By Dave Wagner
CMI sports writer
After the wild carpet ride that was Eastern New Mexico University football in 2013, the Greyhounds know they’ll have some proving to do next season.
The lone non-Texas school in the Lone Star Conference capped a co-championship run with a six-game winning streak ending in a 42-35 victory at Texas A&M-Commerce on Nov. 16. Picked for sixth in the seven-team league in preseason, it’ll be interesting to see what the future holds.
“When you look at Eastern New Mexico University, I think a lot of people thought (winning a co-championship) was a fluke,” second-year coach Josh Lynn said. “I think we need to embrace being the ‘oddball’ (in the conference). I’m not so sure the Greyhounds don’t play better with a chip on our shoulder.”
The cupboard isn’t exactly bare for ENMU (7-3, 5-1 LSC), which posted its most wins since going 8-3 in 2002. Lynn said the Hounds are a graduating eight seniors, but only five who were on the team’s two-deep roster.
One of the main keys, as it often is at the Division II level, is player retention, he said.
“We’re still going to recruit as hard as we can,” Lynn said. “We’ve got to fill some needs, but a lot of it will be just handling our business in the classroom and retaining the players we have.”
They’ve also had stability with their fulltime coaches in Lynn’s two years, and he’s quick to praise the work of coordinators Kelley Lee (offense) and Oliver Soukup (defense).
The Hounds are still behind most LSC schools when it comes to resources and facilities, Lynn said, but at least they now have something tangible to hang their collective hats on.
“It’s a heck of a lot better (in recruiting) to be able to say ‘conference champs’ and ‘we’re going to try and do it again next year,’” he said.
Junior Jacob Johnson, ENMU’s leading receiver in 2013 with 37 catches for 678 yards and four touchdowns, said the mindset has changed over the last couple of years and opponents may have been slow to catch on to it.
“I think it probably helped some that teams overlooked us,” he said. “Coach (Lynn) would say before games, ‘We’re not picked to win this game.’ But by the end of the year, teams realized we were for real.”
While probably no one would have seen the Hounds as an LSC contender in preseason, Johnson said the team didn’t think that way.
“That’s (winning) the expectation,” he said. “We set high expectations at the first of the year, and it started with spring ball.
“I didn’t think it was going to happen like it did, but it shows we have the type of team to do it. I think the conference is up for grabs next year, too.”
Looking ahead, the school is planning to build an on-campus stadium to replace Greyhound Stadium. The hope is that it can open in 2015.
This year’s conference title and the upswing in energy around the program, combined with the new digs, would seem to indicate a bright future.
“We need to just continue,” Lynn said. “I think the big thing is (that we) just don’t get complacent. We’re still sitting here and not in the NCAA playoffs.”
Still, it’s a much better feeling than the program has had in quite a while.
“It’s a heck of a lot better than when you’re 3-8,” Lynn said.