Despite the above-average heat this week, Eastern New Mexico University football coach Mark Ribaudo wishes the Greyhounds had a game this weekend.
They don’t, so he’ll just have to wait for Saturday’s 7 p.m. regular-season opener against New Mexico Highlands at Greyhound Stadium.
Ribaudo, beginning his seventh season at the helm, thinks the Hounds (5-6, 3-3 Lone Star Conference North last year) have the makings of a pretty strong team in the revamped LSC, which lost its five Oklahoma football schools after last year and has become a nine-team circuit in the sport. The Hounds were picked seventh in preseason.
ENMU’s “NASCAR” offense — a spread attack designed to get the ball to playmakers in the open field — is entering its fourth season and has gotten better each year.
“This can be our best year since we switched (from the triple-option) to this offense,” Ribaudo said. “It’s the first time we’ve had our quarterback (junior Wes Wood of Muleshoe) back.
“Our first-unit offense is a pretty good unit. We’ve got to stay healthy, and then we’ve got to have our (No.) 2s step up. We don’t have the depth we need yet.”
Wood completed 61 percent of his passes for 30 touchdowns and more than 3,300 yards last season. The Hounds also return a lot of skill-position players, with senior Tony Valenzuela of Seagraves leading a deep, experienced group of running backs.
The receiving corps includes seniors Darian Dale of Bay City, Texas and Noelin Henry of Fort Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.; juniors Chase Kyser of Roswell, Arvin Jackson of Houston and Berry Stinnett of Fort Sumner, and red-shirt freshman Michael Matthews of Amarillo. Dale caught 65 passes for 704 yards and five touchdowns last season, while Kyser hauled in 43 for 375 and four tallies.
The line has experience as well, with senior Adam Robinson of Lubbock and junior Justin Ward of Brownwood, Texas, at the tackles; senior Mark Pena of Houston and junior Jaime Villafuerte of San Antonio at the guards, and either senior Tanner Streety of Meadow, Texas, or junior Rick Padilla of Las Cruces at center.
Ribaudo said all of those players have been in the program at least three years and have started at some point.
“We’ve got a chance to be one of the most explosive offenses in the conference,” Ribaudo said. “There’s a world of difference from where we were in 2008.”
Defensively, junior Bracy McCoy of Freeport, Texas, and senior Steve Smith of Albuquerque are competing at tackle, while Texico senior Aaron Vaughan is ticketed for defensive end with junior Ian Ogando of Houston at nose guard.
Probable starters at linebacker include sophomore Eli Finch of Farmington, junior Lane Wood of Muleshoe, senior Perron Sellers of La Marque, Texas and sophomore Keighen Thetford of Arlington, Texas.
The secondary has to replace three starters, but still has experience with sophomore Keith Davis of New Orleans, Chris Redmond of Oakland, Calif., and Lloyd Black of Rochester, N.Y., vying for time at cornerback. Sophomores Jayson Serda of Albuquerque at free safety and Linvel Mosby of Odessa, Texas, at strong safety round out the lineup.
“We’re a young defense,” said Mosby, who is moving over from free safety. “We lost some key players from last year like Tillman Stevens and Nathan Uland, but the coaches made them into All-Americans and I feel they can do the same for us.
“I feel like our defense is really, really good, and we have one of the best offenses in the conference.”
Ribaudo said the defense has looked good in preseason.
“The defense is flying around pretty good,” he said. “They’re playing with a lot of intensity. We’re looking for a pretty stingy defense.”
The kicking game should also be in good hands with senior Taylor Cannon of Los Lunas and sophomore Michael Cottingham of Hutto, Texas. Cottingham is likely to handle punting duties and perhaps long field goals while Cannon should take care of the rest of it.
The South had dominated the LSC in football in recent years, with West Texas A&M, Abilene Christian, Midwestern State and Tarleton State in particular. All of those teams are still around, of course.
“You’ve got a chance to show what you can do against athletes that (sometimes) go to the NFL,” Mosby said. “It gives you something to work for. ACU for Homecoming, then the Wagon Wheel game (against WT) and (non-conference) Northwest Missouri — those are games you look forward to.”