Stevens: Lobos' Path To Oregon & 11 Other Foes Begins Thursday
Aug. 4, 2010
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It is the time of the football season that Lobo Coach Mike Locksley says reminds him of Christmas with that special combination of anticipation and excitement.
UNM assistant Matt Wells throws out another analogy: "It's like the first day of school for a first grader. Everybody is excited."
The Lobo coaches aren't exactly first timers when it comes to unwrapping a bunch of talent and puzzling it together into a cohesive unit. But they do get a charge out of this challenge. There are a few rookie UNM players who might feel a bit like first graders because of their upcoming introduction to D-I ball.
The first week of the Lobo season began today as Locksley met with the media and was gentle grilled on the upcoming season in which his Lobos were picked to finish last in the Mountain West Conference race.
The fun part - and the challenging part - begins Thursday when the Lobos gather on the practice fields beginning at 2:30 p.m. and try to become a unit that will make a lot of MWC prognosticators look foolish.
"We're out to make some people look wrong," said Lobo Ugo Uzodinma.
The Lobos have plenty of time to get better, but no more than any other college program. The Lobos will practice Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week in split groups that begin at 2:30 p.m. and at 4:15 p.m. The Lobos open the season Sept. 4 at Oregon, the team picked to win the Pac-10 title.
"The first days are always a lot of fun," said Lobo assistant Toby Neinas. "Everyone is finally all together, everybody is fresh and excited and the atmosphere just creates natural excitement. In another week or so, everyone will be sore and tired."
Said assistant David Reaves: "Everybody comes back rejuvenated and our energy level and excitement level is sky high. It's the beginning of what you have been waiting for and planning for. It's the beginning of your 12 Saturdays (games)."
The Lobos are coming off a 1-11 season which explains their preseason placement in the MWC standings. But last year Locksley and his staff were putting in a new, no-huddle, quick-strike offense and shifting out of a 3-3-5 defense into a 4-3 front.
There were a few wrinkles to work out. The Lobos improved statistically as the season progressed. This year the Lobos will begin a few pages deeper into the playbook and Locksley expects to see improvement on the field and on the scoreboard.
The Lobos surely will be challenged to catch some of the big boys of the MWC - TCU, Brigham Young, Utah, and Air Force - but Locksley and his crew are game for the chase. A huge key to UNM scratching out enough wins (six) to become bowl eligible is how they do against teams like Wyoming, Colorado State, New Mexico State, UTEP, San Diego State and UNLV. The Lobos also play Oregon and Texas Tech, two programs making noise on the national level.
The big question going into the 2010 season is similar to the big question of 2009: Who will be the Lobo quarterback? A year ago Donovan Porterie appeared to be the preseason choice and that did pan out. Porterie is now gone and whoever wins the huddle in 2010 will go into the season with little or no D-I experience.
Locksley has a standard, and fair, answer about determining his 2010 starters: "We are always in the evaluation process to determine our playmakers."
Still, there is a frontrunner to begin the season. B.R. Holbrook established in the spring that he is the man to beat. But he earned that edge because of injuries to other QBs and because the freshmen challengers were not here.
It will be an interesting fall camp. The two sessions that divide the Lobos into two units are designed 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.
Actually, it's more of a challenge for the coaches, who will be on the field for around five hours each day.
"This is still a teaching environment," said Locksley. "There are a lot of things we need to improve and we take to the field with serious intent. But that doesn't mean we aren't excited. This is like Christmas in August for us and I'm checking my list at least twice. It's another challenging schedule for us, but you don't play football if you don't like to be challenged.
"We are ahead of where we were last fall because last season so many things were changing. We are in Year Two now and the players better understand what the coaches expect and we now know what we can expect from our players. Our expectations are higher."
The first week of the season usually is a low-key beginning with no pads, not much contact and lots of fresh and no-bruise bodies. That part will change down the road, but the evaluation process is minute-by-minute and play-by-play.
"We will go out there and try to elevate the intensity as quickly as we can and develop as much competition at every position that we can because that makes everyone better," said Neinas.
It gets serious quickly because it has to. Just look at the challenge facing Reaves, UNM's first-year quarterbacks coach: "I got to find a quarterback who can execute the offense, not make many mistakes, score a lot of points, and win some games."
And the rest of the Lobo coaching staff has to build a solid and complete team to complement that quarterback. It all starts Thursday.