RB Jones impressive as Lobos wrap up camp - Albuquerque Journal

RB Jones impressive as Lobos wrap up camp

Nate Jones carries for big yardage during Saturday’s University of New Mexico football scrimmage at the indoor practice facility. (Mike Sandoval/For the Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Most eyes were on the quarterback competition to start for the University of New Mexico, but prized Lobo running back Nate Jones also got everybody’s attention during Saturday’s scrimmage.

During the opening drive at the Lobos’ indoor facility, directed by senior transfer (from Kansas) quarterback Miles Kendrick, Jones rattled off a strong 30-yard run and seemingly set the tone for a hard-hitting, aggressive session to end preseason camp. The Lobos begin academic classes on Monday and prepare for the Sept. 3 season opener at home vs. Maine.

Jones saw minimal action after his big run. UNM coach Danny Gonzales said that was “because we know what Nate can do.”

Jones, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound redshirt sophomore from Bellflower, California, said it feels good to have Gonzales believe in him.

“It just brings confidence in myself and the run game,” Jones said. “It just makes me more mature as a player to go out there and handle my business for my team.”

Jones sat out last year and used a redshirt season after he had entered the transfer portal during the offseason, but returned to the team. Before the 2021 spring, Gonzales said Jones was not meeting expectations. But by the end of the year, Gonzales spoke highly of Jones after welcoming him back on the team so long as he worked his way back into his favor and met his standards.

Jones graduated from St. John Bosco High in 2020 with a state championship and was among the highest rated recruits in the Mountain West for that class. He had committed to UCLA, then withdrew his verbal and nearly joined USC, but the Trojans didn’t have room for him.

Clay Helton, USC’s coach at the time, called Rocky Long, the former UNM coach and current defensive coordinator, to let him know about Jones.

Gonzales said the Lobo running backs are deep with talent, as freshman Christian Washington showed last week. Washington, out of Helix High in San Diego, also didn’t play as much on Saturday. The Lobos also have freshman Zach Vigil, a former Rio Rancho standout, and Sherod White, a junior transfer from San Jacinto College in California.

Washington, who scored 60 career high school touchdowns, rushed for 2,241 yards in his senior season to help lead Helix to a section championship. He said his other main offers came from Arizona and Oregon State, but he chose UNM because he “wanted to go to a quiet city to not get into trouble,” and to potentially contribute as a freshman.

“When coach told me, ‘Come here, I want you to play a big role on this team,’ I kinda figured that I would have to step up and I couldn’t be a little kid no more,” Washington said. “I had to man up a little bit.”

As for the physicality of Saturday’s scrimmage, Gonzales was quite pleased with that.

“It’s probably the most physical scrimmage we’ve had since I’ve been here,” the third-year coach said. “That’s a positive because there’s a bunch of guys out there that are bumped and bruised and grumpy and probably didn’t want to do it. We came out here at 6 o’clock this morning to try to make it as hard as possible. I thought they came out here with the right attitude, the attitude to get better.”

QB SHUFFLE: It might have appeared that redshirt freshman CJ Montes had a strong hold on the starting job last week, but Kendrick had a great week and continued his high level of play on Saturday.

“Miles had a real good day,” Gonzales said. “CJ hit his hand early on. We’ll go up there and watch it, but I think (Kendrick has) done some really good things over the past couple of days. I think we’ll able to announce the starter (on Sunday).”

Justin Holaday, a sophomore transfer from Fresno City College, “did some good things,” Gonzales said, but he missed some throws and was intercepted by safety Kalen Woods, a freshman out of Fremont High in Oakland, California. The defense made plays as it has throughout August.

The offense didn’t score a touchdown, but senior kicker George Steinkamp connected on two field goals from 57 and 42 yards.

INJURIES: Montes struck his right throwing hand against a helmet during a play early during the scrimmage. Gonzales said he will be fine. He could have continued playing, but Gonzales said he did not think the scrimmage was worth the risk.

Defensive lineman Tyler Kiehne, a former Los Lunas standout who has transferred in as a redshirt freshman from UCLA, limped off the field with assistance, but Gonzales expects him to be OK.

DJ Wingfield, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound junior transfer (El Camino College; Torrance, California) projected to start at right tackle, remains out with a knee injury sustained two weeks ago. Gonzales said he should return on Monday or Tuesday.

Gonzales said the offensive line played well. The first unit, which is expected to have two returning starters in right guard Shancco “Ise” Matautia and left guard Isaak Gutierrez, played roughly 70 of the 120 plays during the scrimmage, Gonzales said, so that they could generate more chemistry.

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