By Dave Wagner: Freedom New Mexico
Facing Eastern New Mexico University’s new spread offense in preseason practice has helped the Greyhounds’ defense.
Instead of working against the grind-it-out, triple-option as in the past, sophomore inside linebacker Nathan Uland said the defense is able to get a look at what it’ll face in a lot of its games this season.
“It’s helped us a lot,” said Uland, a 5-foot-10, 210-pounder from Denton, Texas. “We’ve played against a lot of teams that do that.”
With the offense also going to a no-huddle style, Uland said defensive players tried to condition this summer in anticipation of a fast tempo.
“It’s nerve-racking at times, but I have confidence in the team,” he said.
The Hounds open the 2008 season in a 5 p.m. (MDT) kickoff today against NAIA member Southern Nazarene at Bethany, Okla. Uland, who was in on 31 tackles last season, expects it to be anything but a walkover.
“I think they’re a really good NAIA team,” he said. “They definitely can’t be taken lightly. It’ll be a good season opener for us.”
The question for the Hounds is how their new offense will work. They’ll get their first true test tonight against the Crimson Storm, who went 6-4 a year ago.
“It takes a lot of repetitions (to get it down), like with most offenses,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “We’ve just got to wait and see. There’s a lot of anxiousness leading up to this game.”
Fullback Joseph Banyard, a redshirt freshman from Sweetwater, Texas, who was recruited by the Hounds but went to TCU last fall before deciding to come back to ENMU, is hoping the spread formation could open some running lanes.
“We’re definitely a little anxious,” said Banyard, who will be a lone setback in what is mainly a four-wide receiver set. “We’re ready to get out there and see how we fare.
“It’s a big switch (for ENMU). I think it’ll help a lot in the future trying to get good receivers to come to the school.”
Banyard said he doesn’t know how much he’ll carry the ball, but said he isn’t concerned.
“I’d just like to go out there and make plays as a team,” he said. “We’re really about team goals. Everybody’s just trying to play their roles.”
Ribaudo said Eric Wilcockson, a 6-foot-4 redshirt sophomore from Santa Monica, Calif., will start the opener. He’s backed up by sophomore Cory Baker, who saw limited duty in 2007.
“I think Cory’s had a good summer,” Ribaudo said.
Senior Michael Carrasco and juniors Jessie Poku and Justin Campos lead a relatively untested receiving corps, with sophomore Michael Beach and senior Brandon Dominguez in the mix along with several freshmen.
It’ll be “baptism by fire,” Ribaudo said. “That’s the way we’ve got to do it.”
Ribaudo said leaders in the offensive line are senior guard Carlos Downey, redshirt sophomore center Ryan Torres and senior guard Roger Deleon.
Defensively, the Hounds will go from a 3-5 look to a 3-4 this year, anchored by senior defensive end Kyle Wilson, a third-year starter, and 6-1, 315-pound senior nose guard Ron Green, a transfer from Division I-AA Missisippi Valley State. Uland and Fort Sumner junior Derek Dimitroff, a transfer from New Mexico Military, will man the inside linebacker positions while Devin Sweet, a sophomore from Clovis, and juniors Texavier Henry and Eddie Zamora are candidates on the outside.
Senior Jeremy Hibbler, ENMU’s leading tackler in 2007, and junior Mark Patterson are at the safeties with sophomore Tillman Stevens at one corner. The other corner position is up for grabs, Ribaudo said.
“We’ve got some people who need to step up at a few spots,” he said.
Adam Richards, a redshirt freshman from Hobbs, is scheduled to handle the placekicking duties. The punter will be junior Tim Hall.
ENMU at Southern Nazarene
When: 5 p.m. (MDT) today in the season opener for both teams at Bethany, Okla.
2007 records: ENMU 5-6, Southern Nazarene 6-4.
Radio: KSEL-FM 95.3.
On the Net: www.enmusports.com
Coaches: Eastern New Mexico, Mark Ribaudo, 4th year; Southern Nazarene, Mike Cochran, 2nd year.
Last meeting: This is the first time the teams have played each other.
Southern Nazarene players to watch: Brandon Smith, 5-11, 231, Jr., TB; Greg Oswald, 5-11, 195, Sr., WR; Jared Elmore, 6-3, 180, Sr., WR; Doug Wilson, 6-3, 266, Sr., OT; Shawn Fisher, 6-1, 233, So. DE; Peter Orth, 5-10, 198, Sr., P..
Notes: Southern Nazarene, which started football in 2000, has had winning records in each of its first eight seasons. … The Crimson Storm competes in the five-team Central States Football League, an NAIA conference. … Orth is a three-time All-CSFL selection as a punter and holds most of the school records in that department. … Southern Nazarene has questions at quarterback, where three-year starter Tyler Schneider has graduated, and in the secondary, where three starters have moved on. … Elmore tied school records in 2007 for touchdown receptions in a game (3) and for a season (10).
Quote: “It’s time to play. Our kids are just tired of practicing.” — Ribaudo, on today’s opener.
— Compiled by Dave Wagner