Offensive linemen typically hate attention, but Brian Trujillo knows he can’t avoid it Saturday.
Trujillo, an Albuquerque native and Volcano Vista High graduate, is the New Mexico State Aggies’ starting left tackle. The senior is gearing up for what will be his final installment of the Rio Grande Rivalry against New Mexico and probably the last football game he’ll play in his hometown.
UNM (1-1) and NMSU (0-3) kick off at 2:30 p.m. at Dreamstyle Stadium.
“It is bittersweet,” Trujillo said. “It’ll be good to play at home in front of family and friends – I’ve got a pretty good group coming – but it’s sad that it’s my last game in Albuquerque. I’ve played a lot of football there over the years.”
At 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, Trujillo is an anchor for an Aggies front that has struggled against a rugged starting schedule this season. NMSU quarterback Josh Adkins has been sacked 12 times in three games, while the rushing game has averaged just 75.7 yards per game.
Injuries have been a big part of the problem. Three offensive tackles – projected starter Sage Doxtater and reserves Evan Tafoya-Vallo and Blake Walker – are out for the season, which has forced New Mexico State to juggle an already thin line rotation.
Nor has the schedule done Trujillo and his line mates any favors. Opening against nationally ranked Washington State, Alabama and a San Diego State team known for its stout defense has amounted to a trial by fire. The Cougars, Crimson Tide and Aztecs are a combined 9-0.
“Yeah, it’s been pretty tough,” Trujillo said, “but I have seen forward steps each week. Our guys are coming out early to practice and getting to know the mental part. It takes a while for guys to learn to play as a unit but we’re working at it. We’ll get there.”
The line’s progression has not been fast enough to suit Aggies coach Doug Martin, who expressed his frustration after a slew of NMSU holding penalties and line breakdowns during last week’s 31-10 loss to San Diego State. The performance attracted unwanted attention for New Mexico State’s offensive line.
“It makes play-calling difficult when you feel you can’t call certain plays because you’re afraid you can’t block them,” Martin said. “We can’t afford to limit what we do. We just have to do a better job adjusting to the defense and handling pressure.”
New Mexico also figures to throw a variety of looks and pressure packages at the Aggies, thrusting Trujillo and his fellow linemen in the spotlight whether they like it or not.
“We have to keep our eyes up,” Trujillo said, “because (the Lobos) do like to blitz. We have to know when it’s coming and where it’s coming from on every play.”
Martin is depending on Trujillo to help stabilize things up front. Trujillo has played center and guard as well as tackle during his college career and is well-suited for a leadership role.
“He’s our best offensive lineman,” Martin said, “and he’s a guy who can play multiple positions. Under the circumstances, we need Brian Trujillo to do a lot and he can do the job.”
New Mexico State goes into Saturday’s matchup averaging just nine points per game, which ranks last among 130 FBS teams. But Trujillo and the Aggies hope to get their offense in gear against a UNM team that’s allowed 97 points in two games.
“It’s a must-win for us,” Trujillo said. “Rivalry games against UNM and UTEP are always must-wins no matter what else happens, but it’s important for us to play well this week. That’s our mindset: Play physical, out-muscle the defense and don’t beat ourselves. If we can give our playmakers time, it’ll be a good day.”