SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Rocky Hinds says he's happy. Rocky Hinds says he loves being at UNLV. Rocky Hinds says he's fine competing to be the quarterback in a program that competes for attention daily with video poker and The Blue Man Group.
Rocky Hinds lies.
Rocky Hinds has a national championship ring. Rocky Hinds has rubbed elbows with Vince Young. Rocky Hinds has a rocket arm, great legs. He is, some say, the next Alex Smith.
|Rocky Hinds earned a title ring carrying a clipboard with USC. (Provided to CBSSports.com)|
Rebels coach Mike Sanford thinks about all that and still can't believe his fortune.
"He could be the starting quarterback at Texas or USC," says Sanford, giving voice to the words that have to be rolling around in Hinds' head.
Oh, we're kidding. Calm down. We don't know for sure if Hinds is lying about being happy. We do know that Sanford isn't fibbing. His quarterback could -- probably should -- be the starting quarterback right now for either the Trojans or Longhorns, last year's national championship combatants.
But top 100 prospects do the darndest things. Hinds got dissatisfied at USC in 2005, seeing his name slip to third on Pete Carroll's depth chart behind Matt Leinart and John David Booty. Weighing his many transfer choices, he ventured down to Austin to check out his chances at Texas.
"Vince Young told me he was going to stay," said Hinds, who figured he'd have to sit behind the former Texas quarterback for two years.
Vince Young didn't stay, of course. He blew away USC before blowing off his final year of eligibility. Now Mack Brown is choosing between two freshmen -- one who enrolled in January -- to take over for the best player in the school's history.
You think Rocky might have had a chance at Texas? Duh. He would be at least a stopgap until true freshman Jevan Snead or redshirt freshman Colt McCoy were able to prove themselves. If they were able to prove themselves.
You think USC wouldn't mind having Hinds still around? Booty, Leinart's replacement, was knocked out of spring practice with a bad back. He is projected to return healthy but it's never good when your offseason conditioning includes surgery for a herniated disc.
And for a while it looked like the career of wonder boy Mark Sanchez might never start. USC's quarterback of the future was accused of sexual assault this offseason. However, no charges were ever filed.
Pete Carroll did not let Hinds go quietly, either, further proof that the kid can play. At first Carroll denied to release Hinds from his scholarship. There were veiled accusations from USC of tampering by the UNLV coaches.
No impropriety was ever found. And, for better or worse, Hinds really wants to be in Vegas.
But there have to be some small regrets at missing out on possibly two of the greatest QB gigs in the country.
"It has crossed my mind," Hinds said this week during Mountain West media days. "I'm pretty happy with my decision. I don't really look back. We never knew all of this was going to happen."
No, we didn't. Chalk up some of his situation to impatience. But when Hinds looks back he sees, well, not a lot of football. He last took a snap in competition four years ago, as a high school junior in 2002. His senior year in 2003 was a washout because of a torn right knee ligament. Without stepping on the field as a senior, Hinds was still a high school All-American and a top 100 recruit.
USC had to take him, if for no other reason than to keep the pipeline purring. He was in their backyard at St. Bernard High in L.A. Who knew Leinart was going to be Leinart or that USC would get Sanchez in an epic recruiting battle?
Or that Hinds would be nothing more than a redshirt scout-teamer in 2004 "helping" his teammates win a second straight national title?
"I felt like I did my part," he said. "I gave the defense a look. I did the best I could do."
The championship ring is back home in L.A. Hinds' heart and mind are at home in the searing desert as part of Sanford's Team Transfer. He is joined on this year's team by former USC teammate Eric Wright, a corner who might be the best player in the Mountain West this season. Fellow defensive backs Tony Cade (Oklahoma) and Mil'von James (UCLA) have followed.
"And we're going to get some more transfers," said Sanford knowingly.
It's imperative that Hinds pans out -- for the player, for Sanford and for UNLV, picked eighth out of nine teams this week in the Mountain West preseason media poll.
The program has been through this before. Another former USC quarterback, Jason Thomas, transferred to UNLV in 1999. His mercurial career ended in 2002 hindered by injuries and inflated expectations.
The program also needs to get off the anonymity treadmill. Quick, when was the last time UNLV had a winning season? When was the last time you cared? The correct answers are 2000 and, probably, never.
"Las Vegas is an instant gratification town," Sanford said. "Right now we're not real high on the list because we're not winning. Look at what happened to Jerry Tarkanian. When you win in Las Vegas, you're (status) goes way up. We've got to earn the right to go up."
The 51-year old coach parlayed an Alex Smith/Fiesta Bowl run two years ago into his first head-coaching gig. While Urban Meyer was being hailed at Florida, Sanford deserved some credit too. He was calling Smith's plays as Utah's offensive coordinator.
Sanford's spread option offense -- the same one Smith rode to becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NFL Draft -- is made for Hinds.
But after a boffo 2004-05, the spread option is on trial this season. Defenses seem to be catching up. Chris Leak is struggling in Meyer's scheme at Florida. Texas isn't going to be the same without V.Y. Sanford himself didn't exactly light it up at Vegas last year after making a star out of Smith.
Hinds could be Sanford's -- and the spread option's -- next star.
"Extremely athletic," Sanford says, "can run, can scramble. ... But it's all about all of those things fitting into place as far as the non-physical things."
That's another hint that Hinds has nothing wrapped up. That 6-foot-5, 220-pound body has to prove it can lead and think as well as play. It's not encouraging that Hinds came out of spring essentially even with Steichen, who missed half of last season with a hand injury. Sanford gushes about Hinds' gifts but has to know that having to rely on Steichen -- who barely completes half his passes -- would be a setback at best.
A waste of a transfer scholarship at worst. After sitting out '05, Hinds will have only a three-year career. He doesn't want to spend part of it sharing the position he still has never played in college.
We're still waiting -- on UNLV, Hinds and Sanford.
If you care, which you won't, until all three pan out.