Saturday, May 31, 2014

Link: Putting Ward's departure into context

Former Aggie head baseball coach Rocky Ward saw his contract terminated this past week at New Mexico State University.

It was a tough way to go out for Ward, who was at NMSU for 18 years. While Ward held a career record three games under .500, there were also plenty of years where he and his father Gary got everything they could have out of the program.

Two NCAA Regional appearances and and a 2012 WAC championship were career highlights for Ward, who’s Aggies competed in quality mid-major baseball leagues over the years - the Big West, Sun Belt and Western Athletic Conferences all provided their fair fare share of challenges and quality competition on a year-in, year-out basis.

Here’s a Sunday column, written to put Ward’s tenure into context and see where the Aggie program must go from here.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Friday, May 30, 2014

VIDEO: Rocky Ward era comes to close; a look back at 2013-14 sports year

We recap a disappointing end to the Rocky Ward era at NMSU, while also providing a look back at the 2013-14 year in sports in Las Cruces:

Monday, May 26, 2014

Top 2014 prep sports moment: Las Cruces vs. Mayfield football, in a landslide

We took a look back at some of the top moments of the past year in Las Cruces high school sports in Sunday's Las Cruces Sun-News.

Jason Groves wrote a commentary on what stood out during the 2013-14 prep sports year, while we also recapped the top teams locally that won state championships - or came close to doing so.

Is there any debate, however, that the No. 1 prep sports moment in 2013-14 were the high school football games between Las Cruces High and Mayfield? It would be tough to argue any different.

These were spectacular games - both MHS's 28-20 regular-season finale victory, and the Bulldawgs 28-27 State Championship win in early December. Obviously the state title game ended when Jalen Bishop blocked a Mayfield extra-point attempt with 1:31 remaining to preserve the Bulldawgs win.

These two teams continue to operate simply on another level than any other in state. They held a combined 23-3 record in 2014 - with two of those losses coming to each other. They take the field knowing they will win, and more often than not, they do.

Don't expect those intangibles to change this upcoming season, either. Both the Bulldawgs and Trojans have two of the top quarterbacks in the state - Kameron Miller and Kavicka Johnson, specifically - and elite coaching at their disposal.

Like many other years, when it came down the Las Cruces vs. Mayfield football, there were huge crowds, tons of anticipation and then the games lived up to the billing. Tough to beat that, no matter the year.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Saturday, May 24, 2014

VIDEO: Where does NMSU football go now along the offensive line?

In our weekly video, we talk about the resignation of NMSU offensive line coach Chris Symington, as well as the Aggie baseball team's chance of winning the WAC Tournament:

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Holbrook expected to be hired as offensive coordinator at New Mexico Highlands

Former New Mexico State Aggie quarterback Chase Holbrook is expected to be hired at New Mexico Highlands as the football program's next offensive coordinator.

Holbrook's hire was reported on the website and was also announced on a Facebook page dedicated to New Mexico Highlands football.

An announcement is expected soon. According to a Highlands official, the university is going through the typical human resources process and is hopeful to finalize things in the coming days.

Holbrook, who's final year at NMSU was during the 2009 season, was hired by former Aggie head coach Hal Mumme at McMurry University the following year. He coached running backs at McMurry before coaching quarterbacks with the program.

While Mumme was let go from McMurry following last season - he himself has since landed at Division-III Belhaven - Holbrook now finds himself back in New Mexico, at Las Vegas-based Highlands.

Holbrook starred in the Aggies Air-Raid offense during his playing days at NMSU. He's the school's all-time leader with 11,846 passing yards and 85 touchdowns while being an untraditional player at the position - standing close to 6-foot-5 and weighing 245 pounds, Holbrook's only scholarship offer at quarterback came from Mumme when the coach was at Southeastern Louisiana.

Aside from strong wide receiving corps - highlighted by standout Chris Williams - Holbrook didn't always have the strongest of supporting casts at NMSU. Bad defenses, abysmal kicking games and without the help of a running attack.

Through it all he was a class student-athlete - always humble, playing hurt and perhaps overachieving during his NMSU career - and a good fit in Mumme's quarterback-friendly system, they gave the Aggies a chance to win most weeks.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Aggies need top pitchers available in WAC Tournament

(A healthy Chris Bradley would go a long way towards the Aggies springing a Round 1 win over Utah Valley/Photo by Carlos Javier Sanchez)

Can the New Mexico State Aggie baseball team win the 2014 Western Athletic Conference Tournament this weekend? While it can be hard picturing such a developent, it’s also possible.

For the No. 6-seeded Aggies to have any hope, however, they must have their top-two starting pitchers - Chris Bradley and Billy Conard - to be healthy enough to take the hill.

