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It’s a date: Lobo football starts season Oct. 24 at Colorado State

Lobo players celebrate in the end zone after defeating the Aggies in Las Cruces in 2018. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The Danny Gonzales coaching era for Lobo football has its start date.

Again.

The Mountain West Conference on Thursday afternoon unveiled the revamped 2020 football schedule, showing the Lobos will travel to Fort Collins, Colo., on Oct. 24 to play the Colorado State Rams.

It’s the first of eight games scheduled over a 50-day period for the league that will include four road games for UNM and four home games (the first being Oct. 31 against San Jose State) — games that as of now are yet to be allowed under the state’s public health order.

Neither for that matter, are full practices for the Lobos that include either physical contact or groups of more than 10 people training at a time.

Both of those fairly significant details, however, seem close to a resolution, according to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state’s top health adviser, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase. The latter expects the state and the Lobos to be in agreement on protocols that would allow the team to begin full contact practice “in the next couple days.”

The Governor echoed those sentiments, adding that it would be “premature” to say practices and home games (without fans) are a done deal under the state’s public health order, especially in light of Thursday’s news of higher COVID-related hospitalization rates and the state’s COVID data “trending in the wrong direction.” But she is hopeful that the details are in place that would allow for UNM athletics to be able to proceed safely.

Scrase elaborated on what has been a fairly involved “negotiating” process with UNM in its work with the state to establish guidelines allowing a return to the field.

“(Department of Higher Education’s Acting) Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez has been on this full time this week working with (UNM President Garnett) Stokes,” Scrase said. “(UNM’s interim Executive Vice President for Health Sciences) Mike Richards and I talk several times a day. This is a very aggressive testing program being designed; very rigorous standards for team activities; long discussions about away games and home games. So, my understanding from secretary Rodriguez is that there’ll be a plan that’ll be finalized sometime in the next couple days.”

The Lobos are optimistic they’ve set up every safeguard they can and have checked every box they’ve been asked to in order to return to football with the rest of the 12-member (in football) Mountain West Conference.

And while they’d like to be in full-contact, larger scale practices already, Gonzales said the absence of contact in practice or training in groups larger than 10 to this point has not put his team at any risk. For now, the Lobos are in a “re-acclimation” phase of preparing players’ bodies again for hitting and contact and in pads and helmets while playing at full speed.

“We can do all those things without getting into full contact,” Gonzales said.

Eventually, he noted, the “running into each other” part of football is a must, and while there is a “point of no return” he has in his head of when he would start to worry about his team’s health if it isn’t yet in full practice mode, so far that “is not vital to me, in my opinion, yet.”

The state has also asked of UNM a social contract with players pledging not to do such things as attend parties and risk infection that would then be brought back to the team or campus.

“The social contract, our guys have been on that since July 6,” Gonzales said. “They’ve been told that there’s no second chances if they screw that up. Right now, there’s certain rights and privileges they have to give up to be on this football team, and going out and being a regular college student is one of them.”

If home games are allowed, the Lobos are scheduled to host San Jose State on Oct. 31, Nevada on Nov. 14, Wyoming on Dec. 5 and Fresno State on Dec. 12.

In August, citing health concerns, the MW Board of Directors postponed the football season. Last week, it reversed course, citing advances in affordable rapid testing availability. The MWC is to pay for three tests per week for every team’s core group of players, coaches, trainers and certain staff, which the league said could be around 140 per school.

ACTUAL FOOTBALL: As for that first game, the Lobos are 1-11 against the Rams since 2007 and former head coach Bob Davie’s Lobos teams were 0-8. But both teams now have a new coach — Gonzales, the Albuquerque native and former Lobo, and CSU’s Steve Addazio, the one-time Boston College coach.

Gonzales on Thursday said he’s well aware that while the MWC has done away with divisions for this special season (the top two win percentages will be in the league title game), that CSU is normally in the same division and he isn’t happy about the recent history with the Rams.

“Our kids are going to be sick and tired of hearing me talk about the 10 -consecutive wins that they have over us,” Gonzales said. “It’s going to make them want to vomit. They’re going to hear it every single day. It’s going to be how the team meetings start every single day. Ten’s going to be an ugly number around here for the next three weeks.”

2020 UNM Lobo football schedule

(times TBD and some dates could change to a Friday or Thursday night slot depending on television decisions)

• Oct. 24: UNM at Colorado State
• Oct. 31: San Jose State at UNM
• Nov. 7: UNM at Hawaii
• Nov. 14: Nevada at UNM
• Nov. 21: UNM at Air Force
• Nov. 28: UNM at Utah State
• Dec. 5: Wyoming at UNM
• Dec. 12: Fresno State at UNM
• Dec. 19: Mountain West championship game

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