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Hounds start practice

The heat was about the only thing Mark Ribaudo would have changed about Saturday.

The Eastern New Mexico University coach was happy with just about everything else that transpired during the two-and-a-half hours of practice to lead off the upcoming football campaign, which will be his sixth as head coach.

“The older guys picked up right where they left off in the spring,” Ribaudo said. “Testing this morning went well. We had some younger guys who tested through the roof.”

The Greyhounds finished 3-8 last season, but there is plenty of cause for optimism around ENMU’s camp.

The most obvious is in the schedule. The squad plays in the Lone Star Conference North Division this year, a division much less top-heavy than the LSC South. Four LSC South teams — Abilene Christian, Tarleton State, Texas A&M Kingsville — finished in the Top 25 poll and spent most of the season there.

Ribaudo wasn’t happy with one of the tradeoffs, however. The schedule, which starts with a 6 p.m. Aug. 28 home game against Southern Nazarene, does not include the Wagon Wheel rivalry game with West Texas A&M. Keeping that game was a battle Ribaudo fought, but lost to LSC Commissioner Stan Wagnon.

The other change is in the roster. Though the offense is led by sophomore quarterback Wes Wood, many of the pieces around him on offense and defense are in their junior or senior years.

“We feel really good,” said cornerback Rodney Mitchell, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound senior who tied for seventh in Division II with seven interceptions and broke up an LSC-high 21 passes. “We’re older and that isn’t something we’ve got to say for our football team before.

“We’ve got a winner at quarterback. If our offense plays well, and our defense plays well, we’ll be pretty good in the North.”

Ribaudo admits the Greyhounds are thin on the offensive line and thin in the secondary. But he said between Mitchell, Tillman Stevens and Tavius Bigelow, the secondary should be one of the LSC’s best.

“They’re really fast,” Ribaudo said, “so we feel really good about manning them up.”