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Lobo football: JC transfers from California bolstering defense

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Brett Bowers and David Guthrie first met, sort of, on Sept. 29 of last year.

That afternoon, Guthrie’s College of the Siskiyous Eagles put a 56-9 hurt on Bowers’ Mendocino College Eagles – no typo; the two California junior colleges have a nickname in common – in Ukiah, Calif.

This year, Bowers and Guthrie are teammates as New Mexico Lobos.

Do they ever talk about that Eagles-Eagles game?

“Sometimes,” Guthrie says with a smile.

If so, it apparently is a one-sided conversation.

“Uh, no,” Bowers says, without the smile. “That would be a no.”

Actually, neither has a specific memory of the other from that game a year ago. Their relationship as friends and teammates actually began when they made their recruiting visits to UNM on the same weekend.

Guthrie, a safety, had committed to Illinois. Bowers, a defensive end, was planning to attend Ball State. After their campus visits in Albuquerque, they each opted for New Mexico.

Lobos coach Bob Davie is happy they did. The Lobos have struggled on defense this season, but that road would have been far rockier without Bowers and Guthrie.

Guthrie, 5-foot-10 and 201 pounds, ranks second on the team in total tackles with 36. Bowers, 6-3 and 272, leads the team in sacks (five) and tackles for loss (seven). Both players have started all six of UNM’s games.

Davie has said many times he plans to build his program with high school recruits. But, nearly as often, he has said he’ll continue to mine the junior-college ranks to shore up problem areas.

Saturday night, when the Lobos (2-4 overall, 0-2 in Mountain West Conference play) face Utah State (3-4, 2-1) at University Stadium, five scholarship juco transfers are expected to start for UNM: Guthrie, Bowers, outside linebacker Rashad Rainey, cornerback SaQwan Edwards and defensive end Fatu Ulale, who already was in the program when Davie arrived.

Two more, quarterback Clayton Mitchem and inside linebacker David Orvick, are likely to see action.

Last month, during the Lobos’ bye week between the Pittsburgh and UNLV games, Davie and several members of his staff hit the junior-college recruiting circuit.

“We’re trying to be selective,” Davie says. “Across the board, if we can duplicate what we did in last year’s recruiting class, we’ll be off to a pretty good start.”

It seems to fair to say that Bowers and Guthrie are off to good starts as Lobos. But, Bowers says, he expected nothing less of himself.

When a four-year school signs a junior-college player, he says, “They’re not looking for a backup. … But I guess I do have some pride in being able to start coming in.”

Many people, Guthrie believes, underestimate the quality of junior-college football and don’t realize how quickly a juco player must mature in those two years.

“It’s not as easy as what everyone thinks,” he says. “It’s not a walk in the park, that’s for sure. … It’s welcome to manhood right away.”

Guthrie hails from Tenmile, Ore., about three hours north of the College of the Siskiyous campus in Weed, Calif. Bowers is from Ukiah, another four hours to the south.

“We’re pretty good friends,” Guthrie says, “and we can relate in a lot of things.”

As a newcomer, Bowers said, he has relied on mostly on more experienced players for advice. But his friendship with Guthrie, their common backgrounds and experiences, has been a lifeline of sorts.

As for that Eagles-Eagles thing, Guthrie has even fonder memories of the 2011 game, a 65-6 College of Siskiyous cakewalk in which he returned an interception 64 yards for a touchdown. Bowers didn’t play in that game, having sat out the 2011 season with a broken ankle.

All that, though, is in the past. What the two players have in common now are their goals as Lobos.

“We’re here to do our part,” Guthrie says, “and all we want to do is win.”

THE QB SITUATION: On his radio show, Davie said an MRI of starting quarterback Cole Gautsche’s right knee, injured late in last Saturday’s 38-31 loss to Wyoming, showed no ligament damage. Mitchem, he said, is free of the concussion symptoms that sidelined him last week.

But Davie did not say who would start against Utah State – Gautsche, Mitchem or walk-on David Vega, who took most of the practice repetitions with the No. 1 offense early this week.

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