Putting the ball through the uprights was the easy part. Evan Pantels had done that 211 times in three years as a placekicker for the Rebels, including four point-after-touchdown kicks in his career-capping historical 34-29 win over UNR in November.
Planning for life after football, though, wasn’t as clearly defined as booting the ball between that 18.5-foot-wide space 10 feet above the ground.
“There wasn't a plan,” Pantels said. “I didn't know if I was going to end up going back home to Georgia or staying out here. I had no preference or anything, but there was nothing at all in the works in terms of what's your next step? What's a connection you're going to use to get a job?”
That changed when Pantels remembered a visit from Mallory Poole at the football team’s fall training camp, where she offered help for student-athletes looking to polish their resume or interview skills.
Poole, the director of student-athlete leadership and career development, heads up the Rebels Go Pro program, a year-old initiative that helps athletes transition from their college careers to their professional careers.
Pantels, a little insecure about tackling this step, tried to make an appointment to go with a buddy from the team. When Poole told him she only works one-on-one with students, he was even more wary. That soon evaporated.
“She was just a tremendous help — resumes, and doing mock interviews, and making you feel totally comfortable going into a situation that's not always comfortable for people,” he said. “Now I'm telling everybody to go and see her because she is the greatest resource that we've had.”
Poole, a former lacrosse coach, had worked with now-UNLV Athletics Director Desiree Reed-Francois when both were at Virginia Tech. She went on to coach at the University of Denver, which also gave her an opportunity to work in student services. So when it became apparent that UNLV needed a program to help athletes succeed in the working world, Reed-Francois convinced Poole to come to south to Las Vegas.
Those years coaching lacrosse, it turns out, have been instrumental.
“Something I learned really quickly as a coach: when a student knows you care about them, they want to come back in and keep doing the work,” Poole said. “When you get to work right away and you just start teaching them Xs and Os — when you just start with ‘Do you have a resume? OK, we need to build one’ — there's no feeling of ‘I want to keep working with you.’”
Poole tailors her work to the individual students — currently, around 75 — depending on that athlete’s area of study, what they see as their biggest strengths and weaknesses, and how much time they’ve spent thinking about their career. Some know what they want to do and have taken steps to get there. Some may only know that they want to work outdoors, or in sports in some capacity.
While there’s no one approach, Poole takes with every student-athlete, she can help with building a resume, practicing interviews, finding internships, working with other career services units on campus to hunt down opportunities, or just narrowing down career options. She also helps them recognize and articulate how their experiences as a student athlete have built skills transferable to the workplace.
“I was a lacrosse coach; now I'm a career coach,” she said. “I don't treat coaching any differently as I did when I was a lacrosse coach helping a kid shoot a free position shot; I just coach them up a little differently. Body language, what are you thinking about — all of that translates into your performance. Life is its own performance.”
Pantels liked his studies and class projects as a marketing major, but didn’t know what the next steps were. Poole first arranged for him to take an internship with a mortgage company, but when that fell through late in the game, they were sent scrambling for another opportunity.
Reed-Francois worked with MGM Grand Chief Operating Officer Scott Sibella on Pantels’ situation. He made a call to his marketing department, and they were able to find a spot for the kicker. Pantels started with just a week of shadowing members of the marketing team in October. He quickly built a fan base as his week ended with some of the managers coming to the UNLV-Air Force game on Oct. 19.
Pantels was asked to apply for an open position as a marketing activation specialist. After three rounds of interviews, he started Dec. 7.
“Anybody on the team that's not using [Poole], you want to just shake them. ‘Just go and meet with her, please, one time, and it's going to pay off,’” he said. “She's not just a connection and a resource, but a friend as well.”