Bradley has been battling back spasms, while Conard has an injured ankle. The Aggies don’t have a ton of pitching depth the begin with, and need their top-two hurlers atop the rotation to at least give them a shot.

Bradley, a senior, has been very good at times, striking out 61 batters (while walking 46) in 65 innings of work. He sports a 3-6 record and a 4.98 ERA in 13 appearances this season, all of which have been in a starting role.

Conard has a 3-3 record of his own with a 4.94 ERA, while striking out 48 and walking 25 in 62 innings. Of his 14 appearances this year, 11 have been starts.

Behind those two are a handful of wildcards. Riley Barr has been the team’s top pitcher statistically (5-2 record, 2.72 ERA) although he’s been used primarily out of the bullpen. Of Barr’s 23 appearances this season, 21 have come as a reliever.

Robert Kraft, a left hander, has made 12 starts this season, although has been up and down with a 5.46 ERA. Trey Higginbothom, another lefty, has made just two starts this season although one was a solid effort against Arizona State (3.1 innings, two hits, five walks and one earned run).

The point is, the Aggies don’t have a ton of pitching depth. They need this first before the other necessary variables fall into place - such as their offense catching fire over a four-day stretch, and their defense playing at at least a respectable level - in order to win.

NMSU opens the 2014 WAC Tournament on Wednesday at 8 p.m. (MDT) against No. 3-seed Utah Valley. The Tournament will be played in Phoenix, Ariz.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Friday, May 16, 2014

Aggie football loses practice time due to APR score

The New Mexico State Aggie football team was penalized for a low APR score, and as a result will lose four hours of practice time - or one day - per week during the 2014 season.

The APR is a tool the NCAA uses to measure the number of athletes who graduate. Each athlete is worth two points toward the APR score per semester: one point for retention/graduation and one point if a player is academically eligible. If a player transfers and is not eligible, that player counts two points against the APR score as well.

Aggie football had a four-year average of 915 (between the 2009-10 and 2012-13 academic years) and a single-year average of 907. The NCAA requires a score of 930 or the risk of possible sanctions.

Thirty six NCAA athletic programs will face some sort of APR penalty this fall, four of which will be FBS football programs. Idaho and UNLV are banned from postseason play in 2014, while Oklahoma State and NMSU suffered a reduction in practice time.

First off, I think a reduction in practice time can in fact be worked around. Certainly it will take some creativity on the coaching staff's part, and head coach Doug Martin said Friday's walk through sessions will now be moved to Saturday's typical gameday routine - which already counts for three hours of the allotted 20 hours of practice time per week. One would figure some meeting time and film work could also be shaved here and there as well, and players can still put in work away from a coach's supervision - throwing on the side, for instance, or extra film study. These things do not count towards a team's allotted practice schedule.

One thing that should be said: it's not abnormal for a football program like NMSU's - and many others in the country for that matter - to take some academic risks when recruiting student-athletes.

It's a fine line. Of course, a program would like to have both - good academics and a winning record all at once. But pulling off such a feat is easier said than done.

While there are plenty of college football players who may not be academic scholars, they can also help a team win a game or two on its schedule. Plenty of programs would take that risk if it beefs up their overall win record.

Martin - who's entering his second year as head coach at NMSU - has often said the program will move away from junior college transfers and recruit four-year high school players, in part because of academic performance. Time will tell if such an approach produces positive results simultaneously, on the field and in the classroom.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

PODCAST: Talking APR, Aggies in the NFL draft, and postseasons for respective spring sports

We join for another one of our weekly podcasts. Click here to listen.

VIDEO: Teddy and Brook Show (5/15)

In our weekly sports video, we explain APR-mandated sanctions against NMSU football and dive into the New Mexico high school baseball and softball tournaments:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Under circumstances, Symington hire appears to be good one

The New Mexico State Aggies announced the hiring of Chris Symington as offensive line coach last week.

Symington appears to be a good hire for the program, particularly when considering the circumstances surrounding his addition. The Aggies were put in a tough spot when offensive line coach Steve Marshall left for the Green Bay Packers last week. Marshall was hired at NMSU in January, coached spring practices and then departed. Not that he can be necessarily blamed for the move - he has a career to worry about after all, and the NFL is the NFL. With that being said, it wasn't an ideal time for a college program to find a key replacement to its coaching staff.

Symington's connection to the Aggie football program are from his days coaching at Eastern Michigan University of the Mid-American Conference from 2003-08. This was the same period of time Aggie head coach Doug Martin was head coach at Kent State University, and NMSU offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon led the Bowling Green program.

Symington also comes with a pretty good background: previously at Colorado State University-Pueblo, a Division II program in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Symington has also worked at Tennessee State (2000-03), Western Kentucky (1996-99) and Vanderbilt (1990-94).

