Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Actual football in the fall is set to begin Tuesday for the University of New Mexico with full contact, tackling and scrimmaging in a practice as the Lobos were cleared for such activity by state officials on Saturday, first-year coach Danny Gonzales and athletic director Eddie Nuñez said on Monday.
The Lobos have been in talks with state officials and began to produce criteria and protocols for full-contact practices since the Mountain West Conference announced on Sept. 24 its return to play after the coronavirus pandemic led the MWC to postpone the season in August.
UNM is preparing to open the season on Oct. 24 at Colorado State. The Lobos’ acclimation period included helmets, shoulder pads and shorts on Friday, full pads on Saturday, and escalating to more contact on Monday and tackling on Tuesday.
“We’ll let them loose (Tuesday) and see where we’re at, and keep going forward to start progressing to prepare for a game,” Gonzales said in a phone interview on Monday. “Normally you would probably take more time on an opponent, but we just need to get better at football.”
The tackling for the Lobos’ practices will be similar to what they did in the spring. Hitting is a “thud” technique, Gonzales said. The players don’t actually take down opponents to the ground, but hit and wrap above the waist.
Gonzales believes performing at full speed at practices while having the discipline to maintain “thud” hitting enhances the offense and the defense.
The Lobos will have many more opportunities to rely on discipline to get through an unprecedented eight-game season in the MWC.
The UNM football players will continue to be tested for COVID-19. They were tested last week and that resulted in zero positives, Gonzales said. They were again tested Sunday and results were expected to come Monday evening or early Tuesday morning, Gonzales said.
They will be tested again in the middle of this week. The MWC will take over with its testing three times a week on Oct. 12. UNM is planning to have additional testing to the MWC’s tests.
Significant testing was the key for MWC to return to play and also just as important for UNM to get back on the field and to have four home games. The games in Albuquerque are expected to have no attendance. 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.
The Lobos also had several requirements to meet to begin practices that included groups greater than 10 and full contact. The UNM football players must wear masks or face coverings at all times.
The Lobos have also been adhering to a social contract since July 6, Gonzales said.
“They’ll be prepared,” Gonzales said of his team. “Safety is not an issue. They’ll be more than prepared to play a football game. Physical conditioning will be fine. … We’ll be ready to throw our hat in the ring. If we’re good enough, we’ll see. That’s yet to be determined.”
Redshirt sophomore Trae Hall has been running with the first team as the quarterback, but Gonzales hasn’t named the starter. Redshirt junior Tevaka Tuioti has been taking reps at quarterback as well, Gonzales said.
“Especially with the amount of football, all 22 positions are up for grabs,” Gonzales said. “There might be one position that is set. Tyson Dyer might be secure (as the starting punter).”