All hail the “Erasers.”
When help is needed or a mess needs to be swept under the rug, University of New Mexico football coach Danny Gonzales calls on his kickers — nicknamed the Erasers — to scrub clean the mistakes made by their teammates on offense and defense.
Any team with a good punter, Gonzales said, can give a shot of adrenaline to its own defense by pinning an opponent deep inside its territory. Same, too, for a reliable kickoff specialist who has a knack for nullifying the return and booting the ball through the end zone.
The kickers? They can finish the job the offense couldn’t, putting up three points when six wasn’t possible.
“Really, those guys are like erasers,” Gonzales said. “Other guys make mistakes and they have to erase them for them. There’s always a very small margin for error.”
One of the steadier parts of UNM’s 0-3 start to this coronavirus-ravaged season is the three-headed kicking monster of punter Tyson Dyer, placekicker George Steinkamp and kickoff specialist Donovan Murphree. Those three are a big reason the team is drastically improved compared to last season — and a big reason why the Lobos feel they have a puncher’s chance in their Friday night game at Air Force.
UNM is looking to snap three demoralizing streaks in one fell swoop. The Lobos have dropped 12 games in a row dating to last season and 18 straight games against Mountain West Conference rivals. What’s more, they haven’t won a game outside of New Mexico in 25 months.
They’ll likely start Trae Hall at quarterback Friday since regular starter Tevaka Tuioti is still in concussion protocol following an injury late in the loss to Hawaii on Nov. 7. Tuioti was at Tuesday’s practice but has still not been cleared to play.
As unclear as the QB situation is, Gonzales can at least hang his hat on the Erasers.
A rugby-style punter from Australia, Dyer is regarded as one of the better at his position and currently ranks sixth in the NCAA for career average among active players at 44.8 yards in 149 punts as a Lobo. He’s second on UNM’s career list, one spot below Buffalo Bills punter Corey Bojorquez.
Steinkamp’s story is remarkable. A junior from Los Alamos who had never played football with the Hilltoppers or UNM, he walked into the Lobos program this year and won the starting spot over returning No. 1 kicker Andrew Shelley. He has converted six of his eight field goals without missing an extra point.
If anyone knows kickers, it’s Gonzales. A former punter in his time as a Lobo, he understands the nuances of the mental approach. By their very nature, he said, kickers have to have short memories.
After Tuesday’s practice, he recalled his time as a Lobos assistant coach in 2007 when then-kicker John Sullivan missed two crucial field goal attempts in a 10-6 loss at UTEP to open the season. The Lobos went on to win nine games that season and Sullivan set school records for field goals in a season (29) and consecutive kicks made (18), ending the season as an All-American.
In the game after the UTEP nightmare, UNM was back home to face New Mexico State. By the coach’s recollection, things weren’t going well in pregame warmups.
“He couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn,” Gonzales said. “I mean, he’d have missed the ocean if he fell out of a boat.”
When pressed by then-Lobos head coach Rocky Long who would do the kicking that day, Sullivan or his backup, Gonzales never flinched.
“We’re sticking with Sully,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘If this dude misses I’m going to get fired.’ ”
Long story short, it’s why Gonzales decided to stick with Steinkamp after the junior with zero kicking experience missed the first try of his life in the team’s season opener at San Jose State on Halloween night. He went with his gut, and it paid off.
The Mountain West announced a revised conference schedule for men’s and women’s basketball Tuesday. The UNM men will open with a pair of games at Boise State on Dec. 3 and 5.
To minimize the impact of the coronavirus, all 11 MWC teams will face the other 10 teams in a two-game series, giving each school five weekends at home and five on the road. It is meant to reduce travel and restrict each team’s movements during the pandemic.
UNM’s men will have home series against Nevada, Utah State, San Jose State, San Diego State and Wyoming, with additional road swings to UNLV, Fresno State, Colorado State and Air Force.
The MWC Tournament will be March 10-13 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Nev.
The women’s schedule is the inverse of the men’s, with all dates and opponents lining up at opposite sites.
The lone exception is UNM’s games against Boise State, whose dates and locations have yet to be finalized.