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Senior Lobos help out the newcomers on the team

New Mexico tight end Cole Gautsche looks back for  a defender as he heads toward the end zone during spring scrimmage. The senior Lobo says he helps the newcomers just as he was helped when he was a freshman. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal.)

New Mexico tight end Cole Gautsche looks back for a defender as he heads toward the end zone during spring scrimmage. The senior Lobo says he helps the newcomers just as he was helped when he was a freshman.
(Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal.)

A freshman’s first taste of college life can be as confusing as it is exciting. Throw in 20 hours a week of football practice, meetings and competition, and it gets all that much more exciting – and confusing.

Tight end Cole Gautsche and safety John Russo are fifth-year seniors at the University of New Mexico, but they remember well their experiences as freshmen.

“It’s a whole new scale,” said Russo, an Eldorado graduate, on Tuesday, the second day of fall-semester classes at UNM. “It’s all big now. You go from just having probably four buildings in your high school … to thousands of kids, facilities all over the place on different streets. So it’s a big transition.”

Most UNM freshman players come to Albuquerque in June and attend summer school, which somewhat eases the process. Gautsche, however, graduated from Cleveland in December 2011 and enrolled at UNM for the 2012 spring semester, making him eligible for that year’s spring practice.

Between football, academics and logistics, Gautsche recalled, the changes were dizzying.

“Luckily, I had (teammates) Richard Winston and Bryan Oldenkamp, that came in at the same time as me,” he said. “We were always kind of figuring out UNM together. But, yeah, between football, homework, going to your classes and all that stuff, it was a load.”

Preseason practice began this season Aug. 4. But the process changes dramatically, coach Bob Davie said, when fall classes begin.

“It’s a tremendous transition, it really is,” Davie said. “It’s something (the newcomers) look forward to, but all of a sudden you see how much is on their plate.”

Yet, simultaneously, the freshmen discover they have more freedom than they’ve ever had in their academic lives.

Gautsche recalls the realization that, were he to skip class as a college freshman, there was no hall monitor to turn him in to the principal.

“The onus is really on the player,” he said. “Most of the freshmen kind of struggle with that.

“It’s like, ‘Hey, I’ve got all this freedom.’ But it’s something that during the semester you kind of get a realization of, ‘Hey, I need to buckle down and get it done.’ ”

Toward that goal, Russo said, the UNM athletics’ academic advisement department has been a godsend.

“In high school you have the teachers, you have the coaches,” he said. “But when you get here … you had a real system that was behind you and would help you and make sure you stayed on task.”

Even so, both players said, the best mentors they had were older, more experienced teammates.

Gautsche, who came to UNM as a quarterback, singled out fellow QB and 2012 senior B.R. Holbrook.

“B.R. was a big influence for me when I came in,” Gautsche said. “In the film room, out on the field and even in the classroom, he was helping me out.

“We had this Big Brother program, and he took me around to all my classes at the beginning of the year. … He was somebody that I definitely looked up to, and he helped me immensely.”

For Russo, that person was linebacker Dallas Bollema, a senior in 2013.

“There were plenty of times when I went up to him and was like, ‘Hey, I don’t know where this is, can you help me out?’

“He would personally go drive with me to campus and show me around.”

Both players say they’re paying it forward.

“That’s what Cole and I and all the seniors hope we can do for our younger teammates right now,” Russo said. “That’s something we try to do.

“With anything (new), you’re nervous going in, and it’s always helpful when you have your brothers with experience that will guide you. And that’s how it needs to be.”

Russo is a senior academically, majoring in criminology and psychology, and is scheduled to graduate in December. He’s considering a career with the FBI.

Gautsche will play his senior year while in graduate school, studying athletic administration. He’s planning a career in coaching.

ROSTER MOVES: Matt Naranjo, a freshman from Skokie, Ill., has joined the roster as a walk-on punter. Davie said Naranjo was working as a student manager when he was “discovered” while punting after practice.

Naranjo was a punter for Niles North High School in Skokie.

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