UNM football: Move of student section is paying off - Albuquerque Journal

UNM football: Move of student section is paying off

UNM students in the north end-zone stands react during the Lobos’ game against UTEP on Sept. 17 at University Stadium.
Chancey Bush/Journal

The last time the University of New Mexico played at home, the Lobos’ defense went wild, causing seven turnovers in a 27-10 win over UTEP.

An announced crowd of 15,269 showed up. Not very impressive. However, the Lobos said they felt great energy from a new student section behind the north end zone.

UNM (2-3, 0-2 Mountain West) returns home in a key MW game on Saturday against Wyoming (3-3, 1-1). The Lobos and coach Danny Gonzales want a big crowd, of course, but they are pleased with the returns of the new student section so far.

“Energy is contagious,” said UNM wide receiver Andrew Erickson, a former Manzano High standout and a 22-year-old redshirt junior. “When you know you have people behind you and cheering, you want to show out and play harder. You definitely have to have drive from yourself, but it helps when you have a whole student section cheering and going at it.”

Erickson, who got married on Jan. 1, is a few semesters from earning a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering. He came to UNM as a walk-on in 2018 after he helped lead Manzano High to a 13-0 season and the Class 6A state championship. He caught the game-winning touchdown pass, a 48-yard reception with under 5 minutes left in the Monarchs’ 14-7 win over La Cueva.

Erickson, who earned a scholarship before the 2019 season when he sustained a knee injury, remembers the former student section in the east stands. A lot of the times, the students didn’t really congregate there. Instead, they found shade under the old tree that was removed before this season due to damage from the monsoons.

Gonzales, a former Lobo player and assistant, believes UNM football can return to its heyday of large crowds at University Stadium. He believes a student section behind the north end zone and moving the university band near that area as well could be the beginning of a plan to ignite excitement at the stadium and draw more people to games.

But Gonzales said he wanted to gain students’ approval before enacting the plan.

He met with UNM student body government leaders this past summer to gauge students’ interest about moving behind the north end zone.

“I thought it was important and our administration thought it was important to include them in the decision,” Gonzales said. “They were involved in the decision and over the first three home games it’s been awesome.”

The new student section also includes the North End Zone Howlers, a rowdy group that also has fun during tailgating.

Erickson has noticed the difference from past years.

“It’s great just to be on the field and see them,” he said. “They’re right in the end zone and heckling the other team. Bringing energy. It’s been really fun. There’s a lot more of them in that section than there were a couple of years ago on the east-side seats. You can definitely feel it.”

Luke Tompson, a 20-year-old third-year student studying business at UNM, said he appreciated Gonzales gaining approval from the students before making the change.

Tompson is executive director for the Lobo Spirit staff that is a part of the Associated Students at UNM.

Tompson attended the Lobos’ first three home games. He also showed up at three tailgate parties that ASUNM and Lobo Spirit hosted.

“The atmosphere was different than last year,” he said. “The new student section has been great. We’ve been able to pack it more than there has been in the past. The students have been showing up and enjoying it. There is a lot more student engagement.”

Not all opinions of the new student section have been positive. Some Lobo fans have said the east stands now appear empty and barren because all of the students and band moved to the north area.

Gonzales couldn’t deny that, but stressed the importance of filling the entire stadium.

He also added that last year the east section was rather empty, too, because students went under the tree.

“There was no tradition,” Gonzales said. “Now that they’ve bought into this, we’re creating tradition. They pile up together. It’s been awesome. We’ll see how it continues.”

TRANSFER PORTAL: UNM redshirt freshman cornerback Andrell Barney Jr. announced on Twitter on Wednesday that he is entering the transfer portal with four years of eligibility. He came to UNM from Basha High in Chandler, Arizona.

 

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