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Lobo football: Chestnut is a big gain waiting to happen

He’s a first down, all by himself.

And then some.

Not many University of New Mexico running backs have made a splashier start than Daryl Chestnut’s debut Saturday in the Lobos’ 66-0 rout of Mississippi Valley State.

His football history suggests there are more splashes where those came from.

Chestnut, a 5-foot-8, 188-pound sophomore transfer from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, scored a touchdown against MVSU on his first carry as a Lobo. Darting through a huge hole in the middle of the Delta Devils defense, he raced 64 yards untouched to the end zone.

“Every time I get the ball, I just want to make a play and be as fast as possible,” Chestnut said after a Lobos practice earlier this week. “But it was a dream come true.”

Surely, no one’s wildest dream could have envisioned Chestnut scoring from 37 yards on his second carry in a New Mexico uniform. But that’s what happened.

“I just trusted in my offensive line, and I trusted in the coaches and what we do every day in practice,” Chestnut said. “I just tried to execute as much as possible.”

He finished the night with 108 yards on six rushes, an average of 18 yards per carry. He might have led the nation in that category this week, but NCAA statistics require an average of 10 carries per game to qualify.

Lobo fans should not, of course, expect Chestnut to average 18 yards per carry for the season. All the gaudy statistics UNM generated against a weak MVSU defense, in fact, could be considered suspect if not illusory.

Still, there’s nothing suspect or illusory about Chestnut’s ability to gain big chunks of yardage on a single carry.

The data speaks for itself.

During his junior and senior seasons at Christopher Columbus High School in his hometown of Miami, Chestnut rushed 155 times for 1,734 yards. That’s an average of 11.2 yards per carry.

Yes, that’s right. He averaged a first down, plus a bit more, each time he carried the ball.

But how many times this season will he carry it?

Running back, with little if any room for argument, is UNM’s deepest position.

Senior Jhurell Pressley averaged 9.5 yards per carry last season, just missing that one-man first-down marker.

Junior Teriyon Gipson rushed for 809 yards, caught 15 passes and scored nine touchdowns in 2014. Gipson missed the Mississippi Valley State game after undergoing meniscus surgery and is questionable for Saturday’s game against Tulsa, but is expected back for UNM’s Sept. 18 game at Arizona State.

Senior David Anaya is an outstanding blocker, a solid runner and a reliable receiver. Sophomore Romell Jordan is a running back who doubles as a slot receiver, or vice versa. Redshirt freshmen Tyrone Owens and Diquon Woodhouse await their turn. Sophomore Richard McQuarley, Chestnut’s fellow junior college transfer, is the power back the Lobos haven’t had since 2014 senior Crusoe Gongbay was lost to injury last October.

If Chestnut is worried about playing time, he doesn’t let on.

“Everybody’s good in their own way,” he said. “… Everybody has their own ability and their own skill set that God has blessed them with.”

If he sounds like a patient young man, well, he’s had to be.

Before Mississippi Valley State, Chestnut last carried a football in a game on Dec. 7, 2012. His Columbus Explorers lost in the Florida Class 8A playoffs that day, 33-13, to Cypress Bay. Chestnut was held to 73 yards on nine carries, an average of a mere 8.1 yards.

The following February, Chestnut signed with Indiana – choosing IU over West Virginia, Kansas State, Kentucky and others. But academic eligibility problems diverted him to Coffeyville.

He never played a down for the Red Ravens, sitting out the 2013 season as a redshirt and the 2014 campaign with an injury. He enrolled at UNM in January and is pursuing a degree in communications.

Regarding Chestnut’s pursuit of more personal first downs, coach Bob Davie said it’s a matter of finding the right player for the right situation.

“There’s a reason he was highly recruited,” Davie said. “There was a reason we were excited to get him.

“He’s an explosive player, and we need to keep giving him opportunities.”