By Kevin Wilson
Eastern New Mexico University receiver Derrick Hunter usually doesn’t need a lot of time to get open for a pass. He needed even less time when asked to guess the top pick in the preseason poll for the Lone Star Conference’s South Division.
“Kingsville,” Hunter said.
Nineteen of the poll’s 21 voters felt the same way about the Texas A&M-Kingsville Javelinas, who have either won or shared the LSC South title in each of the last four seasons.
“They’ve been pretty consistent the last two years,” Hunter said. “They’ve earned that. To be the top team in the Lone Star, you have to beat those teams.”
Hunter and the Greyhounds are picked to finish fifth in this year’s poll, but Hunter said he doesn’t “mind being an underdog.”
Tarleton State, which has spent the last three seasons in the LSC North, claimed the remaining two first-place votes and is slotted second in the poll. The Texas are followed by Midwestern State, Abilene Christian, ENMU, Angelo State and West Texas A&M.
New Greyhound coach Mark Ribaudo downplayed the importance of the poll, voted on annually by LSC coaches, sports information directors and media representatives.
“Overall, I’m not a big fan on polls in the first place,” Ribaudo said. “I don’t know all the pollsters, first off, and we’re just all pretending until we play.
“However, you have to give credit where credit is due and Kingsville and Midwestern are going to be two top teams coming back.”
Ribaudo is one of five first-year head coaches in the seven-team South. Ribuado spent eight years as a Greyhound assistant.
Ribaudo also expects a smooth transition for former Greyhound coach and new West Texas A&M coach Don Carthel because of his work with the nearby Amarillo Dusters arena football team.
Hunter also counts on a smooth transition for the Greyhounds, despite replacing a head coach and quarterback Steven Hinson — most likely with sophomore Michael Benton.
“With us losing a senior quarterback and getting a new head coach, (voters might think) we’re going through a rebuilding stage,” Hunter said. “We’re not. We’ve got a good young quarterback (Benton) and a good coach in Coach Ribaudo. We should surprise a few people.”
Ribaudo hopes that’s the case, but he admitted he doesn’t know anything for sure until practices start Aug. 3.
“Every coach has concerns about his team, but I’m more excited than concerned. Everybody’s been working their tail off in the office. I’m just ready to get the system going on Aug. 3.”
The Greyhounds were picked for fourth in last season’s poll, but finished third with a 4-2 division record (6-4 overall) in Bud Elliott’s final season.
Central Oklahoma is the LSC North favorite after garnering 13 of 16 first-place votes, followed by Southeastern Oklahoma and East Central.
The Greyhounds open their 11-game schedule at Central Arkansas on Aug. 25. The game will be played as a benefit game for the Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock.