ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Former Cibola star ready to help Tulane turn the corner
Three years ago, Rio Mares had a choice. Home cookin’, or Cajun cookin’.
Three years later, Mares has no regrets about choosing life in the bayou.
“My coaches always told me, you have to go where you feel you are wanted the most,” said Mares, a redshirt sophomore and offensive lineman at Tulane University in New Orleans. “Tulane let me know they wanted me a lot.”
The 2009 Cibola graduate from Corrales spurned the hometown Lobos for a Division I program that isn’t a whole lot better off than UNM.
This month, he opened his third training camp with the Green Wave of Conference USA. Tulane is coming off a 4-8 season.
“My first two seasons were kind of disappointing. We didn’t win as many games as we hoped we would,” Mares said. “This year, we had a great spring and summer … and we really feel like we can win a bowl game and make a run at a conference championship.”
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Mares has been inching his way up the Green Wave depth chart; he expects to be a second-string right guard this season, but has hopes of increased playing time.
“I’m ready to play,” he said. “I’m ready to prove myself. I just have to be ready to take that chance when you get put in. You have to wait your turn sometimes in football. But I’m right there. I’m working hard every day in the weight room and on the field, doing everything I can to take that spot.”
Because of his size and skill, Mares was practically an urban legend coming up through the junior ranks of YAFL, and later at Cibola.
In Louisiana, despite the lure of scores of world-class restaurants, Mares has actually slimmed down to 300 pounds and said he’s at an ideal playing weight.
“I feel good,” Mares said. “I’ve leaned up a lot since I left (Albuquerque). I’m feeling a lot quicker and a lot more athletic.”
With the corresponding slimmer physique, Mares said he’s been able to shave some of the rough edges off his game.
“My footwork and my overall speed have improved tremendously,” said the always-likable Mares. “My whole body has gotten stronger, and fundamentally, I’m a lot better than I was.”
Two years of Division I football have also made him smarter, he said.
“In terms of football knowledge, I didn’t know as much about football coming out of high school as I should have,” Mares said. “Now I know a whole lot more.”
He also has become familiar with, and comfortable with, living in the Deep South. New Orleans has its charms, Mares said, including Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and, of course, an abundance of fishing.
At Tulane, Mares plays home games at the Superdome, home of the NFL’s Saints.
There already are three former Cibola players in the NFL: Alan Branch and brothers Ryan and Erik Cook. Mares wouldn’t mind someday becoming the fourth.
“That’s always been a goal since I started realizing that I could play football and that I could get a Division I scholarship,” Mares said. “But all I really care about right now is playing for Tulane. I want to leave here knowing we had great seasons and that we did everything we could here. If I do that, the NFL part will take care of itself.”
LEHOCKY UPDATE: Former Cibola player Joe Lehocky is a senior this year at the University of Central Arkansas. The 6-4, 290-pounder is a two-year starter and has been named to the Southland Conference preseason all-conference team at guard. Central Arkansas is Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) program.