By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
he Eastern New Mexico University football team is hoping to prove the pundits wrong.
Picked for last place in the seven-team Lone Star Conference South Division, players began checking in on Saturday for Monday’s first practice session. ENMU opens the season Aug. 25 against NAIA member Bacone College at Muskogee, Okla.
Third-year coach Mark Ribaudo is confident the Greyhounds have the talent to do well this season.
“Nobody really knows our team,” he said of the conference poll. “It’s kind of unscientific. We think we’ve got a pretty talented football team with the potential to win games.”
Around 125 players reported on Saturday, Ribaudo said, about half of whom were in the program last year.
The Hounds have areas of concern in the offensive and defensive lines and in the secondary, Ribaudo said.
“Our o-line has to come together,” he said. “We lost our whole left side to career-ending injuries (in 2006) and our right guard (Kevin Parker) had a season-ending injury.
“I’m expecting our secondary to make big strides this year. The big questions are (whether) our defensive front and our offensive front come around for us.”
Those types of things are hard to overcome at the Division II level, he added. When the Hounds shared the South title in 1999 and 2000 during Ribaudo’s years as the defensive coordinator, he said they were relatively injury-free.
“In Division II, you’re always four or five injuries away from shutting it down,” Ribaudo said. “You need a lot of things to fall into place. You need to be injury-free, you need to have a little luck and you need to have players unexpectedly step up.”
Redshirt junior defensive end Kyle Wilson, a third-year starter, said the preseason poll serves as inspiration.
“I like being the underdog,” said Wilson, who is from Seagraves, Texas. “I’m just ready to play and show other teams that we can be a good team, too.”
As one of six returning starters on defense, Wilson knows he’ll have to provide leadership.
“I know coach Ribaudo is going to expect a lot out of me because I have some experience,” Wilson said. “But I’ve been a leader since coming from high school, so I’m used to it.”
The Hounds have three intrasquad scrimmages on tap at Greyhound Stadium, the first of which is on Saturday.
Others are scheduled for Aug. 15 and 18. All begin at 9:30 a.m. and are open to the public.
Coach: Mark Ribaudo, 3rd year (8-13).
2006 record: 3-7 (1-5 Lone Star Conference South).
Players reporting Saturday: 125.
Returning players: 65, including redshirts.
Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense.
Season opener: Aug. 25 at Bacone (Okla.).