Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chris Williams

Spoke to Chris Williams this morning from Miami Dolphins practice.

I think Chris has a legitimate shot to make this team. First off, he was picked up by a Bill Parcells-led organization. That means something. Parcells doesn't just pick guys up, he picks guys up who he thinks can contribute. He's made a living acquiring players under the radar. So, I think in this respect, it works well for Chris.

Also, look at the roster. The team has two WAC guys who have been decent contributors. Former Aggie defensive back Courtney Bryan is entering his third year on the team and former Hawaii standout Davone Bess had a solid rookie season last year. He caught over 50 balls and was a starter at certain points. Again, we're talking about an undrafted free agen from a pass-happy system. Very similar circumstances as Williams.

The one thing working against Chris is his size. He is small. This doesn't necessarily mean he will be ineffective, but the likelihood of injuries does increase. He got hurt some in college and the size and speed of these guys at the NFL level just gets more intense. I think he could be a kick and punt returner. He's a playmaker once the ball's in his hands and he can make people miss. And, as long as he's healthy, he'll possess good speed.

A consistent receiver in the NFL? I don't see it. But I do see someone who could be a difference maker. A big-play guy, if you will. Get him in there, throw him a screen and he can go. But it all comes down to opportunity. That's the key with all these guys. Will they get a chance to take the field, live through some mistakes and make a difference? That's the biggest factor of them all.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Highs, lows

Lets look back at the 2008-09 sports year at NMSU and reflect on some of the year's high points, and some of the low ones as well

Aggie baseball team pounds 10 home runs, yes 10 home runs, in a 28-2 win over Chicago State:
I honestly couldn't even believe it when I was looking through the year's archives at the office tonight. 10 homers? I remember putting it in the paper, but I kind of forgot about it and can't believe a bigger deal wasn't made of it. Honestly. Leo Aguirre hit two bombs. As did Mike Sodders. Oh, as did Bryan Marquez. Steven Anderson, Chuck Howard, Nate Shaver and Max Taylor got in the act as well. Many of these guys weren't even regulars during the year. It was a school record for a team that belted tons of homers in 2009. Just for the record, in another game this year, first baseman Ben Harty went deep four times. This team just went yard.

NMSU football cancellation of Week 1 game against Nicholls State:
I was ready for some football. And I'm sure some fans out there were too. To have Week 1 canceled was deflating at the time. The Aggies ended up going to Nebraska for their opener instead two weeks later and got steam rolled.

Aggie football team winning at UTEP:
The year was still fresh and the Aggies won at UTEP. The Miners were without their starting QB Trevor Vittatoe, who got hurt early on. Marcus Anderson scored three TDs and the defense forced some key turnovers. Chase Holbrook tossed five TDs. Hope was in the air.

Aggie football team winning at Nevada:
Had to bring this one up, probably because I was there. Hell, it was definitely because I was there. NMSU lights up the Wolf Pack in one of the craziest football games I had ever seen in person. The Aggies went for it three times on fourth-and-20. In the first half. Defensive lineman Oren Long returned a fumble in the late in the game, 83 yards for a touchdown. Wes Neiman made an insane catch in the second quarter, a twisting and tumbling grab in the back-right corner of the endzone. Marquel Colston got into a fight with a Nevada ROTC student. Lets see, what else happened? Mumme did the helicopter with his towell. Holbrook tossed three TDs and the defense rocked and rolled Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick, who I praised to the sky going into the game. The Aggies squashed him like a pancake and win 48-45 in a good old western shootout.

The Aggie basketball team was up and down all year. Well, that could be an understatement. Just take a snapshot of conference play. High: Sweeping first road trip of year - at Fresno State and at San Jose State. Coming home and then back out on the road - at Boise State and at Idaho. Swept by them. Return home, win two, fall at Utah State and then win, on ESPN, at Nevada. Crazy. Win three straight after that before falling twice, one a dispirited effort against Boise State at home. Win the finale, go to the WAC tourney, beat Boise State, and fall by just one to Utah State, the No. 1 seed. You know what, looking at it this way, there were more highs than lows. But it sure felt like a roller coaster.

Aggie golf team winning the WAC tournament last season:
This is becoming a recurring theme folks. Scott Lieberwirth is bringing in some talent. They lose there best player, Clovis native Travis Reid, who carried them in the conference tournament last year. But look out for Gaston De La Torre, who will be looking to build off a solid freshman campaign.

40 years at the Pan Am:
The basketball history at NMSU speaks for itself.

