No place like home for NMSU

Football coach wants foundation of program to be from N.M., Texas

LAS CRUCES – It was a promise Doug Martin made in February upon his arrival at New Mexico State as head football coach: his program would aggressively recruit the region, starting with the state of New Mexico.

So far this offseason, such has been the case.

For the 2014 football season, the Aggies have reportedly received five verbal commitments from the following high school football players: quarterback Cassius Corley (Grants), linebacker Travis Parnell (Rio Rancho), linebacker J.B. Copeland (Carroll, Texas), offensive lineman Dezmand Candalerie (North Mesquite, Texas) and offensive lineman Jamin Smith (Douglas County, Colo.).

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“Our base for recruiting is New Mexico and Texas,” Martin said during a Thursday phone interview. “That’s a major focus. Not just scholarship athletes, but also walk-on players. Trying to get as many kids involved in the program as we can.”

Once named head coach, Martin revamped the Aggies recruiting personnel: previously with a heavy presence in Southern California, he placed four coaches to recruit full-time in Texas, with an additional coach available to also help in the effort.

There are 16 players from New Mexico high schools listed on the Aggies’ roster heading into preseason practice.

In the head coach’s eyes, a greater emphasis on Texas can have a handful of benefits. For one, it’s New Mexico’s neighboring state, and remains a hotbed for football talent. And, after playing an independent schedule in 2013, the Aggies will begin competing in the Sun Belt Conference, with the majority of their league opponents east of Las Cruces, including teams such as Texas State, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette – programs located in or near Texas.

“The Sun Belt has a great identity and (brand) in Texas with high school players,” Martin said. “That gives us instant credibility in that area.”

The debate pertaining to the Aggies’ recruiting more regionally has been a long-standing one in Las Cruces. The arguments from the local community that’s supported such a notion points to the success of local high school football programs in the area – particularly Mayfield and Las Cruces High, which are state-title contenders on an annual basis.

That, and with the Aggies’ poor history in football, the prevailing question remains: why not give local and in-state talent a shot?

Greg Berry, a local high school football radio announcer, said the “presumption” that New Mexico athletes can’t play Division I football has hurt NMSU’s program over the years. Berry added he believed the Aggies could build a successful program with New Mexico-based athletes as part of its foundation.

“Do a good job connecting and networking with in-state coaches and alumni coaches from out of state,” Berry said. “Stay in touch, find out who the best players are …. Look at the tapes and give an honest evaluation.

“You can’t disrespect your state before you even start.”

Martin said in order to recruit New Mexico effectively, “you have to be a great (talent) evaluator.”

“You get a kid into your program, into your weight room,” Martin said. “Two years down the road, what’s the kid going to look like?”

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