By Dave Wagner
Jeff Howard admitted he was disappointed but not surprised when Eastern New Mexico University was picked for fourth place in the seven-team Lone Star Conference South Division preseason poll, released this week by the conference office.
“It’s always the same every year,” said Howard, a Portales High grad and third-year starting linebacker for the Greyhounds. “It’s not one of those things you’re waiting for, because we’re usually (picked to be) in the middle of the pack. But it’s fun because we always end up catching some teams off-guard.”
The Hounds were 6-5 last season, the program’s sixth consecutive winning campaign, but dropped their final three games. They went 2-4 in the South.
Defending champion Texas A&M-Kingsville earned 17 of 21 first-place votes and was a solid favorite in the poll of coaches, sports information directors and media, with Midwestern State and Abilene Christian following the Javelinas.
Bud Elliott, beginning his 11th season as ENMU’s coach, said the Hounds should have a solid team led by a defense which features nine returning starters.
“I think it’s going to be a battle,” he said of the race. “There are some teams that are going to be pretty good, and I think we’re one of them.
“We just need to go out and play each game as hard as we can. If we’re good enough, we’ll get there.”
Tarleton State earned the nod in the North Division, receiving 12 of 18 first-place votes. The Texans are trying for their third consecutive North title.
ENMU players report to camp on Aug. 3, with practice starting two days later. The Hounds open the season at home on Aug. 28 against a new opponent in Central Arkansas.
“Our opener is really going to be good for us,” Elliott said. “That’s a team that’s been a top 25 football team a lot of times. They’ll have good athletes — they’ll have athletes similar to Kingsville.”
Howard, who led ENMU in tackles last season en route to first-team All-South honors, is looking forward to the challenge.
“It should be fun,” he said. “I think we’ll catch some people off-guard because they’re not going to have high expectations of us. But I think we’ll have one of the better defenses we’ve had around here.”