The University of New Mexico football accomplished the next step in building their program during spring practice.
Third-year coach Bob Davie made the objectives of the 15-practice session, which concluded Friday night, simple so that UNM had the right momentum heading into the offseason.
“The goals this spring were one thing – A to B. That’s it, simply that,” Davie said. “A to B, player-driven, and I’ve seen that. Our kids will go out there now, and they’re starting to know what it’s like to compete and play at this level from just the way you carry yourself. So A to B right now, from the time the ball is snapped till the whistle blows, we’re finally starting to get there. It’s kind of exciting.
The 2014 spring session was the most physical of the three spring practices the Lobos have had under Davie because the team finally had enough depth, and as Davie was fond of saying, “I think that sometimes that bullfighter has to jump in that ring with the live bull.”
“It’s good to come out here and have spring ball the way spring ball is supposed to be,” Davie said of the amount of live contact at practice. “We went through to springs here we didn’t even have contact in scrimmage. I’d say it’s come pretty far, which puts it about level with the other teams we’re playing staring out.”
The “player-driven” aspect of the team’s 2014 fortunes gets underway as the players now are in charge of any summer workouts, which are all voluntary.
Some of the not-so-household Lobo names already took advantage of the spring session to put themselves in a position to become a big part of the team in the fall.
Sophomore wide receiver Dameon Gamblin had a tremendous spring and made considerable improvement making catches in traffic and made plays in the passing game. Walk-on redshirt freshman Marcus Lopez, a running back at Santa Rosa High School, also opened a lot of eyes during the spring with his ability to get open and catch the ball.
Junior college transfer tight end Nick Lehman entered the spring as a designed blocking back in UNM’s pistol option but also showed pass-catching skills off the line of scrimmage.
Defensively, junior outside linebacker Richard Winston has emerged as a threat to crack the starting lineup. He has improved both his knowledge of the scheme as well as his physical stature and could be an imposing force in the fall.
Sophomore Nik D’Avanzo, who moved from nose tackle to end, flashed some pass-rush skills. He dropped almost 20 pounds in the offseason but still has excellent size on the outside to help the Lobos improve their run defense.
Junior cornerback Donnie Duncan, who converted from wide receiver last season, vaulted to the top of the depth chart by spring’s end. He says he has become a lot more comfortable with the position, and it shows. His coverage skills have improved, and he has great hands, which resulted in creating some turnovers. That was one of the Lobos’ Achilles’ heels on defense last season – forcing just 10 turnovers in 2013.
Redshirt freshman safety Ricky Bennett has displayed the athletic skills to become a significant contributor in the fall; he’s just lacking experience right now. The same goes for true freshman cornerback Bijon Parker, who brings coveted height to the position.
Davie has talked about taking the next step – winning – throughout the spring, and has been enthusiastic about the progress.
And that may be the best news of the entire spring practice.
HARD HAT WINNERS: Lobo senior safety David Guthrie was named Hard Hat champion – the player with the best offseason conditioning season – on Friday night, strength and conditioning coordinator Ben Hilgart announced.
The Lobo Football Hard Hat Program rewards those student-athletes who best display a daily commitment to the program's identity of "Outwork, outhit and out-discipline during the winter offseason conditioning program. A Hard Hat Player is self-motivated, a competitor, committed to personal and team excellence, accountable and disciplined.
The student-athlete receives grades on a number of criteria, including accountability, daily focus, effort and competitiveness. A player also can earn points during team "Lobo Tough" drills, by breaking personal records or by meeting certain position-group standards in strength-, speed- and agility-testing.
The 5-foot-9, 208-pound Guthrie, who Hilgart said has put on 20 pounds of muscle mass since arriving as a junior college transfer last season, is the second winner of the award, joining then-senior tight end Andrew Aho in 2013.
“I’m excited because this group got better in the weight room, and it got better on the field,” Hilgart said. “And I’m anxious to see them get better this summer.”
Hilgart announced 36 Lobos as Hard Hat winners, which were two more than the 2013 team had. The other nine players that made the top 10: Garrett Adcock, Brett Bowers, LaMar Bratton, Marquis Bundy, Dakota Cox, Javarie Johnson, Ryan Santos and Greg Wortman.
The other members: David Anaya, Mike Arredondo, Toby Ball, Ricky Bennett, Wendell Carter, Donnie Duncan, Tyler Duncan, Chris Edling, Cole Gautsche, Jayon Gurule, Cranston Jones, Lamar Jordan, Caleb Kimbro, Jack Lamm, Ryan Langford, Jeric Magnant, Weston Mathis, Clayton Mitchem, Tevin Newman, Quinton McCown, Jamal Price, Dillon Romine, Greg Smelser, Johnny Vizcaino, Reece White and Randy Williams.
PACK MEMBERS: Special teams coach Derek Warehime inducted 12 new members of the Lobo football team into “the Pack” – players that will have a significant role on special teams next season: Brett Bowers, Brandon Branch, Darien Brunson, Dakota Cox, Devin DesJarlais, Chris Edling, David Guthrie, Javarie Johnson, Tevin Newman, Ryan Santos, Devonta Tabannah and Reece White.