By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — The Eastern New Mexico University football team should have plenty of time to get ready for its first game.
Around 140 players reported Wednesday for the start of preseason workouts, which begin today. School doesn’t start until Aug. 28, with the Greyhounds scheduled for a Thursday night season opener (Sept. 7) at Northeastern State in Tahlequah, Okla.
Second-year coach Mark Ribaudo said players spent Wednesday working on “logistical things,” including physicals and registering for school for those who hadn’t already done that.
The Hounds will practice in helmets and shorts today, then add shoulder pads on Friday and Saturday before working out in full pads on Monday.
From that point, by NCAA rule they alternate between two-a-day practices and going one time per day.
“The reason for the rule is heat,” he said. “It’s never really been a factor here because the humidity is usually low, but for some of the teams in the Midwest and the East and the South, it’s really a concern.
“I don’t mind it at all; I think it’s a good thing. We’ll have plenty of practices to get done what we need to get done.”
The Hounds expect to have around 140 players in, including 77 who were in the program last spring. They return 14 players who were regular starters from last year’s 5-6 squad, including nine on defense.
Although they lost two-time All-LSC South wide receiver Derrick Hunter to graduation, most of the returning starters on offense are in the skill positions. The lone returning starter in the offensive line is senior tackle Marcus Smith.
Still, offensive coordinator Mike Howard said the Hounds expect to plug the gaps in the line.
“The question mark I have is at the center spot, but we have several candidates,” Howard said. “That’s still up in the air.
“We’re excited. We’ve got great kids who’ve bought into the program.”
Ribaudo said a number of players stayed in Portales and worked out on their own over the summer.
“Our kids have done more this summer on their own than any team since I’ve been here,” he said. “The strength of this team is probably the chemistry.”
ENMU has planned what Ribuado called four “preseason games,” intersquad scrimmages at Greyhound Stadium. The first is scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesday.