By Dave Wagner
In his third season, New Mexico Highlands coach Eric Young appears to have the Cowboys on the right track.
A program which had struggled for years, Young got the Cowboys off to a 4-0 start in 2011 before eligibility issues took over and the team lost its final seven games.
Last year, though, Highlands went 8-3 and finished third at 7-2 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
The Cowboys visit Greyhound Stadium to take on Eastern New Mexico University at 7 p.m. today in the season opener for both teams.
Second-year ENMU coach Josh Lynn said the Cowboys pose a significant challenge.
“They’re going to be athletic,” he said. “They have a lot of new faces, but they’ll be athletic and big. They’ll probably be a lot like what they were last year.”
Highlands returns senior quarterback Emmanuel Lewis, who completed 61 percent of his passes and threw for 28 touchdowns with 12 interceptions a year ago and was second on the team in rushing (262 yards), and junior linebacker Jared Koster, a preseason NCAA Division II All-American.
“I think he’s a preseason (NCAA Division II) All-American,” Lynn said. “We thought last year he was probably one of the better linebackers we played against all year.”
The Hounds, meantime, were 3-7 in 2012 (2-6 Lone Star Conference). They’ve been picked for sixth in the now-seven-team LSC, but Lynn is hopeful his squad can do a little better than that.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “Going into the first game, I don’t know if we’re ready, but any time you get to this time of year the kids are ready to hit someone else.”
Highlands has beaten the Hounds each of the last two seasons. Prior to that, the teams hadn’t played since 2003.
Lynn said the teams should play every year as in-state rivals,
“It’s kind of a rivalry game, and it should be a rivalry game,” he said. “You look at this game, this is a game we need to win to get us moving in the right direction.”
Attempts to reach Young for comment were unsuccessful.
New Mexico Highlands (0-0) at ENMU (0-0)
7 p.m. today at Greyhound Stadium
• Radio: KSEL-FM 105.9.
• Coaches: New Mexico Highlands, Eric Young, 3rd year, 12-10; ENMU, Josh Lynn, 2nd year, 3-7.
• Last meeting: 2012, Highlands overcame an early 14-0 deficit for a 42-14 win over the Greyhounds at Las Vegas, N.M.
• Last week: It’s the season opener for both teams.
• Highlands players to watch: Emmanuel Lewis, QB, 6-3, 190, Sr.; Jared Koster, LB, 6-1, 210, Jr.; E.J. Woods, DB, 6-0, 215, Sr.; Zach Tapia, P/PK, 5-11, 190, Jr.
• Notes: Despite losing the last two, ENMU leads the all-time series 30-12. … The Hounds’ next two games will be Friday afternoon contests — next week at noon (MDT) against Sul Ross State in the Lone Star Football Festival at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and the following week at 2 p.m. against the Air Force junior varsity at Colorado Springs.
— Compiled by Dave Wagner