Sept. 16, 2009
What: Air Force at Lobos
When/Where: 5:30 p.m., Saturday, University Stadium
Radio: 770 KKOB-AM; Lobo Radio Network
TV: CBS College Sports (Comcast 274, DirecTV 613)
On Line: GameTracker, results on GoLobos.com
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Through his long wait, you never heard Frankie Baca complain. You never saw any bad body language, never saw his head down, never saw a work ethic anything less than 100 percent.
It was chin up during practice and head down during one of his savage tackles. No moping. No whining. Just lots of smiles and pats on the back for teammates.
This isn't to say Baca never tossed a word or two at friends or family about not playing a bit more as a Lobo. That's natural. Baca is a fierce and aggressive competitor, never lost a football game his senior or junior year in high school.
Warriors don't like to watch.
But when it came to a UNM practice, Baca was a shining example of a Lobo that came with the work-pail attitude, willing to give it his all and accept what came back at him.
Oh, Baca played. He got into 38 games coming into the 2009 season and the University of New Mexico probably could make a highlight reel on Baca's rock-hard tackles. But kids like Baca want to start. That's natural, too.
What happened this past Saturday against the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes was a neat thing. You can log it in that "good things happen to good kids" category. Baca, a fifth-year senior, got his first start as a Lobo.
"I've been waiting to start my whole career," said Baca. "It was a great feeling. You can't really describe it.
"I was prepared, so I wasn't really nervous. I was game-ready. You prepare the same every week because you never know what is going to happen or who might go down (injured.)"
One of the keys to being a solid defensive back, is to make a lock-down tackle. Often that's a solo tackle, which is the stuff running backs dream of. The glory backs know the end zone is only a juke or a missed tackle away. A DB often is the last line of defense. You miss the tackle, the other guys put six points on the board.
"When the ball gets into the secondary, you have to be a great tackler. You can't give up the home run," said George Barlow, the Lobos' DB coach. "Frankie proved us right in giving him the start."
Baca had seven solo tackles against the Hurricane -- tops on the UNM team for that game.
If you ever saw Frankie Baca wrestle, those solo tackles came as no surprise. When Baca wraps someone up, they go down. He stood on the medals' podium three times at the New Mexico State High School Championships, twice as state runner-up.
"I started wrestling when I was 8-years-old," said Baca. "I think that has a lot to do with how I tackle. Football and wrestling go hand-in-hand."
Said Clint McPeek, a former La Cueva teammate of Baca's on the Bears' wrestling and football teams: "I think wrestling helps with tackling because of all the takedowns you work on. They don't get away from a wrestler once he wraps up."
Baca came to be a Lobo in 2005 after running for 2,076 yards and 32 touchdowns for the 13-0 La Cueva Bears' state championship team of 2004. He averaged 10.5 yards per carry. He made the All-State team as a running back and at cornerback his senior year.
He redshirted in 2005 for UNM, played 13 games in 2006, 13 games in 2007 and 12 games in 2008. But no starts. He got his first start at a Lobo after five seasons of waiting and working. "I felt I made the best of the opportunity," said Baca.
Said McPeek: "Frankie is real athletic and he has a good mind for the game. He recognizes things quickly, but he does that because he puts in the time to study.
"I've know Frankie for so long. We've grown up and matured, but there is still the same old Frankie in there. He is one of my best friends and I'd trust my life with him. There is nothing I wouldn't do for him and I feel he's do the same for me."
Baca was born in Las Vegas, N.M. on Feb. 27, 1987, but he is a product of Albuquerque fields and dreams. One of Baca's dreams was to be a Lobo.
"I grew up watching Lobo football and I knew I wanted to stay here and be a part of an upcoming program," said Baca. "My family was a big role in my decision to come here. My family loves football, loves to watch me play, and they are proud that I'm out here."
Baca's reputation at UNM always has been that of a fearsome and fearless hitter. Lobo fans who have seen Baca hit surely will remember that savage aspect of his game, that side of this Lobo.
If you saw Baca in practice, you might remember another side: the good Lobo with his face and chin up, giving it his all, knowing that's the best he can give, and accepting what comes back.
Lobo Stars: The UNM Players of The Game this past week against Tulsa were linebacker Tray Hardaway and tackle Kendall Briscoe on defense and Victor James on offense and special teams. Briscoe had a career-high three tackles for loss and forced the fumble that resulted in UNM's only TD. Hardaway, who had eight tackles, returned that loose ball 92 yards for the score. James had three receptions for 21 yards and a smashing tackle on a Tulsa kickoff return.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner