2009 Lobo Football Outlook: The Defense & Special Teams
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  08/04/2009
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Aug. 4, 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 Defense

For the first time in 11 years, the Lobo defense will have a different look as UNM moves from former head coach Rocky Long's unique 3-3-5 base to new defensive coordinator Doug Mallory's pro-style 4-3 scheme. What won't change, however, is the aggressive, ball-hawking, gang-tackling philosophy the Lobos have built a national reputation on. The spring practice scrimmages saw no shortage of the disruptive blitzing, physical toughness, and bravado that has made New Mexico one of the traditional defensive powers in the Mountain West Conference.

While many analysts will look at the Lobos' three returning starters - linebacker Clint McPeek and safeties Ian Clark and Frankie Solomon - and label 2009 a rebuilding year, New Mexico has arguably the most physically gifted defense its had in years. Because of the vital role reserves had in the former system, it's also a surprsingly experienced group with 12 players back who saw significant action on defense last year.

Led by Clark and Solomon, along with veteran Frankie Baca, the UNM safeties could be among the most productive and experienced in the MWC. McPeek and super sophomore Carmen Messina give the Lobos a pair of strong, athletically gifted talents at linebacker. Defensive tackles Kendall Briscoe and Peter Gardner anchor a deceptively strong defensive line that includes a trio of exceptional athletes at end in sophomores Jaymar Latchison and Johnathan Rainey, and senior DeAndre Davis.

A hungry group of young players - all with great speed and athletic ability - will battle for the two open startings jobs at cornerback during training camp.

Defensive Line

• The Lobos lost three starters on the defensive line, but return five lettermen - all of whom saw significant time off the bench in 2008 - and should be much more athletic up front this season.

• Senior Kendall Briscoe (Dallas) - a 35-game veteran - and imposing junior transfer Peter Gardner (Hartford, Conn.) made an immediate impact, anchoring the middle of the new 4-3 scheme this spring and will be counted on to play a lot of snaps this fall with mostly untested reserves behind them.

Senior DT Kendall Briscoe is poised for a breakthrough year in the new 4-3 front

• Senior DeAndre Davis (Meadville, Miss.) and sophomores Jaymar Latchison (New York) and Johnathan Rainey (Houston) all return after enjoying solid Division I debut seasons. Davis is the biggest of the group, but also has good mobility, while Latchison and Rainey are elite athletes at the position with good size as well.

• Sophomore Brett Kennedy (Albuquerque) and redshirt freshman Ahraya Crespin (Rio Rancho, N.M.) are expected to shore up the defensive tackle bench, while junior end Seth Johannemann (Lincoln City, Ind.), a converted linebacker, could be a surprising impact player this fall.


• The linebacker corps will have a new look this spring after graduating highly productive starters Zach Arnett and Herbert Felder.

• Senior Clint McPeek (Albuquerque) led the team with 103 tackles and had 10 passes defended last year at the old safety/linebacker hybrid lobo position, but missed the spring after a pair of knee operations. The 6-2, 227-pounder will be nearly 100 percent healthy when training camp opens, however, and is expected to be one of the most productive defenders in the MWC once again this fall.

• Sophomore Carmen Messina (Addison, Ill.) was the top linebacker off the bench last year and is poised for a breakthrough season. He added 12 pounds of muscle in the offseason without losing any speed.

• Redshirt freshman Joe Stoner (Midwest City, Okla.) and hard-hitting senior Tray Hardaway (Olive Branch, Miss.) are the top candidates to claim the open spot at OLB opposite McPeek, but junior Terel Anyaibe (DeSoto, Texas) showed flashes off the bench last year and could be a factor. Redshirt freshmen Joe Harris (Denver) and Spencer Merritt (Aurora, Ill.) have great potential and could see reserve defensive action in `09.

