Hounds expect strong play from veteran offensive line

By Dave Wagner: Freedom New Mexico

Ryan Torres figures it’s time for the Eastern New Mexico University offensive line to make its mark.

With four seniors, including three third-year starters, and a junior, and increasing familiarity with ENMU’s wide-open, quick-paced passing game, Torres is looking for a big year.

“We all have a lot of experience,” said Torres, a 6-foot-1, 266-pound senior from Fort Worth, Texas. “Most of us were playing together in the old triple-option days.”

ENMU opens its 2010 campaign 6 p.m. today against Southern Nazarene at Blackwater Draw.

Left tackle Karlton Graves, left guard T.J. Cleavinger and right guard Mark Pena are all seniors with Torres, while junior Adam Robinson, a 300-pounder from Lubbock, mans the right tackle position.

ENMU struggled in 2008 when it went from its familiar triple-option attack to a spread offense, but showed marked improvement last year. The line played a big role in that, of course.

“We’re at the point now where calls (for blocking schemes) that we had to make in the past, we don’t have to make now,” Torres said. “I think (offensive line) coach (Draco Miller) has made it pretty simple.”

While the passing game came into its own last year, ENMU is now looking to perk up its running attack and hoping for much-improved play from a defense which gave up more than 37 points a game in 2009.

Against the Crimson Storm, the Hounds may be looking into a mirror. SNU, 6-5 last season, threw for about three times as many yards as it rushed for last season with a similar spread formation.

“Every spread has its own style,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “Their quarterback (junior Brady Wardlaw) is really good; he can hurt you with his arm and his feet. And they’ve got an experienced offensive line.”

The Crimson Storm beat ENMU 16-9 two years ago in the team’s only previous meeting, one delayed by more than an hour in the third quarter due to heavy rain and lightning. Coach Mike Cochran is trying to get his program established.

“They’re a good football team,” he said of the Hounds. “A lot has been made of their offense, but they still can make plays on defense.”

For Torres, it’s a game where he feels motivation from the loss two years ago.

“It’s definitely a payback game,” he said. “I’ve tried to forget about that game, but it’s still in our minds.”