and I’m lucky to be apart of it,” he said. “The guys who get the shot deserve the shot and I’m just grateful to be in this position.”
On the opposite side of the line, sophomore right guard Aaron Frost is the youngest member of the group. He cracked the starting lineup after making just two starts as a true freshman last year.
Several members of The Union have worked with Frost in all aspects of the game, and it’s helped his progression thus far.
“They’ve really helped me work on some things to better us as a unit,” he said. “One guy can’t do everything and the guys have showed me that… These guys are older than me so I just try to learn from them.”
Right tackle Nate Brown rounds out the unit. The junior tackle started all 13 games last season and has remained a mainstay on the offensive line this year. In high school, Brown helped lead the Tracy Bulldogs to a San Joaquin Athletic Association championship in 2013.
Nevada’s current starting five aren’t guaranteed a starting spot each week. The offensive line has plenty of depth and any member can become a key cog. Several new faces have already helped step in and fill roles throughout the season.
“There’s always going to be competition and guys are still fighting for spots,” McClure said. “We have a lot of depth and rotated guys which I think is healthy this time of year… We may be a bit more stable with our personnel as the season progresses, but right now it’s finding the best pieces on the field at the right time.”
It may take time to adjust to new offensive schemes, but eventually, the members of The Union mesh together. With new faces comes new personality traits that each player latches onto and they develop life-time friendships in the process.
Nelson will make sure to keep in touch with each member of the offensive line when he departs from the Wolf Pack.
“Whatever happens down the road, they will always be my friends and brothers,” he said. “I’ll always check in on them.”
The Union has built a stable tradition on fundamental success, and this year’s unit is no different. All five players put in the extra work needed to develop chemistry as a unit. That same energy carries off the field to form a bond like no other.
McClure and the rest of the Nevada coaching staff has found a recipe for success, and the historic tradition of The Union will continue its legacy.
“We always look at character first and we’re bringing in top-character guys,” he said. “It’s nice to see when you have a formula in recruiting and it’s able to come together when they all get along. It’s a special group and tradition that we pass on.”
Isaiah Burrows can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.