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Road to the Draft: Las Vegas natives among top prospects in 2024 NFL Draft

When Washington Huskies' Rome Odunze, Edefuan Ulofoshio and Troy Fautanu helped lead their team to a 34-31 win over Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game, you could say they had a home-field advantage for the contest inside Allegiant Stadium.

The Las Vegas natives were imperative in Washington's first Pac-12 Championship since 2018. Odunze emerged as one of the top receivers in the nation, selected as a consensus All-American and leading the NCAA in receiving yards (1,640) in 2023. Ulofoshio finished the 2023 season with 94 total tackles (eight tackles for loss) while Fautanu received the Morris Trophy, given annually to the top offensive lineman in the Pac-12.

Along with being top prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft, their football journeys are tied together in the Las Vegas valley. Odunze and Ulofoshio were teammates at national prep powerhouse Bishop Gorman, winning a state title together in 2017. Early in Odunze's high school career, there were talks about moving him from receiver to defensive end after battling some injuries. But according to Bishop Gorman Head Coach Brent Browner, "cooler heads prevailed" en route to Odunze winning the 2019 Gatorade Player of the Year for Nevada.

"He's the constant professional," Browner said of Odunze. "Just a good soul, real good teammate, real good captain – everything that you can think about in a young man you'd want on your team. You know he's going to be a man of high character. He always displays that piece of himself."

Ulofoshio came to Bishop Gorman by way of Anchorage, Alaska. According to Browner, there was a learning curve for the linebacker as he adjusted to the new level of competition he faced on the national stage. After years of honing his craft as a reserve, he had a breakout senior season totaling 100 tackles before taking his talents to the Huskies.

"His senior year, he was lights out. There's where he began the process of coming into his own," Browner said. "He didn't have the same path as everybody else. He walked on at Washington and he had learned some perseverance here at Bishop Gorman so that he could keep competing. He understood that it might not happen right away, but keep competing and do what you got to do and you have the possibility. He forged himself into a premier linebacker in the country."

As for Troy Fautanu, he attended one of Gorman's rivals, Liberty High School in Henderson, Nevada. The offensive lineman was an athletic juggernaut at Liberty, playing offensive line, defensive line and tight end. Rich Muraco, his head coach at Liberty, even witnessed college coaches extending football scholarships while watching him in action on the volleyball team, which was his second sport in high school. He was deemed the No. 2 overall recruit in Nevada by 24/7 Sports and Rivals.

"He's just a special player physically on the football field and also the person he is off the field," Muraco said. "He stands out to me through the years where he was always willing to do what the team needed. He didn't necessarily want to play offensive line in high school. I kind of forced it on him and it ended up being the right decision, professionally speaking. He's just such an athlete that he could do everything."

Going into the 2023 Pac-12 Championship Game, Washington was undefeated with a CFB playoff berth on the line. Odunze finished with 102 receiving yards on eight catches while Ulofoshio recorded six total tackles. Fautanu received an 81.6 pass blocking grade from Pro Football Focus in the victory.

"That's one of my best college memories that I'll carry with me for the rest of my life," Odunze said at the NFL Combine. "Being able to win the Pac-12 Championship with my crew that I went to Seattle with, ventured off as a young man to go build a family there, then I came back to [Las Vegas] and took it over with a championship with 80 of my family members watching. It doesn't get much better than that."

Along with the three Washington products, Las Vegas boasts another top Pac-12 standout in Jaden Hicks. The Washington State defensive back was a late bloomer at Bishop Gorman, transitioning from wide receiver to cornerback. Browner, who has known Hicks since he was 10, has seen him evolve from being one of smallest players on the team to a prototypical NFL safety standing at 6-foot-3, 212 pounds. After Hicks became a starter his redshirt freshman season, he compiled eight tackles for loss, three interceptions and 10 pass deflections in two seasons with the Cougars.

"He's a hard worker. A grinder that's always continuing to get better and better," Browner said. "He's one of the kids that I could work with forever. To watch him and see his journey in itself is amazing. He could've played a couple of different positions, but he's a kid that's the ultimate grinder who loves the game and plays it at a high level."

Odunze and Fautanu are projected to be first-round picks in Detroit, Michigan, on April 25, with a few mock drafts toying with the possibility of them coming back to familiar territory to play for the Silver and Black. Ulofoshio and Hicks could also potentially return to Las Vegas, possibly filling linebacker and safety needs for the Raiders.

View photos of the draft prospects that top analysts are predicting the Raiders may select at No. 13 overall. (Last updated Tuesday, February 27, 2024).

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