New Mexico Football Looking To Bolster Its Defense This Spring

New Mexico Football Looking To Bolster Its Defense This Spring

What are the Lobos going to do on defense?

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There is a new defensive coordinator

Now it’s time to cover one hallmark of the New Mexico Lobos’s football team, the Defensive side of the ball for the spring for the UNM Program under Head Lobo Football Coach Danny Gonzales.  

If there is one thing that the UNM Lobos pride themselves on, it’s the Defense. Just ask Former Lobo Brian Urlacher, who led the nation in tackles his senior year with 178 under this Rocky Long 3-3-5 defense in 1998.

During the Rocky Long successful era, the Lobo defense had a reputation for being one of the most physical teams in the conference, despite the lack of enormous talent.

I knew the Lobo defense of being physical, flying to the ball, and being the wood “Sort of speak” on every play.

That was then, and this is now in 2023. Danny Gonzales Lobos are coming into the season without former Defensive coordinator and head Lobo coach Rocky Long as he took the defensive coordinator job at Syracuse.

This was after the Syracuse Defensive Coordinator Tony White took the defensive coordinator job at Nebraska after he joined the program in 2020.

Rocky Long is renowned for this very aggressive defense that Joe Lee Dunn invented in Memphis in the early 1990s, that proved very effective against high-powered offenses in FBS.

That is the same Defense Tony White had run as Syracuse’s defensive coordinator over the last three seasons before taking the job at Nebraska, which opened the door for Long.

It was the perfect fit for Rocky Long as Tony White, who goes back with Rocky Long as a player, all the way back to the UCLA days when Long invited this player prospect out from El Paso in 1999 and ran Long’s 3-3-5 defense.

Syracuse successfully used Long’s system under White’s tutelage, finishing No. 29 in total Defense this season just a few years after clocking in at No. 115 in 2019. The Orange also finished No. 19 in passing yards allowed and No. 36 in scoring defense.

So Rocky left for the opportunity to coach at a Power 5 conference that is already running this defense, not so much as some have said, abandon the ship.

Long and his wife, Debbie, still call New Mexico home and have a home here as well. It was just an opportunity that he could not pass up to coach at a Power 5 school.

 He has a reputation for his gratitude as a player and coach and many lifelong (me being one of them) friends here in Albuquerque.

It’s a small world in the college football coaching circles, as Tony White was with Long and Gonzales in New Mexico. 

Both Tony White, now in Nebraska and Zac Barnett at Mississippi state, learned this defense from Long as well as head Lobo coach Danny Gonzales. 

 Later, Lobo head coach Danny Gonzales took Tony White to ASU when Herm Edwards was the head coach. Both are part of the Rocky Long coaching tree.

So in early January, Danny Gonzales named a long-time assistant Troy Reffett as the new Lobos Defensive Coordinator.

“I’m excited to have Coach Reffett serve as defensive coordinator because it will give us continuity in what we have been doing defensively,” said Gonzales.  “He has a tremendous track record of success, and he will be able to continue coaching the scheme that has proven successful for us over the past few years.”

Reffett rejoined the Lobos for a second stint with the program as a part of Gonzales’ first staff named in 2020. 

 Lobo corners have been terrific under his tutelage; last year marked another solid year despite many true freshmen breaking into the rotation. 

 Senior Donte Martin was the Lobo defensive group’s leader despite missing three games, leading all corners in PBUs and tackles. Martin is poised to break the long-standing Lobo record for pass breakups in a career.

Reffett also has had successful stints as a coordinator with North Texas as the Mean Green qualified for three bowl games, including the 2018 New Mexico Bowl. 

 He also has successful runs with ULM, including the second-best NCAA defensive turnaround in terms of yards per game allowed from 2008 to 2009, lowering that total by nearly 100 yards a game. 

 He also had a 14-year coaching run with UTEP, including the final two seasons as defensive coordinator in 2002 and 2003.

Defensive coordinator Troy Reffett has paid his college football dues if you look at his coaching resume and know the 3-3-5 Defense like no other on the defensive staff.

Danny Gonzales has stated that he will stick to signal calls from the sideline from Rocky Long, but this year will call the Defense with his defensive coach’s input, especially from Reffett.

The Lobo defense made considerable strides in 2021, ranking 44th overall in total Defense, a 57-spot improvement from 2020; it is becoming much more prevalent in FBS football in this era.