Football team getting blasted at home by Boise State:
This game was an embarrassment. NMSU did not come out to play what-so-ever despite Mumme's insistence on running the ball. The Aggie backfield was J.J. McDermott at QB and Donovan Roberts at running back most of the night. It was so strange. The game still feels like a weird dream. More like a nightmare for Aggie fans.

Mumme gets canned:
This was a low for Aggie football. The team needs to be successful and firing a coach is never a good sign. It means the team stunk. Mumme's team often showed flashes of promise but were wildly inconsistent. There was some talent, particularly on offense. I still think Chris Williams can return kicks and punts in the NFL. He's in Dolphins' camp by the way. But, ultimately, it was a make or break year in football for the Aggies and they broke.

Aggie volleyball team advancing in NCAA tournament:
This really should be higher in my entry. This team just keeps on winning and building confidence. Really, what they've done is set a standard of winning that everyone within the program feels they have to live up to. That's not easy to do. NMSU won in the NCAA tourney, which was groundbreaking for the program. Next year will be a rebuilding one, to a degree. But, I expect the team to remain very competitive and surprise many. Look out for Whitney Woods, who is primed for a big campaign.

James Hall Jr. singing with the Aggies:
Signing the local kid was a good move.

Swimming and diving team fares well in the WAC:
The program finished third in the conference meet and the reality is that McKinley Boston did not stop talking about Rick Pratt and company during an interview the other day. Pratt won WAC coach of the year, the team fared well. It's definitely a high point.

Lots more high points than low ones. Maybe I'm an optimist. I'm sure some would disagree.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Derrick Richardson

Just got off the phone with former NMSU safety Derrick Richardson, who's battling it out at Pittsburgh Steelers' camp.

Derrick was a great player at NMSU, leading the team in tackles last season and recording over 100 take downs the past two years. He played with great passion and enthusiasm everytime on the field and was a bright spot in the program.

Derrick said he felt good about his chances with Pittsburgh. He felt comfortable with head coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. He's out there with some great players — Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and Ike Taylor — to name a few.

One thing about players from NMSU, really, it's small, non-BCS schools in general, is that they have to go above and beyond the call of duty to get a look. I remember speaking to a former Aggie last year who got a shot with a pro team. He said that he felt like a top pick could make a bunch of mistakes and have them overlooked. The former Aggie, on the other hand, said that he felt like one mistake on his behalf could cost him his opportunity at pro ball. I guess it's just a fact of life in sports, but it's unfortunate for some that could be solid pros. They seem to have more to prove.

One thing that I thought was great about speaking with Derrick was that he said his attitude for the game hasn't changed. Richardson played with boundless energy every snap for the Aggies, running around the field, talking it up with both his defensive teammates and offensive foes — just loved playing the game and having fun. He said that when he first got to Steelers' camp in early May, he held back a little bit, cautious of what some veterans would think of a rowdy rookie. But, as he has gotten more comfortable, his true colors have shown through.

“When I first got here, I fell back and didn't want guys to look at me the wrong way,” Richardson said. “I was quiet at first. But, the more practices I go through, the better I feel about stepping out and being me on the field. My true character is coming out more and more.”

That's a good thing. In a lot of ways, that true character is what makes Richardson an effective football player. Hopefully, he never loses that fire for the game.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A good year

It was a good year - some would say even a great year - for the New Mexico State Aggie baseball team in 2009.

There should be some bitterness about how the year ended. It seems that NMSU should have beaten Fresno State on Sunday in one of the two games for the WAC championship - particularly Game 2, where NMSU blew a 7-2 lead.

Lets look at the big picture though. The team has improved drastically in the last handful of years. Three seasons ago, the Aggies weren't competitive at all in the WAC, missing out on the conference tournament and clearly being a notch below their league rivals.

Last season was a step forward. Although the Aggies didn't finish .500, they got into postseason play and head coach Rocky Ward, who entered the season in the final year of his contract, was given a new deal.

This year, the team continued to move up the ladder. The Aggies out-of-conference schedule was not against elite competition and I was skeptical the team could carry its strong performance into WAC play. They did finish 12-12 in league, but it wasn't an empty .500 record. The Aggies split road series' at Fresno State, Nevada and Louisiana Tech. At home, they split with Hawaii while falling in three of four to San Jose State. They also took three of four from Sacramento State.

Going into the WAC tourney, I didn't think NMSU could get past San Jose. I was wrong, as the Aggies took down the Spartans 10-9 in the second round. In my eyes, that made up for losing to the Spartans in the regular season and also moved the Aggies up the conference ranks. If they could beat the No. 1 seed, can't they beat just about anybody?

