Stevens: Chase Clayton Didn't Pass On Returning To His Roots

April 3, 2013

New Mexico Lobos Football --- 2013 Spring Ball

Lobo Lettermen: Offense - 24 back, 7 lost. Defense - 23 back, 12 lost
Lobo Starters: Offense - 7 back, 6 lost. Defense - 3 back, 7 lost.
Starters Back (7 or more starts): Offense -- Kasey Carrier (RB), Dillon Farrell (C), Garrett Adcock (OG), LaMar Bratton (OG), Darryl Johnson (OT). Defense - Jacori Greer (DE), Dallas Bollema (LB), Rashad Rainey (LB
Special Team Starters Back: Ben Skaer (punter), Justus Adams (kicker),

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

In a 2013 season that is loaded with keys and needs, one key for New Mexico's need to more frequently get the football into Chase Clayton's talented hands lies in other hands.

Will the New Mexico passing game click in 2013?

Well, that's the plan. Coach Bob Davie's Lobos are stressing the passing game in spring ball and part of that revamped effort to sling the leather is moving Clayton to yet another position.

Clayton started his collegiate career as a defensive back, moved to the fullback position, then to the tailback slot, and now he is lining up wide and looking for a Lobo quarterback to throw the ball in his direction.

"This is my first love," said Clayton. "I played receiver in high school. I'm feeling good about the position. I'm out there trying to go as fast as I can. I just want to make plays and help the team out as much as I can."

Clayton mostly helped the Lobos out in 2012 by running back kickoffs. That can be a good thing and a not so good thing. It's fine to run back a kickoff to start a half, but after that a kickoff return usually means the other guys have scored.

Clayton ran back 20 kickoffs last season for 608 yards and his 30.4-yard average brought him All-Mountain West honorable mention honors as the No. 5 kickoff returner in the nation. He had two scores - both from 98 yards out vs. Southern and Texas Tech.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior was an attractive catch for the Lobos in 2011 because of his 6-3 frame and his versatility. In high school ball at San Pedro (Calif.) High, he played on both sides of the ball as a receiver and a defensive back.

"I know it's different in high school, but I have experience playing receiver and it does help you out," said Clayton. "I think I'm picking up things quickly."

Clayton carried the ball 33 times in 2012 for a net 209 yards and a respectable 6.5-yard average. But the Lobos have Kasey Carrier (1,469 yards) returning to the backfield plus Jhurell Pressley (462) and Crusoe Gongbay (159). Quarterback Cole Gautsche had 109 carries and 760 yards.

There is a greater need for Clayton on the edge. When you plan to put the ball into the sky, it helps to have some good hands - and quick feet - out wide. UNM lost wideouts Ty Kirk, Quintell Solomon and Lamaar Thomas plus two good tight ends in Lucas Reed and Chris Biren.

The Lobos need a few capable targets. Clayton has the potential to be exceptional. He is a big target and an elusive open-field runner. He said he moved to the receiver position because that's what is best for his team.

"Coach Davie pulled me aside and we talked about it," said Clayton. "He just asked me what I thought about moving to receiver and I told him I'd play wherever it helps the team.

"It made the decision easier knowing we are going to throw the ball more. Our running game is great but why not have a passing game to take some of the pressure off the running backs. I'm happy about the move."

The Lobos ran for a 301.3 average in 2012 and passed for only 68.8 yards per game. UNM had 688 rushing attempts and threw 154 passes. The Lobos averaged 5.8 yards per pass. B.R. Holbrook, lost to graduation, threw 112 of those 154 passes.

The battle for the Lobo huddle in 2013 includes Gautsche, Quinton McCown and JC transfer Clayton Mitchem. Gautsche and McCown combined to complete 17 passes as Lobos. Chase Clayton plans to help boost that number.

"The quarterbacks have been looking good and being a receiver now, I say it doesn't hurt to throw a little more," said Clayton.

"I think we'll pass more this season because we have to. We had a great running game last year, but teams picked up on it later in the season and started stacking the box. We have some great quarterbacks and we definitely have to pass the ball more."

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former award-winning Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net.