Nothing was different when I arrived at the Field of Dreams on Friday in Las Cruces for Hobbs' game against the second-ranked Bulldawgs. I went up to the press box for a bit, got my stat sheets together and prepared to cover the game from the sideline (I had to take photos as well).
But something that was hard not to notice when watching Hobbs and Las Cruces warm up high from the press box was the drastic difference in number of players.
I usually don't count, but I had to just because of the disparity. I counted Las Cruces about two or three times and got a number above 75 each time (not always easy to count players as they move around).
When I got a number for Hobbs I had to check not once, twice or three times, but four times to make sure it was right.
There were exactly 35 Eagles with white shirts and black pants dressed to play. That's it.
For a 5A school with 2,176 high school age students (9th-12th grade), that is shockingly small and part of the reason why Hobbs football can't develop consistency as a program.
Football is a numbers game. The more players, the better chance of developing varsity-contributing athletes. The more varsity-contributing athletes (with a few studs sprinkled in here and there), the better chance of being a state-championship contender.
Look at Las Cruces. The school has roughly 2,350 students (9th-12th grade) and had over 75 players dressed. Did they all have a chance to play? Probably not as coaches sometimes dress as much of their junior varsity as possible for intimidation factor.
But Las Cruces' depth showed when the Bulldawgs put in their second unit late in the third quarter and it drove down the field on Hobbs' first teamers for a score to make it 40-0. Part of it was probably due to the Hobbs defense being tired from having so few subs, but you could tell the Las Cruces second unit still had some nice varsity-caliber players that would start a lot of other places.
According to 2010-11 numbers, Hobbs and its 2,176 students is the fifth-largest school in the state (9th-12th grade). Only Las Cruces (2,351), Rio Rancho (2,350), Mayfield (2,322) and Clovis (2,240) have more students while Cleveland (the top-ranked football team in the state who the Eagles play Friday) is just behind Hobbs with 2,160. It's no coincidence that all five of those teams were ranked in last week's top 10 in the coaches poll (No. 1 Cleveland, No. 2 Las Cruces, No. 6 Mayfield, No. 7 Clovis, No. 9 Rio Rancho).
Why students aren't playing football in Hobbs, I don't know. It is a mystery to me a program that has arguably the best facilities in the state (indoor facility with weight room, nice locker rooms and coaching offices along with the largest high school stadium in the state) can't get numbers out for football. Is it because all kids growing up in Hobbs want to play basketball, and with the unfortunate specialization of sports by many high school athletes, don't give football a chance? I really don't know.
From what I hear, the numbers are getting better in Hobbs at the junior highs and in the sixth and seventh grade leagues.
It's imperative if Hobbs wants to be a contender in football that those numbers continue to grow all the way up through the varsity level if it wants to break what has nearly been 30 years worth of playoff struggles (Hobbs has just one playoff win, which was in 2009, since 1982).