ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Locksley Hopes To Make Alumni Gathering Annual Event
On land they conquered long ago, they came, they saw, they marveled.
About 30 former University of New Mexico football players gathered with first-year coach Mike Locksley and his staff for an alumni lettermen social Friday on the newly built patio area between University Stadium and the Lobos’ indoor practice facility.
Players from as early as 1949 were on hand for the event. Several of the former players watched UNM’s practice inside the indoor facility Friday before gathering for a dinner and evening of reminiscing.
“This is the first experience I’ve had with anything like this involving former players,” said former standout quarterback Stoney Case, who’s the cousin of current junior quarterback Tate Smith. “Things like this give you a reason to come back. There are a lot of guys you don’t know, but you share similar experiences with them.”
That was the idea Locksley had in mind when he told UNM of his plan to reunite former players.
“It’s something I’ve been a part of for a long time,” Locksley said. “My first exposure to it was when I was at the University of Maryland as an assistant coach. When you’ve got great players and a tradition like this place has, to have former players come back once a year, I think it’s important for the program.
“I say it all the time, this is their team. They’re the ones that have invested blood, sweat and tears. We’d just like to be able to have our current players understand the past and understand the traditions and know the great players that have worn the same uniform they’ve worn.”
Case, who played from 1991-94 and still holds most of the school’s all-time quarterback records, was just one of a handful of former NFL players. Mike Prokopiak (who played 1950-52), Don Woods (1973) and Walt Arnold (1976-79) were the others.
“It’s great to get together and share stories,” said Prokopiak, who played for the Chicago Cardinals. “I wanted to meet coach Locksley and ask him a few things. I used to talk to Rocky (former coach Long) a lot. It never did any good.”
Prokopiak brought a file of newspaper clippings, rosters and photos from his playing days to share with his brethren. Although he was the oldest graduate, Herbie Hughes was the earliest player among the group, on that 1949 team. He then served military duty before returning to UNM and graduating in 1955.
Many of the former players who watched practice were in awe of UNM’s indoor facility.
“That was the first time I’ve been to that practice facility,” said former great Bobby Santiago (1960-62), whose No. 42 jersey has been retired. “We were all commenting about how nice it would’ve been to have that when we were playing.”
Lobo Club president Scott Creagan, who played from 1988-89 and 1991-92, said he thought the idea of bringing back the former players would build a foundation for tradition that current players can feed off.
“We want current players to see we’re here and supporting them,” Creagan said. “When coach Locksley was first hired, he asked if we did any of the functions and we really didn’t do anything like this.
“This is a good way for coach Locksley to spread goodwill. We need to get about 10,000 or 15,000 more fans to the game. The group that’s here is a very powerful group. If they can make an impact by spreading the word of Lobo football, that’ll help immensely.”
During his address to the former players, Locksely thanked Long for the job he’d done in building tradition at UNM.
Locksley said Long received an invitation as a former player but surmised he probably was busy with his own spring practice as defensive coordinator at San Diego State.
“He’s a former Lobo; he’s always welcome,” Locksley said.
The first-year coach added he’d like to make the social an annual event on the eve of the spring game.
“As long as I’m coach here,” he told the gathering, “we’re going to do this. I just want this thing to grow and grow.”