So there will be no letdown in the Defense that shot up 50 spots under Rocky Long when he took over. Now, Gonzales and the staff will work in tandem together with Gonzales, the final play caller, as the head coach.

Defensive Players to watch

Lobo players to watch for this year, Corner’s Donte Martin , Zach Morris, Josh Williamson, Hunter Sellers, followed by Desmond Hardy.

Martin might be one of the best lockdown corners in the Mountain West Conference.

He has a good chance at being first-team Mountain West Conference as that’s where this writer will more than likely place him; he is that good.

The 3-3-5 Defense depends on lockdown corners as so many plays, are out on an island in a press-man situation.

One good example would be former Lobo Glover Quin, who Troy Reffett coached. He played in the NFL for four seasons with the Houston Texans and six seasons with the Detroit Lions.

Now, this defense also has to have outstanding linebackers with all the stunting that takes place, it’s like organized chaos, but linebackers have to be solid.

Look for local 6A powerhouse Cleveland High school player Dion Hunter (who played for current Lobo Quarterbacks coach Heath Ridenhour). He also looks to take more of a leadership role in this defense.

Alec Marenco should have a significant year. Although he is injured during spring ball, he is a lights-out player with an excellent nose for the football, and at 6’3, 220, he has good size and speed for the Lobos.

Also injured during spring ball but is a very good linebacker when healthy is Ray Leutele, one of those players who seems to be constantly at the right place and right time to make big plays in this Defense.

Other players to watch for would be Syaire Riley, Dimitri Johnson, and Mihalis Santorineos, Marquios Jones.

The Lobos are deep at this spot with over 16 linebackers on the roster but these have stood out but with injuries, others look to step on the field.

Tavian Combs is out for this year’s spring ball at the safety spot, recovering from torn ACL against UTEP last year.

Combs is one heck of a playmaker and is set to be back in June, so look for him to start at that Strong Lobo back position.

Christian Ellis is another lobo back but also can play other safety positions for Troy Reffett.

Jer’Merius Lewis (former Lobos & NFL Glover Quin’s nephew) was out for spring and looks to make some noise again for the Lobos.

Others standing out are Marvin Convington, 5-11 sophomore from Mansfield Texas, D’Arco Perkins-McAllister, and former Lobo receiver turned Safety Bobby Wooden.

Wooden is a 5-11 Lobos player with impressive athleticism, and he is from Pearland Texas, the same hometown as former Lobo running star Kasey Carrier.

Also looking to get on the field from the safety spot would be Aaron Smith from Long Beach, California.

Up front, the Lobos are bigger and deeper than they have been in years for the Defense. Both Troy Reffett and Head Coach Danny Gonzales have commented that they are not as deep in the secondary as they like, but are deep up front.

Defensive Ends that are looking very good during the spring practice are Gabe Lopez, Kyler Drake, Hunter Rapollla, Destiny Gainer and Joe Maez.

Nose guard the Lobo return two solid local New Mexico players out of Los Lunas high school, Tyler Kiehne and Bryce Santana, high character guys for the Lobos.

When asked how spring ball was going, Coach Troy Reffett: “I have been happy with some of the new players that have come in, Gabe Lopez, Hunter Rapolla, Dimitri Johson, Mihalis those guys have come in up front have added to our atheism and they a smart football players who have picked the scheme very well.

And in the backend with Marvin and D’Arco those guys have brought in a different level of speed that is going to help us well” and we have six new guys that fitting in well and are going to help us”

It’s a growing process for a lot of them on with these new guys on what we expect from them, and it’s a day-by-day process that we are getting better.”

Gonzales when asked last week why such an early spring practice was not spreading out the practice for 30 days, which they could.

“We liken the short period as close to the actual season, and players are dealing with injuries and just being tired of hitting each other. We need to get stronger, so the early practices will give us more time in the weight room where we need to get stronger.

Gonzales expressed his pleasure with the competition at the wide receiver’s spot and the guys up front and expressed likes what he sees as far as talent and competition as well. 

So we will see how the Lobo defense fairs without Long but if you watch spring ball, if you are a Lobo fan, love the more size and depth and the amount of talent Gonzales has brought in to this year’s team.


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Story originally appeared on Mountain West Wire