Walker Hopes to Turn Aggies into a Winner

The New Mexico State football program has been grounded recently and coach DeWayne Walker hopes to end that, not with emphasis on a high-flying aerial attack but rather good old-fashioned defense.

Head coach DeWayne Walker will try to build on his first season as head coach of New Mexico State. The Aggies went 3-10 in 2009 and must improve on offense. Walker hired Mike Dunbar as the new offensive coordinator, hoping to revive the dormant Aggie passing attack.

Dunbar inherits a unit that went 16 quarters without a touchdown last year. With no clear starter at quarterback emerging in the spring, Jeff Fleming (6-4, 200, Jr.), Trevor Walls (6-5, 230, So.) and Matt Christian (6-3, 216, Jr.) will battle it out for the job. Fleming played in all 13 games last season and started nine. He was 87-of-172 passing for 789 yards and four touchdowns vs. 12 interceptions. Walls played in 10 games and started 4. Walls was 46-of-94 for 352 yards and 2 TD's. Christian originally signed with Fresno State but transferred to Palomar Junior College before coming to Las Cruces.

Although the New Mexico State aerial attack was not up to par, Walker is excited about his backfield. Seth Smith (5-8, 207, Sr.) ran for 1,016 yards last year and topped the century mark five times. The addition of junior college All-American running back Kenny Turner (5-10, 195, So.) is another reason for optimism. Turner helped Fullerton College to a 10-1 record last year, rushing for 1,513 yards on 236 carries and scoring 15 touchdowns. Fullback Ron Opetaia (5-9, 219, Sr.) is primarily a blocking back and was a key reason for Smith's success in 2009.

Sioeli Fakalata (6-3, 321, Sr.) is a talented lineman who will head the Aggie line at right guard. Fakalata will line up with Mike Yocius (6-4, 296, So.) at left guard. Junior Mike Grady (6-3, 302) is slated to start at center and seniors Dwayne Barton (6-4, 270) and Patrick Blount (6-3, 263) are the tackles.

Marcus Allen and diminutive Todd Lee (5-9, 152, Jr.) return at wide receiver this fall. Allen hauled in 26 passes last year for 308 yards and two touchdowns. Lee played in 12 games last season, recording 28 catches for 280 yards and a touchdown.

Coach Walker also serves as defensive coordinator and the defense looks to improve on last year's #101 ranking in the country (31.6 points per game allowed). The Aggie secondary was one of the strengths last season—in the pass-happy WAC, New Mexico State allowed under 203 yards per game to rank 36th nationally. All-Western Athletic Conference cornerback Davon House (6-0, 190, Sr.) is back along with fellow corner Jonte Green (6-0, 185, Jr.). House led the WAC in passes defended and broke a school record for most interception return yards for a career. House had 68 tackles, three picks, 13 pass breakups and two touchdowns last season; he could be the best cover corner in the conference. Green was fourth on the Aggies with 74 tackles and had eight pass break-ups.

Senior Alphonso Powell (5-9, 184) is back at strong safety while Ben Bradley (5-10, 181, jr.) looks to start at free safety. Powell was fifth on the team with 72 tackles, including three for loss. Powell also had a sack, an interception and three pass break-ups. Bradley is looking to make his mark this fall after suffering an ankle injury that ended his freshman season and kept him out all of last year.

JC transfer Frank Padilla (6-2, 248, Sr.) heads the linebacker group that must replace all three starters from last year. Padilla too began with Fresno State but did not play his first two seasons. He transferred to College of the Sequoias and will conclude his career with the Aggies. Boyblue Aoelua (5-10, 217, Jr.), B.J. Adolpho (5-11, 215, So.) and 6-1, 227-pound junior college transfer Michael Matthews are others pushing for starting time. Aoelua mostly saw action on special teams while Adolpho earned his first career start against Boise State and made six tackles.

Defensive ends Pierre Fils (6-3, 249, Jr.) and Donte Savage (6-1, 240, Jr.) combined for 13 sacks, five forced fumbles and three fumble recovers last season. It is that aggressiveness that the Aggie defense must display to give their team a chance to win. David Mahoney (6-3, 300, Jr.), Kawika Shook (6-3, 245. Sr.), John Finau (6-1, 288, Sr.) and Tommy Stuart (6-3, 315, So.) will challenge for starting roles at tackle.

Kyle Hughes will once again be the punter while either junior Jordan Davenport (6-1, 190) or JC transfer Tyler Stampler (5-10, 175, Fr.) will do the placekicking. Allen is expected to continue bringing back kickoffs; he returned 17 for 373 yards a year ago.

If the WAC is ever to get anything resembling respect, the lower teams in the conference must win their out-of-conference games. The September 25th game at Kansas is probably not winnable for the Aggies. However, home dates with San Diego State and New Mexico, along with the road game at UTEP are games that New Mexico State must win if their program is going to improve.

In the WAC, the Aggies get Boise State, San Jose State, Louisiana Tech and Hawai'i at home. Walker's group needs to split those four and hope for some road success (perhaps a win at Idaho) in order to qualify for a bowl game but that cannot happen without good fortune in the games mentioned above.

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