Hounds look for help from running game

Dave Wagner

With a senior-dominated offensive line and a handful of capable backs, the Eastern New Mexico University football team is hoping to put together a solid running game this season.

For sure, the Greyhounds won’t turn into a run-first team after passing about 75 percent of the time in 2009. It’s just that if they can effectively run the ball from time to time, it’ll give opposing defenses a little more to think about.

ENMU will conduct an intrasquad scrimmage at 6 p.m. today at Blackwater Draw. The team’s opener is next Saturday at home against Southern Nazarene.

The Hounds will use a one-back set most of the time, with four wideouts. Sophomore Tony Harris, Stefan Mills and Mike Hathcock, senior Tony Valenzuela and redshirt freshman Melvis Hawkins are competing for playing time.

“I’ve got good depth at the position,” veteran ENMU offensive coordinator Mike Howard said. “Right now, if we started today, Troy would be our starter.

“We’ll be developing our player rotation off those five. We’ll play running back by committee.”

Harris, from Rio Rancho, was ENMU’s leading rusher last season, averaging 5.5 yards on just 51 carries. He started the team’s first five games, but was limited the rest of the way an ankle injury.

Mills, a 2009 Clovis High grad, was second with 225 yards on 60 attempts.

“Whoever is getting the most production (will be on the field),” Harris said. “All of us can contribute in some way.”

That includes catching passes out of the backfield. “We work on that in practice,” Harris said.

Howard said the goal of the Hounds’ fast-paced “NASCAR” attack is to generate 100 plays a game. When ENMU went to a spread offense in 2008, it averaged between 70 and 80 plays a game; last year, it was up to near 94.

The Hounds should be more effective running the ball this year, he said, primarily because of their veteran offensive line.

“In the history of Eastern, and I’ve been here since 1997, when we’ve had a good offensive line we’ve been a good team,” he said. “We’re going to run the ball because we’ve got (more experienced) running backs and a senior offensive line.”

“We call our running backs the ‘feature’ back,” he said. “For this offense to be effective, the feature back has to be able to run the ball and catch the ball.”

The 5-foot-5, 186-pound Valenzuela missed virtually all of the 2009 season with right leg problems.

“We’re really better in the running game, not just because of us but because of our O-line,” he said. “We all have special abilities. We all know when someone goes down, we can just rotate somebody else in.”

A fifth-year senior, Valenzuela came in when ENMU was still running the triple-option, “flexbone” attack.

“This style of offense was new, but I was willing to adjust to it,” he said. “Now I feel more comfortable running the ball out of the spread.

“We all have special abilities. We all know whan someone goes down, you just rotate somebody else in.”

Howard said it’s important for the backs to be versatile.