Clovis grad Baskett Senior Bowl bound

New Mexico’s Hank Baskett will play for the South team in the 2006 Senior Bowl on Saturday (AP photo)

By Jesse Wolfersberger: CNJ staff writer

Clovis High School graduate Hank Baskett III has a lot of running in front of men with clipboards and stopwatches in his future.

The University of New Mexico all-conference receiver will play in the 55th annual Senior Bowl Jan. 28 in Montgomery, Ala., and has accepted an invitation to the NFL draft combine Feb. 22-28 in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Ind.

Baskett said the events present pressure, but he is not worried about the results.

“You’re kind of treated like a piece of meat,” said Baskett, who graduated in December with a business degree. “They watch your every move on and off the field, but I’m used to that. Even playing at Clovis High School you always had people watching you.”

Baskett said he has been training hard since the season ended.

“I’ve been working out 11 times a week,” he said. “It’s going good, I’m on a strict diet, I’m feeling good about myself and my (40-yard dash) times are going down.”

Baskett caught 67 passes for 1,071 yards and nine touchdowns his senior season for the Lobos.

For his career, Baskett is third in UNM history in receiving yards (2,288), fourth in receptions (140), and second in receiving touchdowns (17).

The Senior Bowl is more than an all-star game for college seniors. The game and the preceding week of practices are a showcase for potential NFL players to try and improve their draft stock.

Senior Bowl media relations director Vic Knight said the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Baskett is exactly the type of player the bowl looks for.

“It’s a game for the best college seniors in the country, and Hank certainly fits that criteria,” Knight said. “He’s got excellent size and great hands. We were on him early in the year.”

Knight said he expects more than 700 NFL coaches and scouts to be in Mobile this week watching and meeting prospects.

The game itself is coached by NFL staffs. The North team will be coached by the Tennessee Titans’ coaching staff and Baskett’s South squad is coached by the San Francisco 49ers’ staff.

“It’s a big opportunity,” said Baskett, who played mostly quarterback in high school. “These are the people who will be deciding to draft you or not.”

Of this season’s NFL all-pros, 26 are former Senior Bowl participants including Carson Palmer, LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander, Chad Johnson, and former UNM standout Brian Urlacher, who was named defensive MVP of the 2000 Senior Bowl.

Knight said Urlacher is a good example of a player who used the Senior Bowl to improve his draft status.

“It made a huge difference in where he was taken,” Knight said. “He played different positions at New Mexico, but he was projected as a linebacker. What he did was took that projection and made it a reality in the Senior Bowl.”

Knight said in addition to players’ on-field performance, they get a chance to meet NFL coaches and vise versa.

“Your first impression is usually a lasting one,” Knight said. “Someone like a Bill Parcells might meet Hank and like him. Who knows?”

Baskett said he is excited to get back onto a football field, having last played in mid-November.

“I’m just ready to go catch some balls and make some plays,” said Baskett, who also excelled at track and basketball at Clovis.

Baskett and center Ryan Cook will represent the University of New Mexico in the game, the first time two Lobos have been named to the Senior Bowl in the same year.

Baskett and Cook are the first players chosen from UNM since fullback Jarrod Baxter in 2002. Baskett is the second receiver in UNM history to be chosen to the Senior Bowl. The first was Terrance Mathis, who played for the Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers in 1990-2002.