Freedom New Mexico: Clarence Plank ENMU senior strong safety Tillman Stevens covers a kick Thursday during special teams practice. The Greyhounds host Texas A&M-Commerce at 2 p.m. today.
After 11 years in the South Division since the Lone Star Conference went to divisional play in 1999, Eastern New Mexico University’s football team is set to make its North Division debut today.
The Greyhounds could get themselves off to a quick start with a win over defending champion and North preseason favorite Texas A&M-Commerce at Blackwater Draw.
“They’re the (defending) division champions, the way we look at it,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “The road through the North goes through Commerce.”
The Lions (1-2) did it the hard way last year, losing their first five games — including a 76-56 thumping at Blackwater Draw — before recovering to sweep though the North, its first conference/division title since 1990 and first five-game winning streak since 1992.
Based on early-season results, this year’s contest isn’t likely to resemble that one. The Lions are averaging just 14.3 points so far and were shut out last week at Texas A&M-Kingsville, although that game was played in far-from-ideal weather conditions.
“We’ve just got to play like this is a championship game,” said ENMU senior strong safety Tillman Stevens, second this season in the LSC with 33 tackles. “They’re not going to just come in here and lay down.”
Coming off a bye week, Ribaudo said ENMU (1-2) was able to regroup after back-to-back losses, but he expects a tough test from the Lions.
“They’re an athletic team; they’ve played in some tough conditions — extreme heat in the Cotton Bowl (in a loss to Angelo State) and the muck in Kingsville,” he said. “I think they’re better than last year, from what we’ve seen on film.”
Picked for fourth in the division, the Hounds believe they can do better than that.
“I know I’m not the only one here with a chip on their shoulder,” Stevens said. “We’ve got to use this week to make a statement.”
The Hounds hope to have offensive co-ordinator Mike Howard back this week. He underwent triple bypass surgery in Lubbock on Aug. 29.
Howard returned to practice last week on a limited basis, using a golf cart to get around. Ribaudo said Howard has made significant progress, adding he’s hoping Howard will be able to call plays today from the press box.
“He’s quite far ahead of the game,” Ribaudo said. “Even his doctors are saying that.”