Football still in Portales High grad’s blood

Courtesy photo Portales native Raul Anaya played two years at quarterback for the New Mexico Razorbacks. He now plays linebacker for the New Mexico Crush.

After more than two decades playing football, Portales native Raul Anaya said he’s done after this year.

An all-state quarterback and safety at Portales and a two-year starter at linebacker at New Mexico State, Anaya plays for the New Mexico Crush, who will play the Curry County Cats on Saturday in a semi-pro football game at Leon Williams Stadium in Clovis.

A father of three, the 1996 Portales High graduate is operations manager at DPW Solar in Albuquerque.

• How did you get involved in semi-pro football? Once college football was over, I was burnt out and was pretty much done with football. An old coach from New Mexico State was living here and playing on a team called the Razorbacks. He asked me to play, I said no for two years then finally went out and played quarterback for them for two years. We went undefeated in New Mexico for those two years, but lost to Utah and Phoenix in the Far West National Playoffs. After the loss to Phoenix, I decided to start the Crush as a business adventure and tried to make it semi-pro by offering a stadium and possibly pay if we were to generate money. We were never able to turn a profit, so were unable to pay the guys. The reason I started the team was due to the talent we had here in Albuquerque, we were hoping it would be a stepping stone for former college or high school athletes to get to the next level. It actually did get a couple of guys to arena football, so we are happy it helped someone. Just to note, our starting defense consisted of all but two former Division I players; we were good enough to go on and win the Far West National Championship by beating Utah and California.

• How many years have you played? This will be my sixth year playing. I retired for two years due to getting my masters in business administration from the University of New Mexico. Didn’t have time to play or practice. I also broke my leg in the national championship game that we lost in our second year.

• What position(s) do you play? I played quarterback for two years, then when I started the Crush, I moved over to strong safety. I have been on defense since. I am now an outside linebacker (losing my speed :)

• What is the draw of playing semi-pro football? It certainly can’t be the money? I ask myself the same thing. Here I am with a family, great paying job, why would I be playing? You definitely have to call it love. We all just love playing the game. Something we grew up playing and we enjoy going out there. Behind it all, it is probably the friendships you form. We have about eight teams here in Albuquerque, and I am friends with a lot of the players; even the teams in Roswell, Las Cruces and Farmington. It’s just a bunch of guys who have an outlet from their everyday lives. I will tell you this, I don’t think I would be in the shape I am in now if it wasn’t for football. It doesn’t take too much time from your family, we practice once a week and then play on the weekends. It is more of a hobby than anything; kind of like playing golf, except you are allowed to hit someone. So I guess it is all the little things that add up: Friends, staying in shape, love of the game, etc…

• What is the best lesson you learned playing sports in Portales? In small towns, there is a sense of being a part of a community. Here in Albuquerque, you sometimes get lost in the crowd. Playing sports in Portales really helped me learn how a team can make an impact. I use the same concept with work and use teamwork as the foundation of our operations.

• What is your fondest memory(ies) playing sports as a youth in Portales? The coaches that coached me. I have a busy life with work and family, and it is truly amazing how these volunteer coaches make the time to spend teaching kids how to play sports. They may not have been perfect, but they had the heart and passion for the kids. I hope I can make the time to help coach one day.

• In high school? The coaches and players. The coaches were great mentors in life and the players will always be lifelong friends. My fondest memory of a game would be beating Artesia my senior year.

• Who was your favorite teacher in your years in the Portales school system? I had lots of great teachers, but my mom was probably my favorite teacher (fifth grade). My parents taught us to value our education; I now have an engineering degree and an MBA. Although they are probably shaking their heads asking where they went wrong since they both have their PHDs.

• What do you think about the state of Division I football in New Mexico? Both UNM and NMSU seem to really be struggling. When I played, we were able to beat the number 21 team in the nation (Arizona State) and had a decent year. The same with the Lobos, they had great years with Rocky Long. But then they both got rid of their coaches, and the teams never recovered. It is hard to recruit athletes to New Mexico. It starts with building tradition and both Coach (Tony) Samuel and Rocky were doing just that. But it takes time, and it seems like we (the fans) don’t give them enough credit and time to get the job done. We start criticizing once something goes wrong. So to me, it starts with the fans. In most big colleges, they sell out games regardless if their team is doing well or not. That type of commitment from the fans helps keep the pressure off of the coach and the AD to win. It helps them worry about bringing in strong athletes on and off the field instead of having to deal with the negative pressure. We as New Mexicans need to learn how to be loyal and patient with our sporting teams.

• Best high school football player you played with? Brian Aguilar. Had the speed, athleticism, and toughness to play any sport.

• Best high school football player you played against? Obviously (Lovington’s) Brian Urlacher. We graduated the same year, so we played against each other throughout high school in all three sports.

• Best college football teammate you played with? I would say Kenton Keith. He played in the NFL and set some records in the Canadian League as a running back. Had a few more teammates play in the NFL like my roommate Tony Wragge and friend Sadiq Shabaaz.

• Best college player(s) you played against? Brian Urlacher and Todd Heap. Two great athletes that are still doing great in the NFL. When we beat Arizona State, Todd Heap was the tight end and I had the honor of playing him man-to-man most of the game. He only had two catches on me, but the real reason why was due to the pressure we were able to put on the QB that game. Brian was a beast on the field, he played safety and would knock a players head off. They also moved him to wideout and would throw a pass up in the air and he would out jump our DBs. He scored twice, but we still beat them.

• I’m sure you played against a few NFL players. Name a few, and just how good where they? Brian Urlacher, Todd Heap, Ricky Williams, Quincy Carter, Adam Archuleta. When you play against players like that, the most impressive thing about them was their speed. You have to be fast to make it into the NFL and every one of those guys had speed. Ricky Williams had speed and power. The guy scored and embarrassing six TDs against us. We lost 63-31.

• Who was your sports hero growing up? I grew up watching Joe Montana. I liked how professional he was and how he kept quite and played the game. He respected the game, his teammates, and his opponents. Kind of the way I play.

• Favorite team? The Bears. I started watching football in 1985, and since New Mexico doesn’t have a team, I obviously went with the best at the time. Finally was able to watch a game this year. They lost to the Redskins.