By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
PORTALES — Changing the offense got Eastern New Mexico University’s football squad a statistical title. Now, the Greyhounds hope a tweak to the defense is the missing piece to a division title.
The three-week spring football practice for ENMU starts Monday at 3:15 p.m., with 9:30 a.m. scrimmages at Greyhound Stadium the next two Saturdays and the Green-Silver scrimmage at 4 p.m. on April 24.
Monday, the program was awarded with a plaque from the NCAA recognizing the Greyhounds as Division II’s top passing attack with 448 yards a game — including team records for single-game scoring (76) and season scoring (374).
“I was really excited about our no-huddle, fast-paced offense,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “I really felt like that gave us a chance in every game we played.”
But senior linebacker Nathan Uland knows the Greyhounds ultimately get judged by 3-8, their win-loss record.
“We haven’t been really up to par,” said Uland, a 5-foot-10, 220-pound Denton, Texas native who led the Hounds with 133 tackles last season. “We’re going at it this year like there’s no excuse. We can’t say we’re young, we can’t say we’ve changed everything up. It’s time to finish.”
The defense is, however, making a slight change to a 4-2-5 look. The defense is similar to the 4-3 the Hounds traditionally play, but a linebacker is traded for an extra defensive back so a team can blitz more, or just show blitz more often.
“We’re going out of the same look, so it’s easier to disguise,” Uland said. “You can’t really tell before the snap what we’re going to be in.”
On offense, sophomore Wes Wood has the inside track at quarterback, after record-setting starter J.J. Harp was dismissed during the offseason for violating unspecified team rules. But Ribaudo expects a good battle between Wood and Eric Flores, as the pair have worked on seven-on-seven drills since January.
The fall will bring in signees Sawyer Cornelius (Bushland, Texas), Tyler Baker (Rio Rancho) and Jacob Galindo (Carlsbad).
The key, Ribaudo said, is to have a breakout running back so a screen game can be added. He said he needs a “special” back who can make things happen, and isn’t sure who will emerge from the pack of Troy Harris, Stefan Mills, Tony Valenzuela, Melvis Hawkins, Kendall Roberson and Mike Hathcock.
Junior running back Terrence Griffin was moved to receiver, Ribaudo said, to exploit his playmaking ability in the open field.
“When Troy was healthy, he was fixing to be that special back,” Ribaudo said. “It puts the defense in a bind. You can’t back up your linebackers, you can’t play just the pass because we can just hand it off.”