The CSU-Pueblo website called Symington "potentially the most influential assistant coach in the history of the….football program." The biography continued to say Symington - who was also the ThunderWolves run-game coordinator - produced four All-Americans, six all-region selections and one Gene Upshaw Award finalist in his first four seasons coaching the CSU-Pueblo offensive line. It also said that "under Symington's direction, CSU-Pueblo's offensive line has established itself as one of the top units in the country."

The Thunderwolves had a strong rushing offense last year, averaging 42.7 points per game while rushing for 213 yards per contest and 26 touchdowns.

The Aggies could certainly use stability at the offensive line coaching position - Symington will be the program's fifth coach there over the past four years. That is a mind-boggling statistic, and a reminder of how difficult it is for the NSMU football program to hold its coaches. That turnover alone has been a played a big factor in the team's struggles over the years.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Three Aggies headed to NFL teams as undrafted free agents

Three New Mexico State Aggie football players signed with teams as undrafted free agents following the 2014 NFL Draft on Saturday evening.

Wide receiver Austin Franklin (St. Louis Rams), offensive lineman Davonte Wallace (Miami Dolphins) and linebacker Trashaun Nixon (New Orleans Saints) said they agreed to free agent contracts with their new teams.

We speculated last week all three had a chance of landing on an NFL roster by the conclusion of Draft weekend.

What does it take to make it as an undrafted free agent in the NFL? One would think players who aren't afraid to do the dirty work, provide toughness, and a possess a knack for overachieving have a chance.

Personally, I wouldn't be surprised to see any of the three above players make their respective teams' practice squads. Franklin has the physical tools, although must continue to mature at his new home; Wallace was a steady, four-year player at NMSU at left offensive tackle, and I think he can develop as a guard on the next level; and Nixon is an underrated player who has the size and speed to get a shot.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Thursday, May 8, 2014

State Baseball and Softball Championships preview capsules

The 2014 State Baseball and Softball Championships open this weekend throughout New Mexico, with a number of local teams taking the field on Friday and Saturday.

In the local baseball circuit, all five District 3-5A teams - No. 6 Mayfield, No. 10 Gadsden, No. 12 Oñate, No. 13 Alamogordo and No. 15 Las Cruces - qualified for the State Tournament.

The No. 6-seeded Trojans have had a solid season and will host No. 11-seeded Rio Grande in opening-round play.

Oñate (No. 2 seed in Class 5A) and Centennial (No. 3 seed in Class 4A) are highly ranked on the softball diamond.

The baseball playoffs feature opening-round series (best-of-three games), while the state softball competition is a first-round single-elimination format.

Below, a look at local teams - and their matchups - entering the weekend:

Class 5A
Who: No. 10 Gadsden at No. 7 Cleveland
Where: Cleveland High School
When: Game 1 is Friday at 4 p.m.; possible Saturday doubleheader scheduled for 10 a.m.
Preview: Typically underestimated, the Panthers finished with a 6-6 record in District 3-5A, which was good enough for a second-place finish in the league standings. Gadsden, which holds a 13-12 overall mark, is going to come at the opposition head on and plays hard for every out of every inning. The team's offense is effective, as is ace pitcher Tony Acevedo. Still, going on the road to face Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho (which holds a 17-9 overall record and a 5-4 mark in District 1-5A) would be a highly difficult task for any of the state's southern-based teams this time of year.

Who: No. 12 Oñate at No. 5 Volcano Vista
Where: Volcano Vista High School
When: Game 1 is Friday at 4 p.m.; possible Saturday doubleheader scheduled for 10 a.m.
Preview: A tough opening series for the Knights, who've dropped four of their last five games and five of their last seven contests. Still, Oñate (13-13 overall, 5-7 in District 3-5A) salvaged a playoff spot and heads north to face a quality Volcano Vista team. Oñate has struggled hitting with runners on base this season, a trend that will need to change if the Knights want to take down the Hawks (17-7 overall, 6-3 in District 1-5A).

Who: No. 15 Las Cruces at No. 2 Eldorado
Where: Eldorado High School
When: Game 1 is Friday at 4 p.m.; possible Saturday doubleheader scheduled for 10 a.m.
Preview: After winning the Las Cruces Baseball Invitational early in the season, it was bumpy beginning for the Bulldawgs in District 3-5A play. The team got its league schedule started by being swept at Gadsden, which led to them dropping their first five games against district competition. Sure enough, however, LCHS has played better, and enter State Tournament play as winners of three of their last four contests to hold a 13-13 overall record and 4-8 mark in league. LCHS has some pitching depth, and could perhaps give Eldorado some trouble, even in the role of underdog. With that being said, the Eagles are a powerhouse program (19-5 overall, 5-4 in District 2-5A), and will be a formidable foe on their homefield in Albuquerque.

