The countdown to Sept. 4th begins

Training camp is over and the official season practices have begun. That means the regular one-a-day practices, but that also means class. Players that might have actually liked the fact that they only had to worry about just getting ready for the season, now they have to do that and get their education as well. It's just one of the many things that this staff will deal with as they continue to prepare for Sept. 4th.

Now that two a day practices are behind them, Aggie head coach Tony Samuel and his team now focuses on the season opening opponent, the Arkansas Razorbacks.

"From here on out, it's solely Arkansas," says Samuel. "On our schedule we're getting three extra days with Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Saturday and Sunday we'll start getting into game week."

NMSU began practice back on August 9 and Samuel believes his team will be ready to go on September 4.

"We made it a relatively tough camp. We pushed them pretty good and the kids pushed themselves really well. I thought we came together and the leadership is excellent. Now we are in a whole different phase."

The first phase of camp is behind them and Samuel is comfortable with the lineup he has established.

"The spots are pretty much settled. There a few little things, but not much is going change at this point. The biggest thing now is identifying depth. That's something we all have to get worked out."

One way the Aggies are addressing their needs is with an influx of some talented freshmen. "There are lot of kids that stepped up either by need or just came in prepared. There are about four or five kids that may have to play." Among the youngsters are defensive ends Brandon McKinney (Rio Rancho, N.M.) and Michael Brewer (Texarkana, Texas), safety Jake Galusha (Omaha, Neb.), receivers Brandon Allen (Phoenix, Ariz.) and Jeremy Lawson (Las Cruces Mayfield HS), running back Justin Buries (Mesquite, Texas) and fullbacks Clint Jones (Mesquite, Texas) and Chris Nwoko (Austin, Texas).

The little things are what Samuel and his staff will be fine-tuning as the opener draws near.

"Early in the season, you always need to put in extra time on special teams. You don't get preseason games, so you have to do everything yourself. We have a lot of little things to get done. Get the offense in and out with the 25-second clock; work on our two-minute offensive drill; get the defense ready for no-huddle situations."

The Aggie defense has been in the spotlight this summer with the return of 10 starters and Samuel likes what he sees.

"They are doing fine. We're trying to establish depth, especially on the defensive front. I think there will be some young guys that will play up there. We've got a nice first front line and then we need to have some depth. At cornerback, we have a lot of good competition. We brought in quite a few new faces and a couple of those guys have really stepped up. An area that we had concern about, should now be a much better situation."

One thing that has been different about preseason preparation is that Samuel has established senior Buck Pierce as the number one quarterback. It is a move that has helped both Pierce and junior Paul Dombrowski according to Samuel.

"I think our offense knows that both Buck and Paul can get the job done. I think it has helped Buck and Paul. Paul knows he will still get to play. He will play quarterback and at some other spots."

One area of emphasis this fall has been an improvement in forcing turnovers. The Aggies ranked next to last in the Sun Belt Conference in turnover margin a year ago.

"They understand that they have to get the takeaways. The kids are really focusing on it. You do have to work a little bit harder when you are trying to get takeaways."

Last year the Razorbacks beat the Aggies 48-20 in mid-November, a game in which the Aggies trailed just 21-17 midway through the third quarter. Arkansas went on to beat Mississippi State, lose to LSU and then cap its season by defeating Missouri 27-14 in the Independence Bowl.

Samuel expects another tough test in Fayetteville.

"They have a great quarterback coming back. They say they only have one starter coming back on offense, but a lot of kids that didn't start, played a lot. We look back at last year's game and a lot of guys that are now

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