By Dave Wagner
So much for New Mexico State University redshirt freshman and 2002 Clovis High graduate Nathan Nuttall easing into his college football career.
Nuttall is a leading contender for the starting strong safety position for NMSU, which opens its 2003 schedule on Aug. 30 at the University of Texas.
“‘Hello, Nathan, you get to start against Texas,’” Nuttall joked of the possibility. “But I’m excited; I cannot wait. We’re a big underdog, but we can’t change the schedule so you might as well go out and play.”
NMSU assistant athletic director/media relations Sean Johnson said Nuttall, who as a running back led the Wildcats to a 13-0 record and the Class 5A state championship in 2001, played well during spring drills and has put himself in a strong position.
“He’s definitely battling for the strong safety job,” said Johnson, noting that NMSU lost all four starters in the secondary from last season. “Right now, he’s listed as No. 1 on the depth chart.”
Nuttall, who said the other three starters in the secondary could be sophomores, knows he still has to nail down his starting spot when practice resumes in August.
“It’ll be just as tough in the fall as it was in the spring,” he said. “I ended the spring No. 1, but I have to have the mindset that I still have to earn it.”
He said having a redshirt season at NMSU game him a chance to get acclimated in college.
“I’m very glad I did it,” Nuttall said. “School-wise and everything, it helped me out so much.”
The Aggies went 7-5 in 2002, including 5-1 in the Sun Belt Conference. They lost at North Texas in the regular-season finale, costing them the conference championship and a bowl berth.
This year’s game against North Texas will be televised by ESPN on Nov. 25, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and could well be for the Sun Belt title again.
“I’m guessing North Texas would probably be our biggest competition,” Nuttall said.
The Aggies’ demanding non-conference schedule also includes games at Oregon State on Sept. 13 and at Arkansas on Nov. 15.
Baskett, Ramirez in UNM’s plans — CHS grad Hank Baskett and Muleshoe’s Danny Ramirez should see increased roles for the New Mexico Lobos in the 2003 football season.
The 6-foot-4 Baskett played in seven games as a wide receiver last fall. He caught two passes, both for touchdowns, in a 45-44 overtime loss at Utah State on Oct. 19.
“Hank had a good spring, and put himself in the rotation as a wide-out,” UNM offensive coordinator Dan Dodd said. “He’s what you’re looking for in a wide-out. We’re real pleased with him.”
In UNM’s spring game on April 19, Baskett caught one pass for 20 yards and scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery in the end zone to help the Silver team defeat the Cherry squad 26-6.
Meantime, Ramirez filled in at tailback in the spring game for Cherry after Roswell’s DonTrell Moore went down with an ankle injury on his first carry of the day. He finished with eight carries for 26 yards and one pass reception for five yards.
“Danny got to play quite a bit,” Dodd said. “We would probably list him No. 3 right now at tailback.”
Ramirez, who will be a sophomore next fall, led Muleshoe to a 14-1 record and the Class 3A state semifinals in 2001. He spent most of last fall playing scout team defense in practice, but Dodd said he was moved to offense for the final three weeks of the season.
“He’s kind of put himself in a position to travel (on road trips),” Dodd said. “If he’s willing to contribute on special teams, he could be a real valuable guy for us.”
Dodd said another Clovis alum, tight end Zach Williams, is likely done with football after undergoing two knee surgeries. Williams would have been a senior in eligibility.
“He’s a great young man, and we appreciate what he’s done for us,” Dodd said.
Riley No. 4 at Texas Tech — Former Muleshoe quarterback Lincoln Riley came out of Red Raiders spring football as the No. 4 quarterback on the depth chart.
Riley, who has just completed his first year at Tech, did not participate in football during the fall. But he said after watching a couple of Muleshoe games in the fall, he decided he missed the sport and walked on for coach Mike Leach in the second semester.
“I had a pretty good spring,” Riley said. “I’m behind three guys who’ve been there for a while. I’m just learning the system and trying to adapt to college football.”
Senior B.J. Simmons is the Raiders’ projected starter in 2003 after spending three seasons backing up Kliff Kingsbury, who was drafted in the sixth round last month by the New England Patriots. Junior Sonny Cumbie and Hereford sophomore Cody Hodges are in competition to be Simmons’ backup, Riley said.
He’s trying to be patient, hoping his opportunity comes down the line.
“If there aren’t any injuries, I’ll probably redshirt (next year),” Riley said. “I picked up on the system pretty well. It’s not as complicated as you might think it would be.”