Aug. 8—PORTALES — Kelley Lee had been gone for two years, but some things looked a lot like they did when he left.
Eastern New Mexico University's football team began workouts on Monday at Greyhound Stadium, and about 20 of the 115 or so players taking part were here when Lee last coached the program in 2019.
"We have a pretty good nucleus," said Lee, who posted a 21-12 record at the helm from 2017-19 and was rehired by the school in January. "There's a thin line between evaluating talent and getting ready for the whole season, and getting ready for your first opponent."
The Hounds, who didn't play during the 2020 covid year, went 3-8 in 2022 under Tye Hiatt. They open the season at home with a Thursday night game against New Mexico Highlands on Aug. 31.
ENMU has dominated the Cowboys over the years, and last season won its opener 34-18 at Las Vegas, N.M.
"They've got some good players," Lee said. "We have to go out there and be ready to play."
ENMU will spend this week and next practicing during the morning before classes begin later this month. They were slated to don pads for the first time today, with full contact beginning on Saturday.
The LSC's preseason poll had the Hounds picked eighth in the nine-team circuit, just ahead of rival Western New Mexico.
"That's a fair spot, but I do think we're going to surprise some people," said senior offensive tackle Sam Piotraschke, who came to ENMU in 2017 and played each of Lee's last two seasons. "I've been here six years, and I think we had our best summer ever."
Lee had no issue with the poll, although he admitted he had his squad a bit higher in the standings.
"I was kind of glad about that," he said of the poll. "The last time we were picked low we won the conference."
Piotraschke said the Hounds generally bring in a certain type of player who may not make a big splash.
"The people we've got here at Eastern aren't flashy," he said. "They're just good, hard workers."
The players who have been here since Lee's original run give the Hounds a good base.
"They're all dudes who wanted to be here," said the 6-foot-6, 275-pound Piotraschke, who is from Fort Collins, Colo. "We don't have to completely rebuild a culture."
Lee is set to return the Hounds to the triple-option look it had for years before Hiatt went to a spread attack in his two campaigns.
"I'm happy to be back in the triple option," Piotraschke said. "I think that's true football. We're going to be a tough football team, and I think that's what Eastern is all and one of four returning starters in the offensive line. about."
Lee, who served as the offensive coordinator from 2012-16, said he hopes the Hounds can build on what they was able to accomplish during his first tenure. He acknowledges that the school has a challenge trying to keep pace with more healed LSC members who are also in larger population centers.
"We definitely have challenges we have to overcome, but we focus on the things we can control," he said. "We just want to get back to where we were. That's the goal, and we'll go from there."