The New Mexico State University football team is set to play Tarleton State University in El Paso, Texas, this weekend. The Aggies will be traveling to the UTEP campus to play the Texan Riders tomorrow, kicking off an unprecedented two-game spring football season for the Aggies. The team has not played in a game since Nov. 30, 2019.
Mario Moccia, NMSU’s athletic director, suggested that this was the first time the football program has ever played an official game in the spring. “We always have a spring practice and a scrimmage, but I don’t think we’ve ever played a collegiate game in the spring,” he added.
It was a challenging process to put together this season, according to Moccia, having run into scheduling, financial and venue complications. However, in an effort to fulfill a promise to everyone involved, the administration persisted in organizing a season. “We said, ‘Hey, you know what? Let’s try to play some games in the spring. We’ll be fulfilling our promise to the student athletes that they would be able to compete and the coaches would be able to evaluate the players going into the 2021 season,’” Moccia said. Moccia added that the two spring games would also help some of the organization’s multimedia rights partners get coverage and signage up as well.
Both Moccia and Aggie football head coach Doug Martin sounded optimistic about the upcoming games and what they could bring. “I’m really excited for our players. You know, they’ve sacrificed a lot and they’ve been very dedicated,” coach Martin said.
“I think [the players] are unbelievably happy — a bounce in their step. I think it’s changed their attitudes. I think it’s huge to be able to look forward to competing and practicing,” Moccia added.
Robert Downs III, a wide receiver for NMSU, also looks to make an impact on the field and the team with this short season. Downs told the Las Cruces Sun-News: “It’s my last season here and I want to make a statement and show guys how we can be different than when I came into the program.”
Coach Martin explained that these games will give the coaches a chance to evaluate the team. “We got new quarterbacks playing, we got a lot of work to do in the secondary, so we need to evaluate all those guys,” Martin said.
Other than evaluating the team, coach Martin also mentioned that getting some of the new players in game situations would also be important. “Evaluating the talent is the biggest thing, and then getting our guys some game experience,” Martin said. “We’ve got so many guys here that have never played a game at New Mexico State and so to be out there with officials and have different situations, clock running, and all those types of things is going to be really valuable for us.”
In addition to a lot of players playing in their first game with NMSU, coach Martin said that because of NCAA rules, some mid-year transfers will not be able to play at all. “You know, we do have a lot of mid-year guys that will not be playing these games because of the NCAA rules … It won’t exactly be our best team that’s going to be out there in these games because a lot of those guys are going to be starters for us,” Martin said.
Sunday’s matchup will be the first meeting between the Aggies and the Texan Riders, according to NMSU football archives. Although Tarleton State competes in the FCS division and only just moved up from Division II last year, coach Martin warns that this will not be the easiest matchup for the Aggies. “Maybe most people are not really familiar with [Tarleton State], but they are a really good football team,” Martin explained. “I told our players we do not have more talent than Tarleton and they’re a really talented, well-coached team and they could play with just about anybody.”
The game will be played in El Paso at the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 21, at 3 p.m. MST. The game can be streamed on Fox Sports Arizona, Flo Sports, Comcast New Mexico, the CW Las Cruces and on El Paso radio: ZIA country 99.5 FM.
The only other Aggie football game on the schedule this spring is set for Sunday, March 7, against Dixie State University. That game will also be played at the Sun Bowl in El Paso.