By Dave Wagner
Clovis Media Inc
Josh Lynn expects his second year as Eastern New Mexico University’s football coach to run more smoothly than the first.
The Greyhounds struggled to a 3-7 mark in 2012 (2-6 Lone Star Conference), partly because of losing players to an NCAA eligibility investigation that hit the day before the season opener at New Mexico Highlands.
With all that behind them, and most of the coaching staff returning, things seemingly can only look up.
“We’ve carried over all our coaches except one,” said Lynn, a former ENMU tight end and assistant coach. “Having players be in the program for a year and learn our system, I think, is one of the biggest impacts for us trying to be successful.”
The Hounds have a final intrasquad scrimmage on tap at 10 a.m. Saturday at Blackwater Draw before opening the season at home on Sept. 7 against Highlands, the first of five non-conference contests on an 11-game slate.
Lynn understands why the Hounds were picked for sixth place in the now-seven-team LSC (Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word left after last year for the Southland Conference), but it goes without saying he’d be disappointed if they didn’t do a little better than that.
“I believe we’re sitting right where we need to be,” Lynn said. “I believe we’re a lot better than we were last year at this time.”
Three-year starter Wes Wood has graduated at quarterback, but redshirt sophomore Jeremy Buurma of Las Cruces is ready to step in.
“He’s definitely paid his dues,” Lynn said of Buurma, who injured his left shoulder early in the season at Angelo State and missed the rest of the year. “He’s going to be our starter. He’s mature; he always gets us in the right play.”
Sophomore Ryan Greene of Roswell is the projected backup.
The Hounds believe they are deep and experienced in the offensive line. The center is expected to be junior Maanaima Lang, who came to ENMU for the spring semester last year, while the left side of the line has seniors Kevin Smith at tackle and John Mendoza at guard and the right side includes sophomore Cody Urich at guard and either sophomore Colton Bowen or redshirt freshman Jordan Wade at tackle.
“I feel like everybody can play,” said Mendoza, who is from Concord, Calif. “I personally think we’re going to do a lot better than sixth in the conference. I believe once the season starts we’re going to be surprising a lot of people who think it’s the same old Eastern.
“I think this is the year it all turns around, but the years after this I think will show Eastern to really be something in this conference.”
Rounding out the backfield behind Buurma are junior Christian Long, the top returning rusher, at fullback with junior transfers Jordan Wells and E’lon Spight at the halfback positions. Another junior, wide receiver Jacob Johnson, is the top returning pass-catcher from a year ago while others who could help are junior Adrian Horton and Brad Beeston and 6-foot-5 freshman Aaron Johnson.
On defense, the Hounds return five starters in junior Seth Bailey and senior Donovan Amituanai at the inside linebackers, sophomore Michael Cowden at nose guard, senior Wade Bounds at right end and senior Willie Grant at cornerback. Bailey, from Texico, was second on the team in tackles last season with 84, including two sacks and five tackles for loss.
Rounding out the probable starters are redshirt junior Darralyn McCloud at left corner, juniors Kevin Reaves and Connor Brinton at the safeties, junior Ben Langford at left outside linebacker, senior Call Barnard of Melrose at right outside linebacker and either junior Chevrolet Mikaela or senior Malcolm Butters at left end.
“We’ve got some pretty good returners,” said McCloud, who is from Anderson, Ind., but prepped at Albuquerque’s Manzano High. “I think we’ll be really good.
“Everybody has a focus to be better every day. We just have to go out and give 110 percent on every play. If everybody does we they need to do, we can achieve some pretty high goals on defense.”
McCloud, who played his first two years in college for Lynn at New Mexico Military Institute, said he’s glad to be able to compete again.
“It was all right,” he said of sitting out last year. “I had fun being a good scout team member (in practice) so my teammates could be prepared going into games.”
ENMU will have a new punter and placekicker this season, with freshman Mitchell Cox and redshirt freshman Anthony Torres competing for either or both positions.
Lynn said the usual suspects figure to compete for the LSC championship this year. West Texas A&M is the preseason favorite and ranked in the top five nationally, although the Buffaloes will have to overcome the dismissal of coach Don Carthel last week for a reported NCAA rules violation.
“WT is pretty good,” Lynn said. “They have a ton (of talent) coming back.”
The Hounds have only four home games this season. Next year, Lynn noted, the league is expected to grow back to eight teams with the addition of McMurry University in Abilene, Texas.