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Stars ready for home opener

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Indoor football team to debut a new QB in 3rd game of season

RIO RANCHO – After opening their season with a pair of road games, the New Mexico Stars will finally get a chance to play in front of fans cheering for them tonight when they host the Laredo Rattlesnakes at the Santa Ana Star Center.

It’s the first of six home games for the Stars (1-1) in the five-team pro indoor football league that otherwise comprises teams from Texas.

“I think all of us are really, really excited about finally playing in front of our home crowd, and we hope it will be an exciting game,” coach/owner Chris Williams said after Wednesday night’s practice at the Star Center.

Today
Lone Star Football League: Laredo at New Mexico, 7:05 p.m., Santa Ana Star Center

“(Laredo’s) a good football team, so it’ll be a good matchup. They’re 1-1, we’re 1-1. … I kind of think this is going to be one of those games where whoever hangs in there with the least amount of mistakes is going to win the game.”

The Stars won their opener 60-42 at San Angelo. A week later they were 62-34 losers in Amarillo against the defending champion Venom. The Rattlesnakes faced San Angelo, too, winning 65-41 in Laredo.

Also in town this weekend is LSFL commissioner Darlene Jones, whose league has part ownership in the Stars.

“I’ll be rooting for the LSFL – for a good. clean game,” Jones said, adding that she wouldn’t dare offer coaching suggestions to Williams.

“Oh, no, he’d tell me where to put it,” she laughed. “Coach is such a good coach, he knows what he has to work on.”

Introducing a new quarterback to the Stars went to the front burner this week for Williams after KJ Black suffered a knee injury in Amarillo. He’s out for the season.

“Basically it was a torn ACL and MCL on his (right) knee.” said general manager Abe Hernandez.

Thus, 6-foot-5, 205-pound Brendan Crawford, a rookie quarterback from Langston (Okla.) University, was acquired in a trade from Amarillo for future considerations.

“I feel like he’s doing a pretty good job of adjusting,” Williams said of Crawford. “He’s picking up the system well. It’s just a matter of getting his timing down with the receivers. After two days I’m excited about it.”

Crawford said the transition is going fine, but that he can’t help but be a little nervous.

“As a quarterback you kind of have to step in as a leader,” he said after Wednesday’s 2 1/2-hour practice. “You can’t be nonchalant about it. You kind of have to say, ‘I’m here, this is my huddle, and now let’s go do it.’

“The main thing is putting the ball in the right spot so those guys can’t say, ‘That guy sucks. He’s throwing the ball in the ground.’”

One often-overlooked intangible that could play into the hands of the Stars tonight is the metro area’s mile-high elevation. New Mexico offensive lineman Jeff Younker, a 6-3, 310-pounder who joined the Stars late last season, said the visiting Rattlesnakes probably will struggle to adjust since their home base is at roughly 400 feet.

“Everybody from Texas who’s coming here should be sucking wind by the third quarter,” he said. “If they’re not they’re freaks of nature.”

Younker knows from experience after being thrown into the starting lineup soon after arriving in New Mexico.

“To be honest, I was gassed by the second quarter,” he said. “I was dead. I took all the snaps and the next day I just laid in bed.”

He wasn’t the only Star player to suffer in his New Mexico initiation. Starting center Brock Mueller, 6-2, 290, who was an early-season acquisition from Omaha of the Indoor Football League last year, said he noticed the thin air right off.

“I could feel that in the first series we had,” he said. “It was definitely the altitude, because in Omaha I was in shape and was running circles around guys. Then I come here the day before the game and wind up playing every snap. I remember after that first series I was just like, ‘Wow, what’s going on?’ I didn’t think the elevation would have that big an effect. But it kicked my butt.”

KIDS’ DAY PROMOTION: The Stars say that anyone who purchases one regularly priced ticket for today’s game will receive one ticket free for a child age 12 or younger. The promotion is available only at the Star Center box office. The offer is not available on previously purchased tickets, front-row seating or $5 walk-up tickets.

Hernandez said he anticipates a crowd of 2,500 to 3,000 tonight.

WALK-UP TICKETS: The box office opens at 5 p.m. for fans who want to purchase tickets priced at $5. There will be 200 available.

HEADS UP! As always, fans seated in the front row of the arena will have to be on alert for players who topple over the 4-foot-high wall and into their laps. The most celebrated instance from last year involved ex-NFL standout Terrell Owens, who while playing for the Allen Wranglers famously took a header after being shoved out of bounds by a pair of Stars defenders.

Also, speaking of flying into the stands, any ball that winds up in the crowd is a souvenir, just like in baseball. But don’t expect players to just flip balls into the crowd after a touchdown. There’s a fine for that.

UP NEXT: The Stars are scheduled to play at Abilene next Saturday, followed by a bye week. Their next home game is set for April 27 at 7:05 p.m. against San Angelo.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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