Dec. 9, 2010
LOBO FOOTBALL 2010 SEASON REVIEW
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It was a season that started with a Lobo team bus and probably should have ended with a team ambulance and a battalion of medics.
It was a season in which the depth-challenged and walking-wounded Lobos played a brute of a schedule that featured eight teams that eventually would push into postseason play, including turf battles with the No. 2 (Oregon), No. 3 (TCU) and No. 19 (Utah) teams in the nation.
It was a season in which tight end Lucas Reed, linebacker Carmen Messina, defensive back Bubba Forrest, offensive tackle Byron Bell, and kicker James Aho cracked the Mountain West All-Conference Team.
It was a season in which Coach Mike Locksley redshirted a handful of talented Lobos in a calculated move to build for Year Three, but never expecting all the injuries that would bite into the depth of 2010.
It was a season in which UNM's top three players -- starting quarterback B.R. Holbrook, linebacker Carmen Messina and defensive end Johnathan Rainey -- went down to injury impacting not only those positions, but effecting the play of Lobos around them.
Rainey, UNM's top defensive lineman, was lost for the season after fracturing his neck in UNM's fourth game. Holbrook missed several games with a knee injury. Messina was hit by an ankle sprain in the first game of the season. Even when those two Lobos returned to the lineup, they were battling hurts that had them playing far below the 100 percent level.
It wasn't just the stars and the standouts that took a beating in 2010. The Lobos' 1-11 season was impacted by the loss of seven starters. And it wasn't just football that took a physical toll on these Lobos. UNM lost backup quarterback Brad Gruner, who had to have surgery after cutting his hand while carving a pumpkin and lost a backup tight end to a basketball injury.
If you add up the number of games missed by Lobos just on the two-depth chart (player times games missed), it comes out to 78 games.
"I've been a head trainer 36 years and this is the most injuries I've ever seen on a football team," said Dave Binder, UNM's head trainer. "You expect injuries from football, but we also got hit by accidents off the field.
"I think it was compounded by the fact we had little depth and had to play so many younger kids. Maturity, strength and size are a big deal in football when it comes to injury. We had to play some kids who probably needed a year or two to get bigger and stronger."
The Lobos didn't have that luxury. When starters like Rainey, Gruner, Martize Barr, Carmeiris Stewart, Maurice Mears, Freddy Young and Chris Hernandez went down, it wasn't like the Lobos were plugging those holes with savvy seniors.
The Lobos had eight starters on offense who were sophomores or freshmen. It was the same wave of youth on the defensive side of the ball as UNM found seven sophomores to start and one freshman. UNM had 29 freshmen or sophomores on its two-deep chart.
When Holbrook went down, the Lobos became one of 16 NCAA upper-level programs starting a true freshman at quarterback. The Lobos did it twice, first giving the start to Tarean Austin and when he went down, handing the huddle over to true freshman Stump Godfrey.
The depth problem in this rebuilding program was hit hard from two directions. Locksley inherited a program reeling from an NCAA spanking that reduced Lobo scholarships from 25 to 20. There also was a shortage of quality upperclassmen to provide the depth and leadership needed.
In 2007 after a 9-4 season, UNM graduated 21 seniors. In 2008, UNM played with 21 seniors again in a 4-8 campaign. In Locksley's first season of 2009, he had 17 seniors. UNM lost 14 seniors this past season, nine on the final two-deep chart vs. TCU. If everybody returns, for 2011, the Lobos will have 15 seniors in Locksley's third season.
That drop of six seniors from 2007 to 2010 is even a more significant number when you factor in that UNM is down 10 scholarship players over the past two season and will have only 21 scholarships to award this recruiting period - the final year of recruiting sanctions.
That means UNM will be down 14 scholarship players in 2011 and that's not counting natural attrition that comes with players leaving a program for a variety of reasons.
When you lose that many bodies while trying to change a culture and a philosophy on both sides of the ball, you pay a price. You can rationalize and say the 10 freshmen and sophomores lost to the recruited roster probably weren't ready to contribute on the field because of their youth and size.
