The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

ENMU seeks bounceback

 

September 1, 2019

Peter Stein

Eastern New Mexico head football coach Kelley Lee gives his team instructions following Saturday morning's practice at Greyhound Stadium in Portales. The Hounds kick off their 2019 season this Saturday at home against Missouri S&T.

PORTALES — If Labor Day weekend doesn’t make you think about college football, it’s probably a good bet you’re not a football fan.

Even one of the NCAA’s several hundred college football teams, Eastern New Mexico, was thinking about watching some other college football games after Saturday morning’s practice at Greyhound Stadium.

For the Greyhounds themselves, the fun hasn’t quite started. But Saturday they were just a week away from stepping out onto that same turf field for their season opener against Missouri S&T.

What kind of season it will be depends on a lot of small and a few major factors, like any football team. Good health, team chemistry, smart decisions, sound play in all three phases, are the general factors. For Eastern specifically, an 8-2 team that flirted with a Lone Star Conference championship in 2017 only to finish on the not-so-fun side of .500 (5-6) last season, this ’19 campaign seems like it could break either way.

They hope, of course, for more of the former scenario. And they think there is potential to bring that kind of season about.

“I’m pretty pleased with where we’re at,” ENMU third-year head coach Kelley Lee said. “We seem to come out and get better every day, which excites you. If you continue to do that day in and day out, by the end of the year you’ll be pretty good.”

“I think we’ve had a good camp,” Eastern’s redshirt senior quarterback Wyatt Strand said. “Today was a really good practice; I think because it was kind of cool this morning we were practicing good. I think it’s coming along good; the defense is coming together, offensive line is doing good. So I’m pretty satisfied with everything we have right now, we’re just trying to get better.”

“I tell everyone, this is probably the most talented team I’ve been a part of over the course of four years that I’ve been playing here,” redshirt senior defensive back Charles Countee said. “We brought in some JUCOs, some great new transfers, freshmen. ... We’ve got a great quarterback in Wyatt Strand on offense, and over here on defense we’ve got some veterans.”

It all begins with Strand, the rock-steady quarterback heading into his final season of college football. The 6-1, 200-pound Logan High graduate comes off a balanced 2018 season in which he completed 56-of-109 passes for 621 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 632 yards and seven touchdowns on 169 carries. Balance, in fact, has been Strand’s hallmark for the past three years. Since 2016, he has appeared in all 33 games the Hounds have played, throwing for 2,709 yards and 18 touchdowns, and rushing for 2,012 yards and 23 scores in that span.

Having him back is an obvious asset for the Greyhounds’ passing and rushing attacks.

“Yeah, it’s nice,” Lee said. “He’s started 32 games, so that makes you feel really good when you’ve got a quarterback with that much experience. And he’s playing his best football ever, so that should bode well for us.”

A player with such experience is counted on to be a leader, a role Strand relishes.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been very blessed to have. I’m very thankful to be the leader of this team, trying to set a good example for the rest of the team.”

Strand will have help on the field. Johnny Smith and Paul Terry are names that should ring a bell with Eastern fans, and each running back is a senior this season — Smith one of the redshirt variety.

Quality skill players abound and the offensive line is solid. There are some question marks on that side of the ball, but nothing too concerning for Lee.

“Offensively, we’ll have more new faces,” he said, “but I think we’ve upgraded talent at a couple spots.”

Countee is among the defensive stalwarts, one whose leadership will be key with the graduation of five-year linebacker Brad Hardin. But the overall unit is deep, even without Hardin.

“Defensively, we’ve got seven starters back,” Lee noted.

The special teams is no slouch, either.

“We return a great kicker/punter in Tyler Vargas,” Lee said, “an all-conference deep snapper in Roope Henry. I think we’ve got some pretty dynamic return men.”

With all they have going for them, the Greyhounds should be able to climb back over .500. But they want more than that.

“Hopefully we won’t lose a game this year, try to make the playoffs,” Strand said. “I think we can be really good.”

 
 

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