Eastern New Mexico University junior offensive linemen Marcus Smith sprints between cones during an agility drill Thursday inside Greyhound Arena. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — Getting ready for Eastern New Mexico University’s first practice of the football season, new head coach Mark Ribaudo was already faced with making adjustments.
Due to Thursday’s rainshower, most of the first workout for about 140 squad members took place in the lower gyms at Greyhound Arena, although the weather cleared long enough for the team to spend about 30 minutes outdoors on the men’s soccer practice field.
Despite the inconvenience, Ribaudo pronounced the first day’s efforts a success.
“We got a lot of work done, considering the circumstances,” said Ribaudo, who spent eight years as an assistant to the retired Bud Elliott, the last seven as defensive coordinator. “We need the rain — but we need to practice, too.
“It was a good first day. Considering the circumstances, it was a great first day.”
With the weather forecast a bit iffy over the next few days, it’s possible the Hounds may be spending more time inside. But Ribaudo said they’ll deal with it, if necessary.
“It’s going to be hard, but we need the work,” he said. “We’ll find a way, we’ll get something done.”
ENMU will spend its first few practices mainly in shorts and helmets. The first day for full pads is Monday.
The Greyhounds’ first game is on Aug. 25 — the earliest opener in school history — when they meet Central Arkansas in Little Rock, Ark.
Redshirt sophomore Michael Benton, the likely starter at quarterback for the Hounds, said he thought the players adjusted reasonably well to the move indoors.
“Everybody’s work ethic and enthusiasm was good,” said Benton, who is from Everman, Texas, in the Dallas area. “We got a lot done today.”
ENMU has posted seven consecutive winning seasons, including a 6-5 mark in 2004, but the Hounds haven’t reached the playoffs since moving up from the NAIA to NCAA Division II about 20 years ago.
“Coach Ribaudo set the bar high this spring, and got everybody’s expectations up,” said Benton, who is expected to replace two-year starter Steven Hinson at QB. “We’re pushing to get over that 8-3 hump (and make the playoffs).”
Benton is inheriting an experienced offense with returning players at most positions.
“I’ve got high expectations for myself,” he said. “At quarterback, you’ve got to be the vocal leader and also lead by example. I’ve been looking forward to this day since I came here two years ago.”