Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Column: Hobbs football takes another step in right direction

  I pride myself in keeping rooted in reality when it comes to expectations for the teams I cover here in Lea County. 
  I’m not a fan. My job is to stay objective – report what I see.
  So keeping that in mind, when second-year Hobbs football coach Charles Gleghorn told me prior to the season the Eagles were focused on the first three games on their schedule and considered them all winnable, I thought, “He does know they play Artesia at the Bulldog Bowl in the second game of the season, right?”
  Beating Gadsden (which the Eagles did 40-14) and Roswell (a team the Eagles play at home Friday) I could see. While Hobbs hasn’t had a lot of success recently, those are programs the Eagles have defeated.
  But taking down Artesia at the Bulldog Bowl is something the Eagles haven’t done since 1991 – losing 10 straight games at the legendary venue.
  Watching the Eagles this summer, it was clear the team had improved from its 2-8 season of a year ago. The players were buying into the system on both sides of the ball and the improved strength was evident.
  But defeating Artesia at the Bulldog Bowl? I thought Gleghorn was a bit optimistic on that one.
  Turns out I was too pessimistic.
  Not only did the Eagles beat Artesia on Friday at the Bulldog Bowl, Hobbs dominated the game.
  It was a role reversal. Hobbs played the part of the confident, tradition-rich program not anxious in the moment while the 27-time state champion Bulldogs looked like the program that was 101-208 since 1982 (which the Eagles are) – nervous and out of sorts, very odd for a program the stature of Artesia.
  In my own defense, after week one seeing the Eagles impressively beat Gadsden and learning of Artesia squeaking by Lovington, I expected a close game the Eagles had a solid chance of winning.
  Still, I was wrong. It wasn’t close.
  Hobbs was sluggish on offense (I say sluggish, but the Eagles still gained 350 yards. Just couldn’t finish drives) and still won by 23 points – jumping out to a 16-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to a fantastic effort by a defense that forced seven Artesia turnovers.
  Yes, seven. I don’t know if an Artesia team during coach Cooper Henderson’s reign has ever committed that many turnovers – and if so – you can probably count those games on one hand.
After the victory, Gleghorn said something to me that made me think.
  “I told (the team before the game) that we are going to look back one day that this is the night that new Hobbs football began,” Gleghorn said.
  Can this be it?
  After all, it wasn’t long ago that Hobbs looked like it was going to turn the corner.
  The Eagles won their lone playoff game in the last 30 years in 2009, beating Rio Rancho in a wild 56-43 contest on a cold night in Rio Rancho under then head coach Bruce Dollar.
  The following season, the Eagles started 3-0 (including a 49-48 victory over Artesia at Watson Stadium) and the city was enthusiastic as Hobbs prepared to host highly-ranked Las Cruces.
  Then the wheels fell off.
  Hobbs lost to the Bulldawgs 30-14 and went on to lose six of its final seven games and missed the playoffs. The next season the Eagles went 2-8, Dollar was gone and Hobbs was back to square one with a new coach.
  However, this time feels different.
  Even then, there wasn’t an excitement within the program from the players that I see now under Gleghorn. The players appear to enjoy playing for him and his coaching staff and they are buying into their philosophy.
  After all, what’s not fun about playing in Gleghorn’s no-huddle spread offense that involves numerous people and a 3-4 defense coached by the enthusiastic Mike Felicetti?
  The fervor isn’t just felt at the varsity level as the Hobbs middle school teams to the junior varsity have an excitement around them. Whether it’s the Hobbs JV squad beating the Eunice varsity Thursday (first time in seven tries the Eagles’ JV has defeated the Cardinals) or the Hobbs freshman team beating Clovis the same day, talent plus a new enthusiasm for the game should have Eagles fans fired up about the future.
  So was Friday the day new Hobbs football began? Probably too early to tell. Plenty of challenges ahead in 2013 to test the Eagles.
  Still, it kind of had that feel.
  Combine the victory with the very supportive large crowd that came from Hobbs to watch (most people I’ve seen travel to watch a Hobbs football game outside of playing in Lovington) and the enormous Hobbs band that kept things alive and festive throughout and the Eagles had the look of a big-time program in Artesia.
  But Hobbs can’t let complacency and ego set in.
  Beating Artesia by 23 points in the Bulldog Bowl should be celebrated. It’s a quality win. It’s like an opponent winning at Tasker Arena against the Hobbs boys basketball team. Even if the Eagles are down a bit, it’s still Hobbs (and its 16 state championships) and winning at Tasker Arena is tough.
  However, Friday still counts for just one win. There is plenty more to prove for a program that’s struggled so much for the majority of three decades.
  For Hobbs and its fans though, Friday was a gigantic step in the right direction.

(Editor's note: This column appeared in Sunday's edition of the Hobbs News-Sun. To get content like this and more on athletic teams in Lea County, get a hard copy or online subscription to the News-Sun by calling 575-393-2123.)