LAS CRUCES – Matt Ramondo has a vision of how this season of independence for New Mexico State football can go.
Spoiler alert: In it, the Aggies become big spoilers.
“It’d definitely be exciting for us and Las Cruces when we get to upset people like Texas and UCLA,” the hometown sophomore defensive lineman said on Monday. “It’d definitely get us some attention.”
It definitely, definitely would.
On the other hand, you’ve got to dream big to do big things, and if Aggie football is ever to be something, that’s a necessary baby step.
If it is August and scalding hot in Las Cruces, then it’s time to discuss the latest chapter of New Mexico State football. And, perhaps more broadly, the place that football holds and should hold in the NMSU culture.
On the latter point, new NMSU President Garrey Carruthers seems to have little interest in de-emphasizing football on campus, never mind the struggles on the football field for most of the last five decades, the lack of resources, the apathy of the general public and the difficulty in finding a conference that saw any value in adopting the program.
On the former, NMSU lost yet another coach who fought the good fight against tall odds, lost four out of every five games over four years, and left. Here comes another trying to attack a five-alarm blaze with a gallon bucket of water.
And Doug Martin, 50 years old, steely-eyed and head shaven, brings with it a refreshing, no-excuses approach.
“We’re going to stop playing the victim around here,” said Martin recently.
“Those days are done.”
It’s a statement that gets the attention of the players.
“He’s saying that he doesn’t want anybody to feel sorry for us anymore,” said Aggie running back Germi Morrison.
But of course, it could be targeted at the Aggie Nation in general, telling its inhabitants to stop feeling sorry for themselves. It is wasted energy to dwell on the money and the facilities New Mexico State doesn’t have, Martin believes.
“All midmajor programs have those things,” he said. “I want to hear about finding solutions to getting things done.”
That may read like a sound bite or self-serving prattle in an attempt to get hired. But in Martin’s case, he’s already been a head coach at a have-not (Kent State, 2004-10) program. And just as critically, he knows what he’s getting into here, having been the offensive coordinator in 2011.
Because he made friends and didn’t burn bridges, NMSU became Martin’s port in the storm when it didn’t work out last year as offensive coordinator at Boston College. Then when DeWayne Walker made an untimely bolt for the NFL, Martin was handed the keys to the program.
Since then, Aggie football received an invite to join the Sun Belt Conference beginning in 2014. That’s a huge relief, almost to the point that this year’s independent schedule looks like fun to Ramondo and the others. There are those games at Texas (Aug. 31) and UCLA (Sept. 21) that will resonate with the Texans and Californians on the roster. But there’s also home dates vs. Minnesota, Rocky Long’s San Diego State, Rice and Boston College among the seven. #BestHomeScheduleEver is the way NMSU is Twitter-marketing it.
Also, Aggie football has added a second program-specific strength coach, Don Decker. And, it has added an investment into a nutrition system to get the Aggies the right quantity and quality of food and supplements at the training table.
Don’t laugh about that. Recall it was a few short years ago when Walker had to make an open plea to the public to provide “snacks” for his players. “The Aggies are hungry” took on an entirely different and embarrassing context.
Snacks came in shortly thereafter. And on Monday, NMSU announced nourishment of another kind – a $15,000 gift for a football-program endowment from Sal Wright, a teacher in the city’s public school system, and wife Christine, a partner in an accounting and consulting firm.
“You need funding, fan participation, and individuals and businesses to step up and pitch in,” Sal Wright wrote.
Is it a five-figure leap of faith? Perhaps. But that’s the type of people Martin wants involved in all facets of NMSU football – those less inclined to ask why and more to ask, why not?
“It’s just real exciting, the possibilities that are here. This is a great college town,” Martin said. “And there are so many resources here that have not been tapped into. If we can just get people to just feel like they’re a part of it and want to be a part of it, there’s no telling how far this football program can go.”