Captains to a Degree

June 10, 2013

By Greg Archuleta
UNM Assistant Director of Communications

Call them captains of a changing culture.

The University of New Mexico football team heads into the summer in good hands. In capable hands. In educated hands.

The Lobos’ 2013 season opener is less than two months away, and the players on the team are on their own in terms of working out or getting together to throw the football around or practice some of the plays in the playbook.

Any kind of conditioning or practice during the summer is strictly voluntary. UNM’s strength and conditioning coordinator, Ben Hilgart, is allowed to help the team with its workouts. No coach, however, can help with, or even watch, as players work out or practice on their own.

Instead, the Lobos have four graduate students watching over them.

The team elected inside linebacker Dallas Bollema, running back Kasey Carrier, center Dillon Farrell and defensive lineman Jacori Greer as team captains during spring practice. All seniors on the field in 2013 in term of eligibility, the four also carry the distinction of having earned their bachelor’s degrees in May.

“Certainly, the first thing that jumps out at you is all four of our captains have already graduated from the University of New Mexico,” second-year coach Bob Davie said. “I think that sends a tremendous message, not only to our football team, but also I hope people outside this university and outside this program appreciate the story that you have four captains voted on by their teammates for what they’ve done over here.”

Of course, the quartet’s football acumen also might have had something to do with the elections.

Farrell, who has a degree in university studies, is a three-year starter on the offensive line, an honorable mention All-Mountain West selection in 2012 and a two-time Rimington Award watch list candidate.

Bollema, a business administration major, also has 2012 honorable mention All-MW on his resume and was the team’s leading tackler last season. Greer (communications), also an honorable mention All-MW recipient, led the team in sacks and tackles for loss in ’12.

And Carrier (criminology) just happened to set the single-season UNM rushing record with 1,469 yards last season, garnering second-team All-MW honors.

The coaching staff may not be able to oversee the summer workouts, but the supervision that the appointed captains are providing have to be the next best thing.

“Every school in the country has its players coming back for the summer,” Davie said. “For us, the choices they make, the decisions they make on their own will decide what kind of summer we’re going to have and, ultimately, what kind of football team we’re going to have. That’s why we elected captains before the summer. It’s their team in the summer, and eventually it’ll be their team in the fall. We felt like we were far enough along in our program to designate captains going into the summer.

“It’s also a bit of a risk when you designate captains – four captains – as early as we did. If one of those captains does something wrong, you look silly. With that said, I’m totally comfortable with these guys leading this football team. You could not have four better captains than those four guys.”

As such, the foursome understands the responsibility placed upon them.

“Any team captain should be a leader,” Bollema said. “That’s what we are, so we have to be encouraging to everybody and hold ourselves to a higher standard because we have younger guys looking upon us for leadership.”

Each can provide that guidance in school as well as on the field, thanks to their graduate status.

“I think it just happened that way, but I’m super-excited,” Greer said. “It gives the younger guys something to look toward, not as a role model but just as something that can be done. A lot of guys have this idea that they can take five years to graduate, but if you put forth the effort and try to get stuff done, you can do it in four.”

The captains credit the players before them for showing them the way to four-year graduation enlightenment.

“I remember Victor James, who played here when I was a freshman,” Carrier said. “He had his bachelor’s degree and his master’s degree before he left this university, and I remember looking up to him and that was something I wanted to do.”

When Davie accepted the Lobo head coaching position in November of 2011, he preached about changing the culture of the program. While some new coaches, who enter a program citing the need for a culture change but only refer to the on-field product, Davie’s message has extended to the “student” part of the student-athlete as well.

“When a guy has to miss practice because of class, most coaches don’t like it, but the way coach Davie handles it and the way he comes off is pretty rare,” Greer said. “If you have to miss a practice because of a class, it’s not ideal, but he gives you the assurance that you’re not going to be judged, you’re not going be penalized. He understands the grind it takes to be a student-athlete and be successful in the classroom, which makes us better as a football team.”

The Lobos won four games in 2012, one more than the program had in the previous three years combined.  While Davie has laid a foundation on the field, he also has set the tone for the players in the classroom.

In the spring of 2013, the football team had a team grade-point average of 2.76, which is the second highest ever in the program’s recorded history. Its academic progress rate is expected to eclipse that of 2012.

The team had 41 players with GPAs of 3.0 in the spring of 2013, had a 100 percent retention rate and finished with zero academically ineligible student-athletes.

Davie, however, is apprehensive to talk about those accomplishments.

“Sitting here right now, we’re extremely pleased with the fact that our GPA was the second highest, the retention rate is outstanding, the APR is up – all those things,” he said, “but I know that’s such a fragile thing. Yeah, we’ve taken some steps, but there’s no one slapping their own back around here, saying ‘look at what we did.’ It’s a day-to-day message of continuing to change the culture. It’s not time to give out any trophies. It’s way too early … it’s way too early.”

But the examples the current veterans are providing – and that includes senior tight end Andrew Aho, another May graduate in university studies and the program’s first Hard Hat Champion (which goes to the player who makes a certain level of weight room gains and exhibits an exemplary attitude during the offseason strength and conditioning program) – are laying the foundation for a strong future.

“As Dillon says, football can only take you so far; school is very important,” Carrier said. “With our team picking four guys that have graduated, it just shows that they know we’re more than football players and they believe in us.”