By Greg Archuleta
UNM Assistant Director of Communications
You can see, and hear the potential. And if you’re an opposing offensive player, you can feel the potential as well.
During a recent spring practice at University Stadium, University of New Mexico redshirt freshman defensive end Sam Mabany shed a block and met a ball-carrier at the line of scrimmage. You could hear the “Crack!” of their should pads clashing, and the next thing you know, all you could see was Mabany’s No. 53 hit the ground with something underneath him breaking his fall.
He completely enveloped the ball-carrier.
That is precisely the reason Lobo coach Bob Davie brought the 6-foot-7, 252-pound giant from the Sudan who has spent just seven years in the U.S., to New Mexico.
American football is as foreign to him as the Sudan is to most Americans, but his natural ability will help him excel at the sport sooner rather than later.
“First of all, there’s no substitution for that kind of height,” first-year defensive line coach Barry Sacks says. Players of Mabany’s height “are hard to block because their arms are so long and their legs are so long. They cover the ground differently. It’s different from short guys, because what takes short guys 100 steps to cover, they do it in two.”
So while Davie has a mantra this spring of getting from Point A to Point B with some oomph, it is Sacks’ job to teach Mabany what Point A is, what Point B is, and then all things in-between.
“I know I have a lot to work on, technique-wise and doing things right,” says Mabany, who played high school football at Denver South in Denver, Colo. “Coach Sacks has been working with me all the way through.”
In some ways, it’s a slow process.
“The automatic part about playing football – we grew up playing football, throwing it, catching it, blocking it – that was absent in his life,” Sacks said. “So playing football, watching it on television, or even playing it on PlayStation is all new to him.
“Every day it seems to be a new experience. Sometimes it’s a good experience; sometimes it’s not so good. So when you have that much potential, that raw ability, I think the potential is boundless in terms of what can be reached. It’s just a matter of if he’s willing to work, if he’s willing to push through it, the stars the limit for a guy who looks like that and runs like that and has that long a body.”
In some ways, it’s a good process. Sacks and the defensive coaches are painting on a clean canvas. Mabany has few preconceived notions about football or bad habits to break.
“Last year, I was on the scout time, so my focus was just staying low,” Mabany said. “Now, I’m trying to learn the scheme. I know a lot more about pass rush, using my hands more, using my leverage. (Sacks) talks about all that a lot.”
Sacks also understands that it’s his job to throw as much as he can at the redshirt freshman now to prepare him for the upcoming season. it’s such an old phrase but it’s a way of life. The more you practice something, the better you are
“No matter what we do in our lives, practice makes perfect. When you drove today, how many times did you hit the gas? In our profession, we talk about ‘Hit the gas, hit the gas, hit the gas. So when I ask whomever about how many times they hit the games and the player responds, ‘I don’t know,’ then ‘we’re stepping on the gas enough.”
How quickly Mabany can turn his potential into his strengths may determine how quickly the UNM defense can move away from its growing pains to becoming an asset that Lobo fans can see, hear and feel in 2014.