Aug. 15, 2009
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The following conversation is a mock one -- pretend. Didn't happen. The names have been fogged to protect the courageous. But the facts and the stats are dead-solid perfect.
This screen play opens with a first-year head coach on the phone trying to convince a well-known defensive coordinator to join his staff on a promising football program located in the Southwest.
Coach Candidate: "Sounds good. I'm interested. How many defensive starters you got back; how they looking?"
Head Coach: "Got three back. One has to have shoulder surgery and the other has to have two knee surgeries, but the third one is healthy as a grain-fed horse."
Coach Candidate: "The third one a big one? Six-six, defensive lineman? 280 or something?"
Head Coach: "Naw, he runs about 5-foot-8, but we list him at 5-10. He's 180 pounds of pure muscle!"
Coach Candidate: "So what's your schedule looking like? They cut you some non-conference slack? I suppose you got Southern Arizona Tech, Colorado School for the Slow, West Texas Agriculture & Math?"
Head Coach: "Not Exactly. We got Texas A&M, Tulsa, New Mexico State, Texas Tech. Gave up 56 to Tulsa last year. We got seven teams coming off a bowl year in 2008 and five of them won 10 games last year. Three of 'em were in the Top 12 nationally. We play those three on the road. But we do have an off-week this season."
Coach Candidate, after a long pause: "OK, so how about your conference? Down year?"
Head Coach: "Not exactly. One of 'em finished No. 2 in the country last year. Another one was No. 12. We play at their place this year. We got another one that should be Top 20. But we got eight starters back on offense. Huge line. Two quarterbacks with starting time. Nice backs and receivers. We'll put up some points for you."
Coach Candidate, after longer pause: "Ya, know coach. I used to coach offense, too. Have you hired an offensive coordinator yet?"
Possibly, one of the higher tributes to Mike Locksley's nationally-known ability to recruit came when he landed his defensive coordinator, Doug Mallory. No doubt, Mallory and his crew of defensive Lobos will face a few challenges this season in what should go down as the most grueling schedule ever for a first-year UNM coaching staff.
To reiterate: UNM goes on the road to face three teams ranked in the Top 12 in 2008. And how does Mallory look at this daunting challenge? Well, about how you would expect a coach on Locksley's staff to react. Mallory throws out a slow smile backed by an underlining vein of confidence and bring-it-on attitude.
"The schedule gets your attention," he said. "You throw Texas A&M, Tulsa, Texas Tech and New Mexico State on top of the quality league we play in and there aren't many teams in the Big 10, Big 12 or SEC who will be looking at that. But we're kind of excited about it."
The excitement begins for the Lobos Sept. 5 at Texas A&M. They come back the following Saturday for their home opener on Sept. 12 against Tulsa. Then it's Air Force, New Mexico State and Texas Tech. Actually, this might be the most challenging schedule ever for a Lobo football team.
Like Mallory, the Lobo players have a can't-wait attitude.
"We are so ready," said sophomore defensive end Jaymar Latchison. "I think our defense is underestimated. But this defense has a tradition of hitting hard and doing it all the way to the end. We know what we are capable of doing. We are ready and we are motivated.
"All we can do is go out and show people. I wouldn't say we have a chip on our shoulder. We will bring everything we got and I think some teams might not be expecting that much from us. And then what are they going to do?"
Mallory says a plus -- and a small minus -- for the UNM defense is going at the Lobo offense in fall camp. The plus is that the offense is a talented and experienced group with big linemen, proven quarterbacks and good playmakers that constantly test the young defense in practice. That's the minus, too.
"We are throwing at lot at them," said Mallory. "Right now, what makes some of that difficult is matching up our offense because it's so challenging and comes at you in so many ways. But the guys are working hard and getting better. Their attitude is exactly what you want."
The growth and potential in this young defense was seen Friday night at UNM's first fall scrimmage at University Stadium. The defense kept the offense out of the end zone on the first seven possessions. The defense didn't yield a TD until the offense was set up on red-zone situational work inside the 20-yard line.
One key for Mallory's young defenders is to grow up quickly and produce. This also was seen at the scrimmage when redshirt freshman Jesse Paulsen chalked up nine tackles and blocked two field goals. UNM might have only three starters back, but there is a lot of game experience to be found in the 17 lettermen returning on defense.
"You always want experience coming back, but that doesn't always happen," said Mallory. "Sometimes that doesn't matter much either. A lot of these guys are hungry to prove themselves."
The Lobos' size on defense won't be intimidating, but the talent issue is not in question. The three returning starters -- linebacker Clint McPeek and safeties Ian Clark and Frankie Solomon -- are solid and proven.
There is additional talent and quickness in linebacker Carmen Messina, tackles Kendall Briscoe and Peter Gardner, ends Latchison, Johnathan Rainey, and DeAndre Davis. There are no-names that probably are poised to become names -- like Paulsen.
"We've been groomed not to lie down or quit. Nothing has changed there."
Lobo Senior Safety Ian Clark
This group should improve with time and game experience. "The kids are working hard and they are excited," said Mallory.
Said Solomon: "I think we'll be just fine. We are working out some kinks, but I think we have the guys to make the plays. We know that some people are questioning us, that we're young, but the front of our mind is about getting better and being ready at game time."
The Lobos' defensive tradition at UNM is to swarm the ball, hit hard and do it longer and harder than the other guy. It's a philosophy that should make the jump from the old 3-3-5 defense to the new 4-3-4 look that also features the 3-3-5 attack.
The big key for the Lobos, however, might be their mindset. They will be in your face for four quarters. They will be junk-yard dog determined.
"We've been groomed not to lie down or quit," said Clark. "Nothing has changed there."