Class 4A
Who: No. 10 Centennial at No. 7 Los Alamos
Where: Bomber Field in Los Alamos
When: Game 1 is Friday at 5 p.m.; possible Saturday doubleheader scheduled for 10 a.m.
Preview: No District 3-4A state playoff representatives - that being No. 9 Deming, No. 10 Centennial or No. 15 Santa Teresa - received home games this week. For the Hawks, a second-year program that's continuing to build under head coach Rusty Evans, heading to Los Alamos will be yet another challenge. Centennial finished the regular season with a 17-9 overall record and a 9-3 mark in District 3-A play. Los Alamos, on the other hand, was 20-6 during the regular season, including a 12-0 District 2-4A record.

Who: No. 15 Santa Teresa at No. 2 Goddard
Where: Goddard High School
When: Game 1 is Friday at 5 p.m.; possible Saturday doubleheader scheduled for 10 a.m.
Preview: The Desert Warriors, who were a state semifinals team last year, finished 2014 regular-season play with a 13-13 overall record, while going 6-6 in District 3-4A play. They'll visit a Goddard team ranked No. 2 overall in Class 4A, after a 22-4 showing in 2014 along with an 8-0 District 4-4A record.

Class 5A
Who: No. 15 Clovis at No. 2 Oñate
Where: Field of Dreams
When: Friday, 6 p.m.
Preview: The Knights are legitimate and had no trouble rolling through their District 3-5A schedule. The team holds a 24-2 record on the season and 11-1 mark against its league counterparts. Now they'll face Clovis in the State Tournament's opening round, leading up to double-elimination play in Albuquerque next week. The Knights have some heavy artillery on offense and their pitching has gotten the job done to this point. Defensively, the team has been sound. No doubt Oñate is a top team in state - the No. 2 seed just behind No. 1 Rio Rancho - but are they a state championship club? That's what will be determined in the coming weeks.

Who: No. 9 Las Cruces at No. 8 Albuquerque High
Where: Albuquerque High
When: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Preview: Make no mistake, the Bulldawgs are a talented team capable of making some noise come state tournament time. LCHS returned pieces from last year's state championship team and knocked off Oñate last week in the final doubleheader of District 3-5A regular-season play (LCHS finished the regular season with a 17-9 overall record, along with a 7-5 record in District 3-5A). Repeating as state champions will be a tall order for the Bulldawgs. Then again, a first-round road win in the state playoffs isn't out of the question either.

Class 4A
Who: No. 14 Kirtland Central at No. 3 Centennial
Where: Field of Dreams
When: Saturday, 11 a.m.
Preview: Centennial, in just its second year of existence, is seeded No. 3 and gets a first-round state playoff game to show for it. The Hawks (21-5 overall record, 12-0 mark in District 3-4A) are young and have some talent, so expect them to hold serve on their home turf this weekend. The double-elimination rounds in Albuquerque will provide a different set of challenges, however. Waiting in the wings could be No. 6 Los Lunas - which beat Centennial earlier this season - as well as traditionally strong programs in No. 2-seed Aztec and No. 1-seed Piedra Vista.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Another darkhorse Aggie as a possible pro prospect: Cayle Chapman-Brown

Wrote a Sunday story on Aggie football prospects for the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft. And make no mistake, Austin Franklin, Davonte Wallace and Trashaun Nixon are three that should at least get a look on the next level.

Another who I think could get into a training camp? That would be punter Cayle Chapman-Brown, who I believe is a darkhorse player as a possible pro prospect.

From my understanding, the punter position in the NFL is highly competitive, with many punters holding prolonged careers and, therefore, not a lot of turnover or opportunity presents itself at the position on a year-to-year basis.

With that being said, I think Chapman-Brown should at least be worthy of a look. For starters, he was a very productive punter during his two years at NMSU, sporting a strong leg and good hang time on his punts.

He's also a big player - listed at 6-foot-5, 231 pounds last year on the Aggie roster, he's got the height and wingspan to get to poor snaps that come his way. He's also a left-footed punter, which is seen as a plus as well.

Certainly, the potential is there for Chapman-Brown to get a look from a professional team. The question becomes, will the opportunity follow?

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Thursday, May 1, 2014

VIDEO: Teddy and Brook Show (5/1)

Solo this week, I take a look at NMSU prospects in the upcoming NFL and NBA drafts. We also break down the NMSU baseball and softball seasons and discuss the high school baseball and softball scene:

PODCAST: Recapping Aggie spring football, and Sim Bhullar's decision to turn pro

We sit down with to rehash Aggie spring football as well as New Mexico State sophomore center Sim Bhullar's decision to pursue a professional career. Click here to listen in.