I was surprised that they lost in the finals to Fresno State. The Aggies were playing hot baseballl, and they also should have been confident against the Bulldogs. NMSU beat them in Round 1 and it seemed like a good matchup, as the Aggies truly felt like they should have taken the regular season series from Fresno as well. Again, after blowing the big lead in the opener, I knew it would be tough to comeback in Game 2. That's a quick turnaround and a tough mountain to overcome - although not impossible. In the end, Fresno State won the game. They're the conference champs, hands down.

It was still a good year for NMSU. Nobody expected an NCAA regional berth, let alone challenging for the WAC title, at the beginning of the year. Well, outside the coaching staff and the players in that locker room. The bar for Aggie baseball is rising.

Friday, May 22, 2009

William Benjamin

Las Cruces High School did the right thing by hiring William Benjamin to be the boys head basketball coach.

Benjamin served for 12 years as an LCHS assistant coach and knows the school, the players and the system. It's also nice to see someone pay their dues and get rewarded for their service.

The Bulldawgs had a talented team last season. Coach Mike Smith took criticism for Las Cruces' flat performances from time to time, but last year the team surprised. Many close to the program endorsed Benjamin. He's a former Aggie too, which means something. He's been in Las Cruces for some time and has stayed loyal to the community.

LCHS is a sleeping giant on the basketball court. It would be nice to see Benjamin do a good job and prove his coaching ability. It's a job he was hungry to attain.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Zach Daugherty

I spoke with Onate linebacker Zach Daugherty tonight, who has received interest from a handful of college football programs, including offers from NMSU, UNM and San Diego State.

Daugherty has also been speaking with UTEP and has had some contact with Oregon.

The bottom line is that Daugherty would be a nice pickup for the Aggies. He's a local kid, a defensive player who's receiving interest as he enters his senior season in high school. Daugherty, who plays middle linebacker for the Knights, said that he could likely play outside in college. When asked about NMSU, he stayed level.

"I'm interested," he said. "It's a nice school and it would be cool to stay home. Everyone would know me and I could make an impact in my hometown. But I'm not leaning either way right now. All the schools are looking good."

I'll have a full story about Zach online Thursday and in Friday's newspaper.


As for other Knights that could move on to the next level: Defensive tackle John Cachora, who has received some interest from Arizona State and Tennessee. This is coming from OHS head coach Kelly McKee. Again, it's just some interest, but those are big schools to even consider the kid, who was impressive in the middle of the Knights' defensive line last season.

You have Cachora and Daugherty in the middle of that defense this upcoming season. Wow. That's some talent anchoring your unit.

Apparently, OHS fullback Zach Hernandez is also in line to go to an Ivy League school. Brown is on his list. Just thought I'd show some love to the high school kids moving up the ladder.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What would you rather have?

It's the age-old question in baseball. What would you rather have — a dynamite batting order or a loaded pitching staff along with a solid defense?

For me, it's a no brainer. You want the pitching staff and you definitely need a strong defense behind the staff to back it up. The most underrated aspect of baseball? Strong defense, particularly up the middle. It can save countless runs throughout the season. Still, it's always overlooked.

Take a look at Major League Baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays didn't have a great offense last year. They had a great pitching staff and had a lights-out defense. They made moves to sure up their defense last season on their way to the World Series. For starters, they traded outfielder Delmon Young to Minnesota for shortstop Jason Bartlett and pitcher Matt Garza. Garza immediately fit into their rotation and Bartlett played a Gold Glove caliber short. They moved B.J. Upton from second base to center field, moved Akinori Iwamura from third base to second and called up Evan Longoria. All three were upgrades at their new positions and the team immediately became better because of it. This year, look out for the Cincinnati Reds. They have improved up the middle — Willie Tavarez is a very good centerfielder, shortstop Alex Gonzalez is slick with the mit and Brandon Phillips won a Gold Glove last year at second. Catcher Ramon Hernandez is better known for his bat, but he's a veteran that can command an underrated pitching staff.

Sorry about that rant, but here's the point. The New Mexico State Aggies have a great offense that belts balls all over the yard. They're pitching staff has surprised some, but it's not elite. And their defense certainly isn't elite. It will come back to haunt them this week. The Aggie offense is great and if it's hot, it could carry them to a WAC championship. But, offenses by nature go into peaks and valleys. NMSU matches up well in the WAC with Fresno, Louisiana Tech and Nevada. You put the Aggies against any of these teams, I think they can win. They don't match up well with San Jose State or Hawaii though. I think San Jose is going to win the tourney. They have the best pitching and defense in the league and just enough offense to get it done. That seems like the safest winning formula that there is.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Aggies hit the road to Hawaii

The New Mexico State Aggie baseball team goes to Hawaii for the WAC tournament.

