By Dave Wagner: Freedom New Mexico
Eastern New Mexico University’s high-powered offense is slowing gaining respect in the Lone Star Conference.
The Greyhounds (3-8, 0-6 LSC South Division), making the switch this season to the North in football, were picked for fourth place in the North in the conference’s preseason poll. Moreover, they earned two first-place votes.
That’s all nice, but senior linebacker Nathan Uland isn’t impressed.
“I’m still not set with it,” said Uland, a third-year starter from Denton, Texas, who was tied for second in NCAA Division II last season in tackles (132). “It pretty much came down to our record.
“When I see our record, I’m always shocked. It feels like we were in so many games, (but the) record doesn’t show that.”
ENMU’s first practice is at 3 p.m. today. The Hounds open with a 6 p.m. clash against Southern Nazarene on Aug. 28 at Greyhound Field, with the remaining 10 games against LSC competition.
Sixth-year coach Mark Ribaudo expects 130 to 140 candidates for the first day. ENMU is confident, largely because it returns eight starters each on offense and defense.
“For the first time in a long time, we’re great at a few positions,” Ribaudo said. “We have a couple of potential NFL prospects and a couple of (preseason) All-Americans (in Uland and senior cornerback Rodney Mitchell).
“Beyond that, we’re pretty solid at all positions. We might not be great everywhere, but we’re good everywhere.”
Of the returning starters, 12 are seniors, Ribaudo said.
“We have great senior leadership,” he said. “They’re serious, they’re committed and they’re accountable.”
By reputation, the North isn’t as strong as the South, which usually has three or four teams in the NCAA Division II top 25. ENMU, in fact, went 2-1 in crossovers last season — routing champion Texas A&M-Commerce 76-56 and losing to runnerup Southeastern Oklahoma 49-47.
“I think the odds are in our favor (to do well),” Uland said. “We have an older team this year, especially on defense. And the North doesn’t have the big powerhouses, like Abilene (Christian).”
The Hounds will, though, face a number of the better teams in the South in crossovers, although they won’t play rival West Texas A&M for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Sophomore quarterback Wes Wood of Muleshoe, the backup most of last season to J.J. Harp, is expected to take over the “Air Raid” offense. Wood’s lone start was in a 30-20 loss to Tarleton — ENMU led that game 13-0 at halftime — and he rallied the Hounds to a season-ending 35-30 win over conference newcomer Incarnate Word.
Two years ago, Wood led Muleshoe to a 15-0 record and the Texas Class 2A Division I state title.
“He’s had the opportunity to play in several games (last year), but Wes has played on some big stages,” Ribaudo said. “I like our quarterback. If I wanted to describe Wes in one word, it’s ‘winner.’”
By NCAA rules, ENMU can have three days of two-a-day practices in preseason. The Hounds have 9 a.m. intrasquad scrimmages on tap Aug. 13 and 17 at Blackwater Draw, with the Green-and-Silver game set for 6 p.m. on Aug. 21.