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Lobos look for more big plays in 2018

The explosives gap, and how to close it:

In 2016, the New Mexico Lobos went 9-4 and beat UTSA in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. That season, by the Journal’s unofficial count, the Lobos had 21 offensive plays of 40 yards or more.

Last fall, UNM went 3-9. Unofficially, they had only 10 plays of 40 yards-plus.

In 2018, Lobos coach Bob Davie said Wednesday at his annual signing day news conference, the plan to address last year’s explosive-play drought is multifaceted.

First, there’s the offensive line: UNM has signed four junior-college O-linemen, to better pave the way for long runs and protect the passer on deep throws. Two of them, Jarred Sylvester and David Zavala, are already enrolled and will participate in spring practice.

Next, running backs: Lawrence “L.O.” Johnson, the 2017 Wisconsin state high school 100-meter champion and a breakaway running back for Waunakee High School, signed with the Lobos in December.

“He’s a guy who, when you put the tape on, he jumps out,” Davie said. “And he was highly recruited.”

Johnson had scholarship offers from at least nine NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision schools, including Colorado State and Wyoming, UNM’s Mountain West Conference rivals.

Laney College running back Ahmari Davis, another December signee, averaged 7 yards per carry during his two seasons there.

Also, more speed at wide receiver: Tre Patterson, who signed a UNM letter of intent on Wednesday, has 100-meter and 200-meter times close to those of Johnson.

Not all of the plans for big plays, though, involve new players, Davie said.

Elijah Lilly, a dynamic kick returner who has played cornerback the past two years, has been moved to wide receiver. Lilly was a sprinter, hurdler and long jumper at Cajon High School in San Bernardino, Calif. Davie said he’s eager to see what sophomore running back Daevon Vigilant and senior slot receiver Emmanuel Harris can do in the explosive-play department after coming back from injuries. Harris missed all of 2017 with a torn ACL. Vigilant, who sat out 2016 with a torn ACL, broke a finger last fall and played in only one game.

The Lobos have signed 22 players thus far and have three slots remaining. One of those, Davie, said, might go to a running back with breakaway speed.

“That will be something that we’ll kind of keep an eye on, is, where’s that guy that can get it in his hands and take it?” he said.

INVESTIGATION: Davie said reports that UNM is investigating him for alleged player mistreatment, which surfaced last September, have not affected recruiting.

“It probably came up in three players’ conversations,” he said. “… You try to explain as much as what the time line is without saying too much, because, again, you don’t know for sure.

“When all the dust settled, I would say (it was) zero factor, quite honestly.”

THE LATEST: Wednesday morning, the Journal listed 14 players who had signed letters of intent and five more who had committed to do so. There were no surprises there.

Wednesday, three new names surfaced. Tight end Jeffrey Jones (Bakersfield, Calif., College), defensive back Donte Martin (Rio Mesa High School, Oxnard, Calif.) and defensive end Adebayo Soremekun (Long Beach, Calif., City College) all faxed in their letters of intent.

STATE OF THE STATE: No New Mexicans have signed with UNM. The Lobos did offer scholarships to all four in-state products who have signed with NCAA FBS schools.

Manzano quarterback/running back Jordan Byrd and Rio Rancho defensive end Keshawn Banks signed with San Diego State in December.

Wednesday, OƱate safety Monroe Young signed with California and Rio Rancho offensive lineman Evan Tafoya-Vallo signed with New Mexico State.

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