Aug. 3, 2009
The University of New Mexico made national headlines when it announced Mike Locksley as its 29th head football coach on Dec. 9, 2008 in front of a standing room only crowd at the UNM Student Union Building. Known around the country as a top recruiter, Locksley (39) is a 17-year veteran of collegiate coaching, most recently as the Illinois offensive coordinator (2005-08).
Locksley and his staff inherit a strong program that has posted a 53-46 record and gone to five bowl games since 2001. New Mexico has had a losing record in Mountain West Conference play just once in the past eight years - a feat only two other programs in the league have matched.
With new schemes and all new coaches on offense, defense and special teams, every position was opened up for competition during spring practice and every spot will once again be at stake during training camp. In fact, the coaching staff will not release an official depth chart until just before the Sept. 5 season-opener at Texas A&M when the new era and new energy of New Mexico football begins.
The New Mexico OffenseHead coach Mike Locksley and offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey installed the same up-tempo, no huddle, spread scheme that made Illinois one of the nation's premier offenses over the past three years. Under Locksley, the Illini led the Big 10 in rushing in 2006 and `07, then led the conference in passing in `08. The versatile offense topped 5,000 yards for the second straight season last year - a feat that hasn't been achieved at UNM since 2003 and just twice since 1986.
With New Mexico known primarily as a defense-oriented program over the past decade, Locksley made balance a priority during spring practice. He asserted that the new Lobo offense would no longer serve to keep UNM in games, but would be responsible for winning games behind the arms, legs and hands of the team's underrated playmakers.
The spring also proved that the Lobos' new offense would adapt to fit the talents of the team's top players. Scrimmages saw plenty of traditional spread concepts like four and five-wide receiver sets and shotgun option plays, but also an equal amount of double tight end, two-back power football packages. The common denominator? Speed, energy and everything done with a fast-break, no huddle philosophy.
As in any year, health and mastering the system will ultimately determine how effective an offense will be, but with one of the MWC's premier offensive line units protecting an experienced group of quarterbacks and receivers, and an outstanding stable of young running backs, the new-look Lobo offense has the potential to be among the most improved and potent in the Mountain West in 2009.
Quarterback New Mexico returns three experienced quarterbacks in senior Donovan Porterie (Port Arthur, Texas), sophomore Brad Gruner (Chandler, Ariz.) and junior Tate Smith (Odessa, Texas).
After a breakthrough 2007 season (3,006 yards, 15 TDs), Porterie saw his 2008 campaign marred by a slow start and ultimately a season-ending knee injury 3 1/2 games into the year. The three-year starter returned to action in the spring and grew more comfortable with each practice, displaying the arm strength and confidence that made him one of the MWC's premier QBs.
Gruner started eight games in Porterie's place last year and showed the ability to be a dangerous dual-threat player. The hard-running Gruner showed an improved passing touch during the spring.
The strong-armed Smith flashed his potential in limited action last fall and had a fine spring. He has great confidence as a passer and is effective on the run as well.
Running Back New Mexico will be looking for a new starter for the first time in three years after the MWC's No. 2 all-time rusher, Rodney Ferguson, finished his outstanding career. UNM is the only school in the country to boast a 1,000-yard rusher each of the last seven years and has a bevy of young players with the talent to extend the streak.
Fast, incredibly powerful sophomore James Wright (Dallas, Texas) had 2 100-yard games as a rookie last fall, leading the team with a 6.4-yard average (54 att.).
Redshirt freshman A.J. Butler (St. Petersburg, Fla.) was one of the stars of the spring, slashing through the defense and showing great receiving skill in practice.
Junior fullback Josh Fussell (Plant City, Fla.) has tremendous hands and bulked up to be more of a blocking force in the blocking game.
Wide Receiver The Lobos return their top three receivers from 2008 in junior Bryant Williams (Edina, Minn.), junior Chris Hernandez (Las Cruces, N.M.) and senior Roland Bruno (Beaumont, Texas). A six-game starter in sophomore Michael Scarlett (Albuquerque) is also back.
Williams was probably the most consistent of the group in `08, leading the team with 36 grabs (272 yards) in his first Division I season. He also showed his explosiveness with a 40-yard TD run. The sure-handed Hernandez has real game-breaking ability, leading the team with 428 yards and a 13.0 average on his 33 catches.
Bruno has caught 45 passes over the past two years, is the team's best blocker and toughest receiver across the middle. The athletic, versatile Scarlett is one of the team's brightest young talents.
Big, athletic senior Daryl Jones (Tampa, Fla.) had an outstanding spring and is poised for a breakthrough season in the new offense.
Offensive Line/Tight End The New Mexico offensive line group, dubbed The Hitmen, should be among the best in the Mountain West this year with three starters - senior center Erik Cook (Albuquerque), senior guard Joshua Taufalele (San Jose, Calif.), and sophomore tackle Byron Bell (Greenville, Texas) - back from last year's unit which paved the way for the nation's 16th-best rushing attack.
A two-year starter who earned second team all-MWC honors in his first full season at center last year, Cook could be the premier offensive lineman in the MWC this fall. The athletic 6-6, 318-pounder is also one of the Lobos' top prospects for the 2010 NFL Draft where he could join his older brother Ryan, a three-time first team all-MWC center and current Minnesota Vikings starting tackle.
Taufalele displayed great power in the middle last fall in his first Division I season. The 6-2, 313-pounder started all 12 games and set a program record with a remarkable 24 knockdown blocks in the Lobos' come-from-behind win at rival New Mexico State. His consistency and savvy in the trenches have him primed to make a name for himself as one of the top linemen in the league.
Bell was one of the top freshman tackles in the country last year and the first Lobo rookie to start all 12 games on the edge. He surged during the second half of the season and was one of the team's best linemen in the final two weeks. This year he'll flip over to the left side where he'll be responsible for blindside protection. The mobile 6-5, 330-pounder has already caught the eye of NFL Draft prognosticators for his potential at the next level.
Senior Ivan Hernandez (Salem, Ore.) and junior Mike Cannon (Valrico, Fla.) finished the spring as the starters at right tackle and left guard, respectively, and have the potential to develop into strong players up front this fall. The 6-6, 296-pound Hernandez is one of the most athletic linemen on the team, while the 6-4, 299-pound Cannon brings an outstanding work ethic to the mix.
A pair of promising second-year Lobos in juniors Karlin Givens (Ridgeland, Miss.) and Maurice Mears (Miami, Fla.) are expected to mount a strong challenge for the open starting spots during training camp. Givens (6-4, 299) brings an oustanding combination of strength and athletic ability to the guard position, while Mears (6-3, 304) was one of the nation's top ranked junior college tackles two years ago.
Senior Ben Contreras (Pleasanton, Calif.) gives UNM the luxury of having an outstanding back-up center behind Cook. The 6-2, 294-pounder did a solid job subbing for an injured Cook in his lone start last year and could be the heir apparent at center if able to use his redshirt season this year.
Promising redshirt freshman Lucas Reed (Tucson, Ariz.) leads a trio of untested Lobo tight ends that will get their first Division I experience this fall. The 6-6, 217-pound Reed made steady improvement in his spring debut and showed flashes of being an outstanding receiving/blocking threat at the position as he polishes his technique. Fellow redshirt freshman Jonathan Mader (Albuquerque), a converted quarterback, is a raw talent, but has excellent size (6-5, 223) and speed and could be a factor in the passing game.