The Aggies have had a good year on the baseball field. The team went 12-12 in the WAC and earned the No. 4 seed. That's better than last year and much better than the year before.

Coach Rocky Ward didn't seem bothered by the travel to Hawaii, less than a week after the team completed a four-game series at Louisiana Tech. The Aggies returned home to Las Cruces for a few days before making the trip to Hawaii on Tuesday morning.

One thing that does concern me about having the tournament in Honolulu are the playing conditions. Hawaii's park is actually smaller than NMSU's — 325 down the lines, 360 in the gaps, 390 to dead center. What it also has are heavy winds blowing from left field to right, causing favorable pitching conditions. It could be the WAC's best pitching yard and is a graveyard for right-handed power hitters. And, while the Aggies have improved in both pitching and defense, it's not the team's strength. Can NMSU outpitch the competition for four straight days? It will be a tall order. And, outslugging the WAC in Hawaii's stadium seems unlikely.

The Aggies are equipped to advance in this tournament. They are better than last year, with an effective offense and an improved pitching staff. They're going to need a strong performance on the hill from their starter in Game 1 against Fresno — it's either going to be D.J. Simon or Jared Jordan. Fresno State has had a down year — although the team has played better later in the season. It will be a good first-round matchup.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Aggie baseball

Who's fired up about the Aggie baseball series this weekend against San Jose State? I know I am.

This is a huge four-game set. SJSU and NMSU are currently tied for second place in the WAC, and not far behind Nevada for the top spot. The Aggies are playing meaningful baseball in early May. It's a big deal.

NMSU is first in the conference in runs scored with 563. The next closest team is Louisiana Tech with 400. NMSU will need to pound some runs out on its homefield this weekend.

As for the Spartans, they're the top pitching team with a 4.35 ERA. That is over a run less than NMSU (5.57). The Aggies, who rank No. 2 in the league in earned run average, are closer to the norm than the Spartans in that category. San Jose State is also a strong fielding team — the Spartans have committed 16 less errors than NMSU on the year.

In other words, it's going to be a matchup of contrasting styles: An elite offensive club in NMSU versus a strong pitching/defensive team in SJSU. I always take good pitching and solid defense over a powerful offense. Than again, the Aggie baseball team has surprised all season long. I'm looking forward to the series.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Where should LaVorick Williams stand?

On a recent post, the subject of returning wide receiver LaVorick Williams was broached and where he should stand once fall practice rolls around.

The bottom line is that Williams should be treated like every other player. Who cares if he elected to leave NMSU, only to come back? At the end of the day, does it matter? It shouldn't. If Williams can help the Aggies, he should get an opportunity on the field. If he can't help them win, then he shouldn't be miscast as a contributor, either.

It seems like some people would like to see Williams punished because he elected to leave after Hal Mumme's firing. This is a poor and flawed philosophy to subscribe to. This is not a football team that has the luxury of holding grudges against players who could help it perform on the field. If Williams proves to be a productive player, let it go.

The reality is that all Williams is, is a returning player who made seven catches for 52 yards last season. Too many times, people get caught up in potential. Performance on the field should be the ultimate judge. LaVorick showed great potential as a freshman, but lets not call him the next Chris Williams, A.J. Harris or even Derek Dubois. He's someone that has the ability, however, to be a difference maker.

The passing game seems like it could use some help. The receiver position looks a bit thin. It didn't seem like anyone made a serious jump up the depth chart at the position during spring ball. It's still a wide open race. Williams should enter fall camp just like everyone else. With a fair chance to earn playing time if he proves to be a contributor, and someone who can help the team win.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Jonathan Gibson

Jonathan Gibson has declared early entry into the 2009 NBA draft.

At first I was surprised. Then, I spoke with Jonathan and thought about what's in front of him.

Jonathan has nothing to lose in making this decision. He will be evaluated and the powers that be will tell him what he needs to work on. He's trying to better himself and thinking about a pro career. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with it.

Jonathan said that he is still 100 percent dedicated to NMSU. That's what Aggie fans should be worried about. He has not hired an agent and his college eligibility remains intact.

As far as his game is concerned, Jonathan is a tantalizing player. He has the ability to shoot you into a game and shoot you out of it. He's a streaky player who has a lot of confidence. Many times last season, his performance often mirrored that of the Aggies. He went through a bit of a slump mid-season, but got back on his feet down the stretch and shot the ball well in the WAC tournament.

This upcoming year will be a big one for Aggie basketball. The team is a year older and should be a bit more polished. After their performance in the conference tournament last season, a WAC championship run in 2010 should be on the radar. Assuming Gibson is back next season, having him play at a high level will be important. He will be the lone impact senior on the roster.