Editor's Note: Third in a series of articles previewing Western Athletic Conference football teams. Today, the Appeal takes a look at New Mexico State University, one of three new teams in the WAC.
By DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer
Hal Mumme made no bones about why he took the New Mexico State football job. He wanted to coach in the Western Athletic Conference.
"There are great coaches in the WAC," Mumme said at last week's Media Day event in Reno. "It (coaching in the WAC) is something I always aspired to do.
"The WAC is one of the most innovative (offensive) in the land. Look at the coaches throughout the years. They influenced the landscape of college football."
Mumme fits right in with the wacky WAC and its high-scoring offense. The Aggies will employ a spread offense, using four and five wide-receiver sets. It is the same offense that Mumme ran when he coached Tim Couch at the University of Kentucky.
Mumme even joked with the media that it would be interesting to see who blinked first (ran the ball) when New Mexico State played Hawai'i. There could easily be 100 passes thrown in that game, and that could turn into a four-hour marathon.
Mumme inherits a 5-6 team, and he faces a brutal schedule, opening with arch-rival and former WAC member UTEP in Las Cruces, followed by road games at Colorado and New Mexico before returning home to play powerful California of the Pac-10.
Triggering Mumme's new offense will either be Joey Vincent (5 for 14, 139 yards, 1 TD), who played sparingly last year, or Royal Gill, who comes to NMSU from Pima College in Idaho where he led the JC power to a top-five ranking and a bowl victory.
Mumme was impressed with both quarterbacks in the spring game when they threw 81 passes and had only one interception.
"Gill had a good spring," Mumme said. "He has great vision, a good arm and moves feet surprisingly well for a guy built like he is (6-5, 215)."
Mumme is hoping to have the No. 1 job decided within a couple of weeks. He is not a proponent of a two-quarterback system.
At running back, the Aggies return two starters, Muammar Ali (5-8, 169) and David Romaka (5-10, 215). Ali averaged 56 yards a game last season and Romaka, who played mostly fullback last season, averaged 4.5 a carry on 15 attempts and caught 10 passes for 119 yards and two scores.
"David is a tough guy; a good player with experience," Mumme said. "Muammar showed signs of brilliance (in the spring). He missed the last two or three days because of a shoulder injury."
Dawson Wilber (5-11, 205), a true freshman, and Justine Buries (6-0, 200) will be at fullback, and their playing time hinges on how many receivers are in the game or what set NMSU is in.
Wide receiver might be the deepest position on the Aggies' roster. Seven receivers who caught at least six passes - Tim Tolbert (28 catches, 420 yards, 3 TDs), Paul Dombrowski (28-392-4), Andrew Mooney (27-372-2), Brandon Allen (26-300-1), Jared Quick (20-307-1), Steven Harper (6-101-0) and Anthony Lonon (6-49-0) - return.
Dombrowski is a converted quarterback, but he undoubtedly will stay at receiver unless the Aggies suffer a rash of injuries.
"Paul is a proven wide receiver," Mumme said. "He played very well at receiver (during the spring)."
The offensive line is a little suspect, partially because of injuries and partially because Mumme and his staff only had 15 spring workouts to implement the new offense and the new blocking schemes involved.
"We have a long ways to go," Mumme said. "Fifteen workouts in the spring. It's not like a full season or even training camp. (Kyle) Smith and (Justin) Shopell couldn't even practice."
Smith (6-3, 265) returns at left tackle after missing the entire 2004 season with a shoulder injury. Shopell (6-3, 300) started 11 games last year, but missed spring ball because of hand surgery. Mike Martinez (6-4, 300) returns at center and Nick Cole (6-3, 348), who will play right guard, also returns. Alex Gottleib (6-3, 280) starts at right tackle. Adam Honaker (6-4, 295) and Kevin Cimador (6-4, 309) are the top reserves.
On defense, Mumme has Woody Widenhoffer, former defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the mastermind behind the "Steel Curtain" defense. He tutored such superstar linebackers as Lambert and Ham. The Aggies will employ a 3-4 defense.
You employ a 3-4 defense when you have a lot of talented linebackers. New Mexico State, which shifted to a 3-4 midway through the season, has six linebackers returning led by all-Sun Belt performer Jimmy Cottrell.
Cottrell (6-0, 244) was named to the Preseason Lombardi Watch List, is looking to become the first player in NMSU history to lead the team in tackles four years. Cottrell had 99 tackles, eight behind the line. He also forced two fumbles.
Dustin Sober (6-2, 215) had 47 tackles and three sacks and will start at one outside linebacker spot He'll be backed up by Brandon McKinney (6-3, 240), who had 16 tackles. Chris Sneed (6-1, 216), who didn't play last year, and Michael Brewer (6-3, 210) will be on the other side. John Howell (6-2, 232) finished last year with 29 stops.
Chase Spicer (6-5, 278) and Jared Naylor (6-2, 278) return at defensive end. Spicer had 37 stops and one sack. Naylor finished with 32 stops, including three behind the line. Sam Ford (6-3 295), who had seven tackles in a limited role last season, is the No. 1 guy at nose guard.
The secondary is led by second-team all-Sun Belt performer Matt Griebel (5-10, 180). He finished with 91 stops, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions last year. Eric Carrie (5-9, 200), Nick Cleaver (6-2, 200) or Alex Bernard (6-0, 190) will battle for the free safety spot.
At cornerback, Gill Byrd, whose dad played for the San Diego Chargers and currently coaches with the St. Louis Rams, returns at one side. He finished with 24 tackles and one interception. He'll be joined by fellow returnee Shukree Shabazz, who ended last year with 68 tackles and two interceptions.
Brad Evans will handle the punting (36.8) and the place-kicking. He takes over the latter job from the graduated Ryan Guardia.
Darrell Moody can be reached at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281