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Q&A: New head football coach discusses upcoming season ahead of spring game

After a successful 2023-24 Aggie football season that ended with a trip to the New Mexico Bowl, NMSU head coach Jerry Kill stepped down after two years with the team. Following Kill’s resignation, it was announced that former Aggie wide receivers coach Tony Sanchez would be taking over the program.

Tony Sanchez, NMSU’s former wide receivers coach, replaced Jerry Kill in December 2023 as the new Aggie head football coach. (Photo courtesy of NMSU Athletics)

As a former Aggie football player, Sanchez graduated from NMSU in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in family and consumer science. This isn’t his first head coaching position, as he also led the University of Nevada, Las Vegas football program from 2015-19. He later returned to join Kill’s coaching staff for the 2022 season as the team’s wide receivers coach. In December 2023, he stepped up to take on the head coaching position.

This week, Sanchez coached the team through its final week of spring practices before the Aggies kick off their spring game on Saturday, April 6, at 10:30 a.m. at Aggie Memorial Stadium.

KRWG News22 reporter Victor Fierro sat down with Sanchez to see what he has in store for the upcoming football season.  

You were the wide receivers coach the last two seasons under coach Kill’s staff, and now you can take over what he built. So, how do you view that opportunity and what are you most excited about?  

Tony Sanchez: “Well, you know, the last two years have been amazing. We’ve done a really good job at coming in, and you know, building a culture around here and winning football games. The first year we really blue-collared it, and last year through recruiting we felt like we were a much more talented crew, and I think that showed throughout the course of the season. So, knowing the guys, knowing the guys returning, knowing [which] areas we needed to address, I think that’s really helping the transition and I’m excited about it. I mean going to two bowl games in a row, playing for a conference championship, winning a bowl game, I think we have high expectations. Now, we can continue those expectations, and we’d love to continue to build on it.”

Several players went into the transfer portal, including former quarterback Diego Pavia. What do you see when going through the off-season and going through the process of getting a new quarterback? Will Eli Stowers, if he’s still here, be the starting quarterback?  

TS: “Yeah, Eli Stowers is still here. He didn’t transfer, and he’s not going to be the quarterback since he didn’t play quarterback at the end of last year. So, the great thing for us is we feel like it gives us the chance to be better at [finding a] quarterback. We need to get better at throwing the football. We have all these talented guys on the outside, you know Trent Hudson, Kordell David, Bryce Childress, Eli Stowers at the tight end position. We brought in a lot of guys, still recruiting Donovan Faupel [and] Jordan Smith, and we struggled to get them the ball sometimes last year. There were some critical games, like the game against Hawaii, where we only threw it 15 times. Guys didn’t get touches, so we need to do a better job at that. I think we showed toward the end where we played Fresno in that bowl game, they really made us throw the football to try to beat them, and we struggled doing it so we need to get better there. So, bringing guys like Deuce Hogan, again you know transfer portal works both ways, so now we got a guy in from Kentucky, and we got some other guys there that I really think are going to be able to compete at a high level, too. We brought three guys in. I honestly think when you look at it, we brought guys in from Arizona State, guys in from UTSA, guys in from Oklahoma State, so the portal works both ways. We lost some guys, but you know, at the same time it gives you the chance to really look at your needs and actually improve and get better in certain positions, and I think we’ll do that with the quarterback spot.” 

Did you have any goals as a coach when you were in Albuquerque during the bowl game or in Lynchburg, Virginia? Now that you’ve taken over, what are your new goals?  

TS: “Well our goals are real simple. We have four goals with our team. Number one is to graduate. We want to graduate all of our players. Number two, we want to win Conference USA. You know we played in the championship. We don’t want to just play in it, we want to win it. Number three, we want to win a bowl game. We’ve been to a bowl game two years in a row. We want to win a bowl game. And the last one is we want to continue to beat New Mexico and UTEP. Those are the four goals for our team, and they’ll be those every single year.”  

You’re the first Hispanic to be named the head coach for New Mexico State Football, how do you feel about that?  

TS: “It makes me proud you know. I mean it’s one of those things you don’t really think about as you’re going through your daily stuff, [until] you look back and reflect and people bring it up. It’s not just New Mexico State, there are not many Hispanic head coaches in the country. So, it’s one of those deals where you want to do your job, you want to be successful, [and] you want to create more opportunities for more minorities to get opportunities to be a head coach. I feel very privileged, especially having played here, you know. I mean I don’t know the last time, I think Bradley might have been the last guy to have actually played here and was a head coach here. So, I’m excited to come back with a second head coaching job. I feel like the experience is really going to help me.”  

How do you feel after this 2023 season, where New Mexico State football made history by making it to the Conference USA Championship and back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1959 and 1960? How do you plan to continue that success?  

TS: “Well, I think the biggest thing is when you look at it there’s a lot of things that happened. Obviously, there’s the new coaching staff. Coach Kill came in and hired a great staff, but Mario Moccia was a big reason we had a lot of success. We were finally able to pay assistant coaches what they should be paid, we invested in the players, and we fed them three times a day. You look at the facility upgrades happening right now, you know we’ve been having a new scoreboard going in, new locker room facilities, things that we’ve direly been needing around here. So, I think the investment in football through the A-Mountain Sports NIL Collective did a great thing around there. I think the Goal Line Club did a fantastic job when you look at the number of season tickets that are being sold right now. Those three things are huge. That’s going to be kind of the trinity of how you continue to build this program, if we continue to have support from our administration, obviously our athletic department, and our president. If you continue to see the fans come out the way that they did, I think that really contributed to the success we had the last two years. So, if we could continue to do that, recruit at a high level like we just did with this ’24 class, I think we can continue to keep the ball rolling.”  

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