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‘The right people in the right places’

NMHU Junior quarterback Gunner Mefferd is one of two veterans battling for the New Mexico Highlands University starting position. (Courtesy of NMHU)

Entering year three of coach Marty Fine’s era with New Mexico Highlands University in football, the Cowboys already have come a long way.

“We’re happy with the progress,” Fine said. “They’re showing up every day, trying like crazy and getting better. We’re seeing it morph into something.”

NMHU went 4-7 last season, including 4-6 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, which represents one more win than the prior three seasons combined.

“Any time you’re going to change a football program, you have to start with the people,” he said. “In our day and age, too many people want to throw money at problem to fix the problem. But that’s not how you fix problems. It takes people to fix problems. We needed to have the right people in the right places. That includes players and coach.”

Although the Cowboys remain a long way from being a done project, the program has turned a corner, Fine said.

“To some people, it may seem like it is taking a long time, but to me it’s been quick,” he said.

And he should know, as this is Fine’s fourth head coaching gig and the fourth time he has taken over a moribund program. The previous three times, he turned the programs into winners, something he said he expects to happen sooner than later with Highlands.

“It’s no different than with the academic side at Highlands,” he said. “We’re turning things around here. We have good kids from good families who are good students. And we have good players.”

The entire offensive line is back for the Cowboys, the kind of thing that brings a smile to a coach at any level.

Isaiah Lowery (Sr., 6 foot, 4 inches, 280 pounds); Cameron Neal (So., 5-11, 289); Daurice Lee (Jr., 5-10, 338); Ron Beasley (So., 6-0, 275) and Brett Basler (Jr., 6-2, 275) form a mighty front line, while tight end Darrell McIntyre (Sr., 6-0, 280) is coming off an All-RMAC season.

“We should be one of the more explosive offenses in the league because we can protect and we can block,” Fine said. “Last year, we were third in the country in red-zone scoring and we expect to be in the top five in the country in scoring the ball when we get into the red zone, and we expect to win the time of possession. Those are two things we expect to do on offense.”

The question mark, however, is who are the Cowboys going to use to move the rock.

Elijah Boyd (So., 5-10, 262) is back at fullback, while Dazmon Scott (Sr., 5-7, 195) and Kam Mosby (Jr., 5-8, 178) are returning backups who will be battling for the starting tailback slot.

There is also a spirited battle for the quarterback position as newcomer Gunner Mefferd (Jr., 6-4, 220), whose dad played for Fine at Somona State, and Ramone Atkins (Sr., 6-4, 230) are going head to head.

“One of those two will emerge when we start scrimmaging,” Fine said.

Who will catch their passes is something of a mystery.

“Receiver is what has to be what we’re most concerned about,” he said. “We lost a lot of productive players. We’re going to be talented, but young. While we have concerns, we have a great belief in who we recruited.”

NMHU also has a star kicker in Israel Farfan (Sr., 5-8, 230), who was RMAC Special Teams Player of the Year, after making the season’s longest field goal (53 yards) and having success on 12 of 14 attempts.

So, while the Cowboys were still under .500 last season, they were competitive into the fourth quarter in numerous other games and those results should start evening out.

“It’s not often in the world that people subjugate their egos for the good of the group,” Fine said. “And when you get that, then you have success.”

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