Stevens: A Band of Lobo Brothers Unite For One Final Stand
Nov. 24, 2011
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It is a group of Lobo seniors which has been blasted on and off the field, struck hard by injury, kicked a bit while they were down, lost a coach, gained a coach, and lost that coach.
They have stood against the odds for most of their careers as Lobos, suffered mightily in the win-lost column, endured barbs from media and fans, and continue to do the only thing they can do to change it all.
"You go out and play 110 percent. You go out and work your butt off," said Lobo senior linebacker Carmen Messina. "You do that and maybe you don't win, but you know you gave it your best."
In some ways, maybe the only thing you can ask of any athlete is to go out and give his best. Honest effort is always noted and remembered. Of course, the media and the fans want more. They want wins, trophies, bowl dates, and the vicarious glory that comes from being associated with victorious teams.
The Lobo seniors have tried to do exactly that in their careers as Lobos and it didn't work out. So, does that mean their experience as Lobos, which comes to a close Dec. 3 at Boise State, was a failure? Did they make a mistake by tying their stars to New Mexico football?
"I have no regrets," said Lobo senior Bubba Forrest. "I still couldn't be more proud to have played for my home state and this great university. I'm proud to be a Lobo."
And that's the way it is with most football players and most Lobos. They invest a portion of their lives to a game that promises physical pain and even life-long injury and they do it with no second thoughts. They banded as a team and bonded as brothers formed by the tests of that team. They might not have found a lot of momentary success on the scoreboard, but they leave with fibers of inner strength and character that will last longer than numbers on a neon board.
"What we have been going through, what we have been living through, has bonded us in a special way," said defensive lineman Jaymar Latchison. "My freshman class started with 25 and we don't have that many left. But those that stuck it out went through some hard times together and we forged friendships that will last way beyond football.
"As it gets closer to the end (of the season), I've been thinking more and more about it ending. It got here fast. It's a bittersweet feeling because I'm ready to move on to my next stage in life. But with what I've been through, I know I will leave here with the mentality that I know how to work hard and do the right things."
Latchison came to New Mexico to play football for Rocky Long, who left the program three seasons back. Latchison remained a Lobo to play football for Mike Locksley, who was relieved of the head coaching position prior to the New Mexico State game. He will not play in the next era of Lobo football under Bob Davie, Locksley's replacement.
"It seems that change has been the only constant around here," he said. "A lot of players left since my first year, but the ones that stuck it out with me are like brothers to me."
Said senior Anthony Hooks: "I didn't come in here as a freshman, so I'm not just close to the seniors, but I'm close to everyone. We go to war on the football field together and we lean on each other in hard times. A lot of us will stay in each others' lives from here on."
The Lobo senior class consists of Anthony Hooks, Michael Scarlett, James Aho, Jamarr Lyles, Bubba Forrest, A.J. Johnson, Jaymar Latchison, Carmen Messina, Jon Washington, Mike Muniz, James Wright, and Brett Kennedy. They will play their final game as Lobos next week on a challenging blue turf in Boise, Idaho.
It's probably unusual that half of a UNM senior class comes from New Mexico high schools, but that's the ratio for this year's seniors: Forrest from Carlsbad, Scarlett from Sandia High, Aho from Roswell High, Washington from Sandia High, Muniz from La Cueva and Kennedy from La Cueva.
The bond formed between individuals on a football team probably isn't influenced that much by your roots. However, your link to that school obviously has deeper roots if you are home grown.
"This is exactly where I wanted to play football," said Forrest. Aho said he was influenced to become a Lobo by other New Mexico players who came to UNM, including former running back DonTrell Moore of Roswell.
"It's been a tough run and sometimes you wish life had a rewind button and you could do things over again," said Aho. "But that doesn`t mean I wouldn`t be a Lobo. We had to come closer together this year or things would have fallen apart even more."
For sure, this senior class has suffered through adversity maybe unequalled in Lobo football. The 1-10 Lobos will go at the odds and at Boise State hoping to double the victories of 1-11 seasons posted in 2010 and 2009. That three-year stretch has been a test of character. It also has built some.
"You can't compare us to what the military does but we go out to battle in our own way. We go out there knowing we have teammates next to you fighting your battle. They might have injuries and things going on in their lives off the field, but they put everything aside to stand next to you and battle.
"What we are going through is tough. You have to think that it will prepare us in our future lives because you know there are tough roads ahead. I've learned a lot through the losses about how to deal with adversity by keeping your head up and pushing forward.
"We aren't going to come out of here as Mountain West champs but the relationships I've built and the lessons I've leaned will help me more in the future than any trophy."
The Lobo seniors don't deny that the 2011 season turned on them. They entered the season with maybe a far-fetched goal of making the postseason, but it was a goal they believed they could reach. They worked hard to achieve it. It didn't happen.
The season and the team's record probably suffered a major blow in the season-opening 14-10 loss to Colorado State. It was a Mountain West conference game and being at home against a so-so MW member, it was a critical game for the Lobos to win.
Then losses mounted as the teeth of the schedule hit the Lobos in the teeth. They lost 52-3 to Arkansas, 59-13 to Texas Tech and 48-45 in overtime to Sam Houston State. That game marked the end of Mike Locksley's career as a Lobo. He left the program with an embarrassing 2-26 record. The Lobos he left behind marched on.
The next week UNM lost for the third straight time to New Mexico State followed by losses at Nevada, at TCU and to Air Force. If anything, the times got worse for the Lobos because a team short on depth continued to watch Lobos limp to the sidelines, not to return.
The highlight of the season is an obvious one. The Lobos banded together to defeat UNLV on Senior Night in chilly University Stadium. It was the first career win for George Barlow as a head coach. The Lobos tried to back that win with an upset at Wyoming. On an even colder field, the Lobos failed on the scoreboard -- only on the scoreboard.
"It is what it is," said Hooks. "The losses always bring some regrets because at the end of the day you think about what you might have done better to be successful. But football is a game of adversity and it teaches you a lot of things about life and about yourself. I've learned a lot.
"The end is near and it definitely came quick. It seems my first snap as a Lobo came yesterday and now my last season as a Lobo is almost over."
Said Messina: "I remember coming in here as a freshman and standing under the Tow Diehm building and thinking how long four years were going to be. Now, I'm standing her amazed that the light at the end of the tunnel is almost here.
"We've been through a lot of hard times, but all that has brought us together. You play for a lot of reasons, but your teammates might be the main reason. I know that many of the guys in the locker room will be my best friends the rest of my life."
The Lobos final game next week at Boise State will pit a shallow Lobo team against a Boise State team likely trying to make a statement on the scoreboard to bowl committees. The odds will not favor the Lobos.
The scoreboards of 2011 might reflect the better teams, but the Lobos also will be judged by effort and fearless determination. A scoreboard defines a team much more than it defines an athlete. Will there be any athlete in Boise more of a winner than Carmen Messina?
The Lobo seniors say the final battle will not see any Lobo seniors going through the motions. It is a final time to look around to see who has their backs. It is their final time to be that guy. They are happy for the fight and the final moments.
"We tell each other that we're all we have," said Forrest. "We'll take that mentality onto the field and look out for each other to the very end."