Football: Host of first-time players to debut in season opener
The list of experienced kickers on the New Mexico football team is a short one: nobody.
In fact, the whole special teams unit will look entirely different for the Lobos: UNM will also have a first-time punter, place holder and special teams coordinator this season.
“The unknown is that we have a bunch of guys in a bunch of different spots that have never done it in a game before,” special teams coach Derek Warehime said. “We have a lot of question marks now, but can the guys do it? Do we have trust in them? Yeah — but it’s a completely different deal when you go out there for a football game.”
Junior Zack Rogers will have the honor of kicking field goals, and freshman Jason Sanders will handle kickoff duties. Neither player has attempted a kick in their collegiate careers. Last year’s kicker, James Aho, hit just 6 of 12 field goals but was perfect on point-after kicks, converting all 18 attempts.
The place-holding responsibilities fall on the shoulders of backup quarterback Quinton McCown, who was the backup holder last season.
“I feel pretty optimistic and pretty encouraged going in, but they have to do it in the game,” head coach Bob Davie said. “The reality is whoever kicks the ball for us has never kicked in a game before.”
Daily Lobo Thomas Romero-Salas stopped by The Howl to talk about the upcoming season.
Not only will Rogers be the field goal kicker, he’ll also be the Lobos’ punter. He’ll replace one of the most consistent players on UNM’s team in the past few years, Ben Skaer, who averaged 45.8 yards per punt last season. Skaer was also the Lobos’ place holder in the past two years.
As for punt returns, the Lobos are looking at several players to be returners. Wide receiver Dameon Gamblin is the most likely candidate for the job, Warehime said. Gamblin returned punts last year and averaged 4.9 yards on seven returns. UNM struggled on punt returns last year, gaining just 60 yards on 67 attempts.
“We still don’t know yet. That spot is pretty open,” Warehime said. “We got some talented guys. Damian Gamblin did it for us last year, and if we were playing right now he would be the punt returner.”
Wide receiver Carlos Wiggins brings the most continuity to the special teams group as the primary kickoff returner. The junior led the nation last year with 1,303 yards and three touchdowns, and he was ranked fifth nationally with 29.6 yards per return. Sophomore running back Teriyon Gipson will most likely be the off returner, Warehime said.
Warehime is not just UNM’s special teams coordinator: he’s the tight ends coach and the in-game run coordinator. Special teams became Warehime’s responsibility when former Lobo coach Coleman Hutzler left for the same position at Florida.
The transition for Warehime hasn’t been difficult, he said, because he’s used to being a positions coach and having to be the in-game run coordinator for offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse.
“It’ll be a little bit different on game day because in any kind of changing in coaching it’s different,” he said. “I’m enjoying it, I really am. One of my favorite things about coaching special teams is that you get to coach a bunch of different kids.”