Aug. 6, 2004
The 2003 season was another strong year for the Lobo special teams units. Kicker Wes Zunker enjoyed a fantastic comeback season, earning first team all-Mountain West honors after missing most of 2002 due to injury. Zunker connected on 15-17 field goals, including a single-season record 15 straight and a game-winner on national television versus Colorado State.The Lobos also blocked a pair of punts, both being recovered for touchdowns versus San Diego State and Utah. With assistant coach Everett Todd taking over full time as the UNM special teams coordinator, New Mexico should feature one of the top specialty units in the Mountain West this fall. Both Zunker and junior punter Tyler Gaus return to handle the Lobos ' kicking duties in 2004. A Lou Groza Award candidate, Zunker could challenge the UNM record books for field goal accuracy and significantly increased his strength and distance this spring. He capped his stellar spring with a 55-yard field goal in driving wind and rain during the Lobos ' spring game. Gaus, meanwhile, showed flashes of brilliance last year in his second year out of high school and worked hard in the offseason to improve his strength, hangtime and overall consistency. "Tyler has a lot of ability and has a chance to be as good a punter as we have in our league," said head coach Rocky Long. "The sign of a really good kicker though is being consistently good and Wes became consistently good last year. We need Tyler to step up to that point this year." The primary special teams concern entering spring practice was finding a replacement for longtime deep snapping specialist Martin Lovato. An underrated pillar of strength in the UNM kicking game, Lovato finished his career without allowing a single blocked punt and was also a surprising playmaker in punt coverage. Redshirt freshman Jon O'Brien, a snapping specialist who traveled with the team in 2003,secured his place atop the depth chart at the deep snapper position, which has quietly enjoyed a tradition of excellence at UNM over the past five years, beginning with current Baltimore Ravens snapper Joe Maese in 1999. While the kick return and coverage teams should remain solid, Todd will continue to hold auditions to find a replacement for the solid Dwight Counter,who handled the punt returning duties the past two years. Several players will also vie to take over the primary kick return duties, which safety Brandon Ratcliff handled last season.