By Dave Wagner
PORTALES — Ty Touchstone and Jonathon Solis were interested bystanders in Eastern New Mexico University’s football scrimmage on Saturday morning, but they won’t be on the sidelines for long.
Solis started at free safety two years ago as a junior but suffered a broken leg during a preseason scrimmage in 2002 and was replaced by Touchstone, who went on to lead the team in both tackles (109) and interceptions (four).
They are part of a crowded ENMU secondary this fall which is giving Hounds defensive coordinator Mark Ribaudo the pleasant problem of trying to find enough playing time to go around.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Solis, a Roswell Goddard graduate who transferred to Eastern from New Mexico Military Institute. “There’s pretty much four of us that could start, but only one of us is healthy right now.”
Touchstone, a junior from Lubbock Monterey, also knows it’ll be a challenge to keep the job.
“It’s kind of tough,” he said. “I’m coming off shoulder surgery (in February). Right now, (who plays is) just a matter of whoever is well enough.”
Solis sat out the scrimmage as a precaution with a pulled groin, while Touchstone has let his shoulder heal from the surgery for six months and is scheduled to be released for contact drills this week. Both expect to be ready for the season opener Sept. 6 at Adams State.
The defense allowed only one touchdown in the 90-minutes scrimmage that capped Eastern’s first full week of practice. Meantime, sophomore linebacker Brandon Barnes ran an interception back about 50 yards for an apparent TD on the first series of the day, but it was nullified by holding on the return.
ENMU coach Bud Elliott, whose staff was looking at primarily backups and newcomers, said things went well overall.
“I was pleased with the way (junior quarterback) Steven Hinson took the team down there early,” he said of an early 11-play drive. “I was disappointed they didn’t finish it off (with a score), but that showed we could do some nice things.”
Elliott said several of Hinson’s potential backups also played well, and he added that the No. 1 defense finished well after a slow start.
Solis was in a soft cast for about eight weeks after his injury last year. There was thought of bringing him back toward the end of the season, but Elliott elected to let him redshirt.
“Ty was doing real good,” Solis said. “There was no reason to come back early, and I didn’t want to affect the whole tempo of the defense.”
Touchstone admitted he was a little nervous when he realized he was going to fill in for Solis. But he intercepted two passes in the season opener against Western New Mexico, including one in the end zone to clinch a 27-20 victory, and that helped him settle in.
“Coach (Eric) Boll had me prepared just in case Jonathon did get hurt,” Touchstone said. “It was an advantage that I’d played (as a backup) my freshman year, but suddenly being the guy everyone counted on was tough.”