Oct. 7, 2009
Saturday: At Wyoming, noon (MT)
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Lobo Carmen Messina has some payback to deal with this week. No, we're not talking about payback to Saturday's foe, the Wyoming Cowboys.
We're talking payback to his youth and the time a football idol threw some attention to a little kid.
The little kid was a die-hard Chicago Bears fan, who somehow acquired a pass to the dining hall during Chicago's preseason camp. The kid, named Carmen, quietly worked his way through the cafeteria line while strategically mapping out a path that would take him by this huge, second-year, Bears' linebacker.
Whose jersey (name and number, not size), not coincidentally, was being worn by the little kid.
"I walked by with my food tray and he was sitting down with the other linebackers and he caught a glimpse of me," said Messina. "He looked up and said, `Nice jersey.' He told me he was going to sign it later, but we weren't allowed to talk to the players, so I never got the chance."
OK, Brian Urlacher owes Messina a signed jersey. And now the Lobos' present-day leading tackler owes a kid in Massachusetts some payback. It seems that Messina is now a national celebrity.
"I got this letter from this kid in Massachusetts," said Messina. "He basically said I was one of his favorite players. I'm going to sign some cards and send them back to him and I'll send him a thank-you note."
Hey, that's the least Messina can do for a kid in the Eastern time zone savvy enough about football to recognize one of the top tacklers in the nation. Well, actually Messina is the top tackler in the nation.
He leads the NCAA at 13.8 wraps a game. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore had 12 tackles, including a 17-yard sack this past Saturday in UNM's 48-28 loss at Texas Tech. He also caused a fumble.
In a way, you can thank Urlacher for bringing Messina to New Mexico out of Addison Trail High (Ill.). The current Lobo is kind of following in the footsteps of his linebacking idol, Urlacher, a UNM All-American.
"He's been my idol since I was maybe 10, 11," said Messina. "They blew him up so much when he came to Chicago and then he had that great rookie year. Being from the Chicago area, I grew up watching the Bears and since I was a linebacker, Urlacher was my boyhood idol.
"The fact that he played here was a major factor. I'm sure that I looked at him playing for New Mexico and ending up with the Bears. That made it pretty easy to come here. I would love to play at the next level and, of course, with Chicago. Maybe Urlacher will put in a good word for me."
Messina wasn't exactly one of those high school kids you looked at and went "Wow," when he stepped on the UNM football field. Which is a lot like Urlacher was coming out of Lovington High in New Mexico. Urlacher got bigger, badder, better. So has Messina.
He has improved his strength via hard work in the weight room. Like Urlacher, Messina has wheels. He has been clocked at 4.7 in the 40-yard dash. He has a 33.5-inch vertical jump. He also has a nose for the football and usually gets there.
He had 35 tackles in 2008 playing mostly off the bench. He has 69 tackles this season in five games. He had nine against Texas A&M, 14 vs. Tulsa, 19 on Air Force, 15 against New Mexico State and logged 12 at Tech.
Messina is kind of a wrecking machine on the field, but off the field he is a low-key, unassuming, nice-guy Lobo quickly willing to pass on credit to his teammates. He reminds you a bit of Roman Martinez over in The Pit.
"I'm just sticking with my assignments and doing what I'm suppose to do," said Messina. "What makes me look so good is the guys around me are doing their job and filling up the gaps and the running back has nowhere to run but into me.
"I'm just there tripping them up," Messina concludes with a smile.
Yeah, Messina just happened to be standing in the right spot 69 times. Yeah, the RBs just ran into him and fell down.
But don't tell that to the kid in Massachusetts. He might have to look to the New England Patriots to find a new hero.