Andrew Celis wasn’t born in Northern Nevada and didn’t grow up here but he's always rooted for the Wolf Pack.
Celis was born in Susanville, a town of about 15,000 people that sits 85 miles northwest of Reno across the California border. The closest big university was Nevada and as an aspiring athlete, Celis was drawn to rooting for the Wolf Pack. As a youth, he’d go to games at Mackay Stadium to watch Nevada play.
“Me and my buddies would have our jerseys on and play football down under the bleachers,” Celis recalled. “Coming out of high school, being recruited here, it was like I was coming back to all the friends I left when I was in grade school. It felt like home and that’s the main reason I wanted to come here.”
Celis’ family moved from Susanville to the Bay Area when he was 13 after his father, a correction officer, was transferred to the San Quentin state prison. But Celis’ love of the Wolf Pack never left and when Nevada was the first school to offer him a scholarship, he quickly took the early offer despite Pac-12 interest.
“Drew was an exceptional athlete in high school,” Wolf Pack coach Brian Polian. “Just exceptional.”
Three years after joining the Wolf Pack, Celis is in line for a starting position on Nevada’s stacked receiving corps. After redshirting in 2014 and serving as a steady punt returner in 2015, Celis has been among Nevada’s best players in fall camp and, barring injury, will make his first college catch in 2016.
Baseball was first love
Celis always seemed destined for a college scholarship. It just appeared baseball was his future. A star since T-ball, baseball was his first love. That changed when he learned how the college scholarship system worked. College baseball teams get 11.7 scholarships to spread over a roster of 25 or so players. Football teams get 85 scholarships and hand out full rides. When Celis learned that, his approach changed.
“I started putting more effort into football and going to football camps and once I started getting interest that was the path I wanted to go,” said Celis, who started playing baseball at age 5 and football at age 8.
Celis graduated from playing under the bleachers at Mackay Stadium to a starring role at Marin Catholic High School in Kentfield, Calif., where he was the go-to guy for quarterback Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick in this year's NFL draft. Celis was all-state as a sophomore, caught 72 balls for 1,255 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior (Goff’s senor season) and was all-state again during his senior season.
“It was kind of a shock seeing him be the No. 1 overall pick,” Celis said of Goff. “Knowing him on a personal level, he’s really good but a goofy guy. When I think the No. 1 draft pick of the 2016 NFL draft and it’s Jared Goff, I think, ‘What?’ But he definitely deserves it and is really talented. That always was one of his goals.”
Setting the bar high
Celis’ goals this season are lofty: zero drops at receiver, zero drops as a punter returner, a Mountain West title, a bowl championship and an undefeated season.
“All the usual stuff,” Celis joked.
If Nevada is going to approach those goals, Celis will play a major role. A highly regarded prospect out of high school, he’s take some time to develop at the college level. The coaches have long trusted Celis – that's one of the reasons he was the team's punt returner last season – but the 5-foot-11, 190-pound sophomore has improved to the point Nevada moved three-year starter Jerico Richardson from the slot to outside receiver to make room for Celis in the starting lineup.
“A lot of what he did in the past was off of pure ability,” Polian said. “The maturity that comes with preparation and studying the game, that’s where he’s made the biggest leap. There’s no question he’s tough. He’s a great route runner and has great ball skills. His ball skills, even when we were recruiting him, we identified as superior.”
What the season has in store
Celis will get an expanded role this season, as will other Nevada receivers. Three Wolf Pack receivers soaked up almost all of the snaps last season – Richardson, Hasaan Henderson and Wyatt Demps accounted for 147 of Nevada’s 152 catches at receiver – but that will change this season. The new offensive staff wants to play up to eight receivers a game. The position has significantly more depth.
“I think we have a lot of great talent,” Celis said. “We have 15 receivers in total, so it’s a big receiving corps. There’s a lot of fresh feet. If we keep rolling in receivers, we’ll be fresh all the time. That’s what the coaches want. The competition is great. We’re always pushing each other to get better and pick each other up. We want to be the most dependable group out there. I think we’re on the right track.”
Roles are still being sorted out but Celis has taken control of the slot position with Richardson, Henderson and Demps sharing the first-team reps on the outside. Receivers coach Lester Erb said Celis grew a lot during spring camp and used the words “dependable” and “reliable” when describing him.
“Whenever guys get opportunities, it’s about whether they take advantage of those opportunities or not,” Erb said. “We’re still shuffling some things around, but Drew really took advantage of that. As a coach, a guy you can trust you can play. He’s gotten his opportunity and he’s really run with it.”
Celis, whose mom was a nationally ranked cross country runner in high school who went to Nevada before transferring, enters this season more confident. His time as Nevada’s punter returner last year has prepared him for the speed and intensity of college games. Now, he’s looking for his first college reception. Celis has come a long way since he was a young kid sitting in the Mackay stands years ago.
“Now that I’m here, I think it’s gone by pretty quick, but looking back it was a long road to get to this point,” Celis said. “A lot of work, a lot of effort, a lot of dedication put forth to get here.”
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayRGJ.
THE FILE ON ANDREW CELIS
Position: Wide receiver
Hometown: San Quentin, Calif.
High School: Marin Catholic
Career stats: In 2015, returned 11 punts for 152 yards (13.8 yards per punt)