Freedom New Mexico: Liliana Castillo ENMU senior guard T.J. Cleavinger is playing through knee and shoulder problems this season, in hopes of the Greyhounds winning the LSC North championship.
Like a number of his cohorts on the offensive line, Eastern New Mexico University senior guard T.J. Cleavinger just keeps plugging along.
Cleavinger, a 6-foot-2, 310-pounder from Garland, Texas, underwent shoulder surgery in January. He injured a knee two weeks ago at Southwestern Oklahoma, but keeps playing.
“He’s running on experience and guts,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said.
Just part of the job.
On top of that, it’s taken a while to get comfortable in the Hounds’ no-stop, “NASCAR” offense, which keeps everyone moving.
“It’s really tough,” Cleavinger said. “It’s not necessarily that I get tired anymore, but it’s just playing with the pain.
“But everything’s clicking more. Calls (for blocking assignments) are easier to make, and sometimes we don’t even have to make them.”
Cleavinger and centers Ryan Torres and Tanner Streety have seen little practice time recently with injury concerns, but all are playing.
The Hounds (3-3, 2-1 Lone Star Conference North) hope to stay in the division race today in a 1 p.m. (MDT) clash against East Central (1-5, 1-1) at Ada, Okla.
Despite the Tigers’ record, ECU may be one of the most improved teams in the LSC — certainly on defense.
“They’ve been in almost every game,” Cleavinger said. “We’re going to have to play hard and get on them quick.”
After falling flat in a 21-10 loss at Southwestern, the Hounds bounced back last week to beat Central Oklahoma 49-31 at Blackwater Draw. Everybody is bunched between 2-0 (Northeastern State) and 1-2 (three teams) in the seven-team division.
“The North is like that,” Ribaudo said. “There’s some things (in the division) that’ll be decided in the last game, I promise you.”
East Central is coming off a pair of tough losses — 31-28 at Central Oklahoma and 27-13 at Incarnate Word, a game the Tigers led in the fourth quarter. Coach Tim McCarty is trying to build a program which has lost 19 of its last 20 games dating to 2008.
“Our kids are playing hard,” McCarty said. “Our offense has been inconsistent, and that’s something we’re trying to fix.
“Our defense is playing well. We’ve got some good, young athletes over there.”
McCarty said the Tigers have only three seniors and a handful of juniors, mostly transfers, on their two-deep.
The Tigers are big and physical on offense, Ribaudo said.
“They know what they want to do — they want to run the football,” he said. “They have good run schemes. They’re putting together a good team.”
Ribaudo said the Hounds are a bit healthier than last week, although senior cornerback Rodney Mitchell (hamstring) is listed as doubtful for the game.
ENMU (3-3, 2-1 LSC North)
at East Central (1-5, 1-1)
1 p.m. (MDT) today at Ada, Okla.
• Radio: KSEL-FM 105.9.
• Coaches: ENMU, Mark Ribaudo, 6th year, 21-39; East Central, Tim McCarty, 4th year, 10-27.
• Last meeting: 2007, the Greyhounds rolled to a 49-13 win over the Tigers at Blackwater Draw.
• Last week: ENMU dominated the second half in a 49-31 victory over Central Oklahoma at Greyhound Stadium. The Tigers led Incarnate Word 13-6 in the fourth quarter before falling 27-13 at San Antonio.
• ECU players to watch: Carlos Salava, 6-6, 315, Jr., OT; Rodney Picou, 6-5, 300, Jr., OT; Armonty Bryant, 6-6, 245, So., DE; Norris Wrenn, 6-0, 170, So., FS.
o Notes: ENMU has won eight of its last 10 against the Tigers and leads the all-time series 9-5. … This is actually McCarty’s second stint as Tigers head coach. He was at the helm from 2004-05, going 9-11, but endured a winless season last year in his return. … The Tigers’ only victory this season was a 23-0 shutout of Southwestern Oklahoma on Sept. 25 at Ada, Okla., in which ECU managed three field goals, a special teams touchdown and an interception return for a touchdown. It was East Central’s first shutout since its 1993 NAIA national championship team beat Arkansas-Monticello 27-0 in the second round of the playoffs. … ENMU senior S Tillman Stevens was named the D2Football.com national defensive player of the week after intercepting a career-high three passes in the second half, including one he returned 62 yards for a touchdown, and making 10 total tackles against UCO. Stevens is tied for the NCAA Division II with five intercptions — all in the last two games — and he ranks sixth nationally and first in the LSC in total tackles. … So far, home teams have gone 8-1 in North division play. The only road win was Northeastern State’s 26-24 victory at Southeastern Oklahoma, and that came on a last-second field goal.
o Quotable: “It’d be great on my last year to get a (championship) ring.” — ENMU senior guard T.J. Cleavinger, on the possibility of the Hounds winning the LSC North title.
— Compiled by Dave Wagner