In his own way, Carmen Messina played like a ferocious wolf on the football field in 2009, or maybe a bucking bronco.
Messina, a middle linebacker on the UNM football team, is the preseason favorite for the “Bronco” Nagurski Award, which is awarded to the nation’s best college defensive player by the Football Writers Association of America and the Charlotte Touchdown Club. The five finalists will be announced on Nov. 18, with the trophy banquet being held on Dec. 6 to announce the winner.
“It’s an honor to be named one of the greatest athletes in the country,” Messina said. “I am just blessed. It’s my second year being on the defense, so I know a lot more and being out there to make calls on my own.”
In 2009, Messina had 163 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception.
Messina said his high school playing days shaped him into the player he is now.
The Trail High School graduate from Addison, Ill., was a tailback in high school and led Trail with more than 3,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in 2007. He was a two-time MVP and all-academic during his sophomore season.
Redshirting as a freshman, Messina made his first start for UNM against Wyoming in 2008 and played on special teams for 12 games.
During the 2008 season, Messina had 37 tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles. But after leading the nation in tackles last year, Messina is now a cornerstone of UNM’s program, said UNM special teams and linebackers coach Toby Neinas.
He said Messina will continue to excel as a dominant force on the football field.
“We are thrilled that one of our athletes gets recognition,” Neinas said. “Carmen made a lot of stops last year, so we hope that he will get on quite a few lists.”
Neinas said Messina works tirelessly regardless of whether he is an award candidate.
“I think Carmen is working really hard now,” Neinas said. “How he is going to try to elevate his game from a really successful first year as a starter. How much improvement he will be able to make basically will be in some of the fundamental work that he is able to accomplish this summer.”
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Admittedly, even though he appreciates the recognition, Messina said winning the award isn’t his main focus.
“We have enough pressures as a team to come out and to improve all over, to not make the same mistakes as we did last season and there is enough pressure ahead without worrying about this award,” he said.
That doesn’t mean Messina doesn’t want to win the award.
“I definitely am going to try,” Messina said. “ I am going to give it 110 percent all the time, every time and let everyone judge from there.”
But regardless of what happens, Neinas said it’s still the beginning of a promising football career for Messina.
“He will be one of the first guys talked about on scouting reports and by opponents,” Neinas said. “He is one of the big pieces of this defense. We have a lot of talent but his skill is standing out.”