But UNM started 16 freshmen and sophomores this season. You lose 10 players, that's a starting unit, minus one. Maybe those young athletes - if a coach has a choice - aren't ready for offensive or defensive chores at the D-I level, but they can handle special team responsibilities. They can run and tackle.
On the field, injuries, lack of depth, a shortage of upperclassmen, a top-heavy schedule took its toll. "We're not into excuses," said Locksley. "We aren't happy with our results on the field this season, but our emphasis is to find ways to get better for the future."
For sure, depth and talent is one way to hope for improvements in 2011. There were a number of talented bodies held out in 2010 that will make an impact in 2011: Javarie Johnson (LB), Lamaar Thomas (WR), Deon Long (WR), Martize Barr (WR), Zach Daugherty (LB), Brad Miller (TE), Earl Johnson (OL), Toby Ball (LB), Matthew Johnson (OL), Chase Clayton (DB) Omar Castillo (OL), and Detchauz Wray (DB/WR), just to name a few.
These new bodies are critical to depth and success in 2011. The scholarship reductions obviously impact team depth, but also depth in various positions. You lose five scholarships and you have to make recruiting adjustments across the board. You might need three offensive linemen, but can only recruit two. If one (or two) of them gets injured next year, well, you have a problem.
When a program is under the numbers stress that UNM currently faces, the impact can be dynamic. UNM was down to 14 seniors in 2010 out of a possible 25 - that's minus 11 strong bodies. You add in the 10 scholarships lost over the past two recruiting seasons and that's a loss of a possible 21 Lobos. That's one player shy of a starting offense and a starting defense.
The Lobos use a multi-attack, spread offense. They were down to four receivers at the end of the season. At times, because of a shortage in bodies, the Lobos looked like a high school team during warm-ups. A lot of those Lobos were less than two years removed from a high school field, but that's part of Locksley's philosophy at UNM - build with freshmen.
"I knew the first couple of years would be rough and it was going to take some time," said Locksley. "But that still doesn't mean we are satisfied. You never consider winning just one game during a season. We expect improvement in Year Three. We will still be young, but our young Lobos are getting a lot of exposure on the field."
The expectations for 2011 obviously are higher, as they should be. The players Locksley kept on the sidelines in 2010 should be a tremendous shot of talent for a young team that returns so many players. UNM returns 16 starters, 19 of 25 players on the offense's two-deep chart and 19 of 23 Lobos on the defense's two-deep list.
Messina will return to anchor a defense that will be deeper and more talented. Messina played hurt most of 2010, but led the Mountain West Conference in tackles for the second straight season. He became the first Lobo since Brian Urlacher (1998-99) to have back-to-back, 100-tackle seasons.
Messina was joined on that 100-Tackle Club by junior Bubba Forrest. Forrest was an honorable mention All-MWC player, who also played much of the season nursing multiple injuries. The Lobos return one of the nation's top kickers in James Aho, who went 8-of-9 in field goals. He had his first career 50-yarder (51) in UNM's dramatic win over the Wyoming Cowboys.
Two of the unsung heroes on the UNM staff have to be quarterback coach David Reaves and wide receiver coach Matt Wells. Reaves had to adjust to four different starters in 2010. It was the first season in UNM history that the Lobos started four different quarterbacks. Wells was down to four wide receivers in UNM's final game, but you could see improvement in this group throughout the season.
Reaves returns his four quarterbacks: B.R. Holbrook, Stump Godfrey, Brad Gruner and Tarean Austin. Wells loses a few key seniors, including Chris Hernandez, but will get a big shot of young talent that sat out 2010.
There isn't any question that 2010 was a season of adversity, challenge and even disappointment for these young Lobos and their coaching staff. There are some major holes to fill on the offensive line (Byron Bell, Karlin Givens, Mike Cannon, Maurice Mears), a few key holes on the defensive front (Peter Gardner, Seth Johannemann), and UNM needs to improve its secondary.
But as Locksley said, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It should become brighter and closer in 2011 - and seen by a lot of Lobos who are a year older.