By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — Much to his chagrin, Eastern New Mexico University junior Donnell Jackson will have to be an assistant coach today when the Greyhounds end their Southwest Soccer Conference and regular-season schedule against rival West Texas A&M at the ENMU pitch.
One of several players remaining from the original ENMU squad in 2003, Jackson sustained a concussion in ENMU’s match at Northeastern State on Friday in Tahlequah, Okla., and sat out Sunday’s 1-1 tie at Missouri Southern.
He is hopeful of returning for the SSC post-season tournament next week — if the Hounds can nail down a berth in the event.
Had ENMU (4-9-3, 1-4-2 SSC) been able to win at Missouri Southern, it would have clinched the last of four tourney spots in the five-team league. Instead, to qualify they still need either a win today or a loss by the last-place Lions (3-9-3, 0-5-1) in one of their final two matches this weekend.
Jackson has seen the program develop into one which has been competitive in most matches this fall — six of the Hounds’ losses were by a single goal, including a couple in the final minutes, and each of their three ties came after they led well into the second half.
“This will be the hardest one to just watch,” Jackson said of today’s match with WT (6-6-3, 3-3-1), which tied the score with 12 seconds left in regulation and then beat the Hounds 3-2 in overtime earlier this month in Canyon, Texas. “I think this one will go right down to the wire again.”
Jackson, from Arlington, Texas, normally plays a defender position, but is probably the fastest player on the team. Playing in midfield during a match against Missouri Southern last month at ENMU, he used his speed to score his only goal of the season in a 1-0 win.
“Donnell adds something that we don’t otherwise have, and that’s speed,” ENMU men’s coach Carlos Elizondo said. “In 1-versus-1 situations, he’s the best defender out there; nobody’s going to beat him.”
Jackson came to ENMU for a tryout in the summer of 2004. This season, Elizondo noted, he’s had to nurse groin and hip injuries.
“We’ve been selective on when we’ve played him because of that,” Elizondo said.
Jackson has a double major at ENMU — business administration and communications — and plans to graduate in December 2008. He said he’d like to try to become a sports agent when he leaves school.
For now, though, he’s hoping the Hounds can extend their season beyond this week.
“I think we can compete with everybody in the (SSC),” he said. “We’ve done better than people thought we would.
“A lot of our freshman have stepped up, and we have good team chemistry this year. We’re only going to get better from here on out.”