Aug. 2, 2011
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The vision for Mike Locksley and his University of New Mexico Lobos for the 2011 season has several horizons and levels of focus.
But first things first.
"We have a big-time opener," said Mike Locksley, Tuesday at the first media gathering of the season, which begins on the field Sept. 3 when Colorado State visits.
Of course, that brings up a few more levels and horizons to reach for. Another first for Locksley and his staff is simply puzzling together his most talented team to date and reaching for a specific goal to define the 2011 season - a bowl berth.
Locksley doesn't take any pressure off his shoulders when tossed out to the media what he expects his Lobos to accomplish in Year Three of Locksley's regime.
"Anything less than a bowl game is unacceptable," said Locksley. "I set that as our standard."
For sure, it's not a standard that will come easily or without unity of focus. The Lobos were picked to finish last in the Mountain West race. Their schedule includes some turf bad boys in Arkansas, Texas Tech, TCU, Air Force and Boise State.
The field of competition levels in games against Colorado State, Sam Houston State, New Mexico State, Nevada, San Diego State, UNLV and Wyoming. It's likely that UNM will enter a lot of games as the underdog, but a lot of that odds making will be based on the 1-11 season of 2009 and the 1-11 season of 2010.
The 2011 Lobos are better, deeper and should come to play more as a band of brothers driven by a common purpose.
9-3 -- Colorado State
9-10 -- At Arkansas
9-17 -- Texas Tech
9-24 -- Sam Houston State
10-1 -- New Mexico St
10-15 -- At Nevada
10-22 -- At TCU
10-29 -- Air Force
11-5 -- At SDSU
11-12 -- UNLV
11-19 -- At Wyoming
12-3 -- At Boise State
Said Locksley: "This season we expect to see a turn. We feel we have navigated Lobo football through probably the toughest stretch it has ever been through. We've come out of it feeling very confident that Year Three is the year where we take that big step."
Locksley's program has been hit hard by injury, scheduling, and scholarship limitations brought on by NCAA infractions committed by the previous coaching staff. In Year Three of his program - this year - Locksley has more talent and better depth.
If there is a question mark, it's the physicality and the toughness up front. The Lobos of 2011 need to be mean and nasty on the line. "It starts and ends with the guys up front whether it's the O-line or the D-line," said Locksley.
The Lobos start puzzling together the pieces and building some nasty come Thursday at the UNM practice fields. The practices will be divided into two sessions and the team will be divided in order to increase the coach-to-player ratio.
The two sessions also maximize snaps for all Lobos and increase the data for evaluation. It also sets up a more efficient classroom. There simply aren't as many Lobos standing around watching.
The Lobos will practice Thursday thru Saturday in Albuquerque and then travel to Ruidoso on Sunday for their two-week camp that ends Friday, Aug. 19. The Lobos will scrimmage in University Stadium at 4 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 20.
This is an exciting time for any football team as they return to the pads with fresh energy and new dreams. For coaches, it's the chance to coach without the immediate pressure of games. But the games - and the pressure - aren't too far off.
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"You use the off-season to evaluate things that you have done well and the things you need to improve," said Locksley. "It's an exciting time because it's a time of pure coaching; trying to make players better."
One main area of questioning from the media on Tuesday was the quarterback status, especially B.R. Holbrook, who went into the 2010 season as the starter, but was sidelined by injury.
Locksley said Holbrook is close to 90 percent (off-season surgery). Holbrook appears to be in a dogfight with sophomore Tarean Austin for initial control of the 2011 UNM huddle.
David Reaves, UNM's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks' coach has a simple formula to make that final evaluation: ""I got to find a quarterback who can execute the offense, not make many mistakes, score a lot of points, and win some games."
Locksley said the foundation of his system won't change much in 2011, but there is always tweaking to do. One tweak comes in defensive philosophy. UNM abandoned its read-and-react philosophy up front and plans to distort the line of scrimmage and get tacklers into the backfield.
Locksley said another noticeable change in his program is the camaraderie among the Lobo players.
"That's one of the key ingredients (to success)," said Locksley. "It sounds touchy-feely when you talk about trust and love, but I think that is something that is going to be really important for us this year."
Said tight end Lucas Reed: "The team culture has changed and the trust factor has gone up."