Defensive Back

• UNM returns a pair of experienced starting safeties in seniors Ian Clark (Albuquerque) and Frankie Solomon (Dallas), but has a large group of young talents vying to replace a pair of all-MWC cornerbacks in Glover Quin (4th Rd. NFL Draft - Houston Texans) and DeAndre Wright (6th Rd. NFL Draft - New York Giants).

• Clark is coming off another offseason shoulder surgery, but is one of the most active defenders in the MWC when healthy. A total package of strength, speed and athleticism, Clark missed 3 1/2 games last year, but still finished with 57 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks - the most by any defensive back in the MWC - in the old safety/linebacker hybrid lobo position. He did not participate in contact drills during the spring and should be completely healthy and fresh entering training camp.

• Though he lacks prototypical safety size, Solomon is a smart, aggressive player who has been a regular in the secondary for the past three years and turned in a career year last fall in his first season as a starter. A real team leader, Solomon was third on the team in tackles (73) and showed great improvement in coverage with six break-ups and an interception.

• Senior Frankie Baca (Albuquerque) gives the Lobos another experienced, hard-hitting option at safety. Baca - a 38-game veteran - enjoyed his best season in 2008, recording 37 tackles off the bench, and should continue to be a regular defensive contributor this fall.

• True sophomore Anthony Hooks (Phoenix) leads a young, but talented group of players who will resume their fierce competition for the starting cornerback jobs during training camp. After spending half the season on the scout team Hooks didn't back down when he was thrown into the fire last fall (5 games, 1 start) and is the lone starting candidate with Division I experience at the position.

• Four redshirt freshmen will also be in the mix for a starting job. Edrick Boger (Dallas) and Nathan Enriquez (Las Cruces, N.M.) bring outstanding speed to the position, while Freddy Young (Las Cruces, N.M.) has the best size (6-1, 195) and can run as well. DeShawn Mills (Lawndale, Calif.) has shown good playmaking ability in practice.

• Junior Alex Bustos (Carlsbad, Calif.) and true freshman Emmanuel McPhearson (Columbia, Md.) could also factor in the cornerback competition in August.

The New Mexico Special Teams

When Mike Locksley outlined his vision for the Lobo football program, he described the special teams as exactly that - an elite, special forces type unit that would be one of the priorities of the program. Fortunately for Locksley and special teams coordinator Toby Neinas, they inherit a special teams group at New Mexico that has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the finest in the nation over the past several years.

James Aho set a UNM freshman record with 18 field goals in 2008

UNM has had three former walk-ons earn first team all-MWC honors at kicker since 2003 and another former walk-on earn honorable mention all-league recognition at punter. The 2007 season saw the UNM walk-on program at its finest with unknown John Sullivan going from non-scholarship kicker to consensus All-American in the span of a semester.

That tradition continued last year when unknown James Aho (Roswell, N.M.) - primarily a soccer player in high school - set a UNM rookie record with 18 field goals (24 attempts) as he became the first Lobo kicker to earn Freshman All-America honors (second team). Aho, who provided the winning margin in the Lobos' victories over Arizona and New Mexico State, turned in a strong spring and could be ready to make a national name for himself in his second season.

Senior Adam Miller (Santa Fe, N.M.) improved throughout his first collegiate season last fall and has one of the strongest punting legs UNM has seen in many years. Inconsistency is the biggest hurdle Miller must overcome, but the arrival of the nation's top-ranked prep deep snapper in Evan Jacobsen (Laguna Niguel, Calif.) this August could pay immediate dividends in the punting game.

UNM ranked sixth in the nation in both punt (1st MWC) and kickoff returns (2nd MWC) last year and has the talent back to be even more dangerous in 2009. Senior Ian Clark set a school record and earned second team all-conference honors after averaging 19.7 yards on his 12 punt returns (2nd nationally) last fall, while fellow senior Frankie Solomon was also one of the league's best with an average of 10.3 yards on his 10 returns. The Lobos have a number of young athletes who could also contribute right away, to both return teams including speedy freshmen Adam Watson (Houston, Texas) and Demarcus Rogers (Oak Ridge, Tenn.)