Mike Rowse A voice from New Mexico

25Apr/170

Why not NM athletes?

I have been broadcasting football and basketball games for 17 years now at first it was both college and high school but the majority of my time has been with college sports. I’m also involved with tennis and golf at both levels. Over the years I have been asked why the smaller schools, Western New Mexico University, Eastern New Mexico University, New Mexico Highlands, etc. don’t recruit more players from New Mexico. Especially if those programs are not having the on-field success in the number of wins that you would want. The belief is, among parents of high school athletes, that the small colleges looked down upon the ability of New Mexico athletes. It’s not quite that simple.

I was listening to an interview being conducted by John Clayton of Delvin Cook, the running back from Florida State that many considered to be one of the top two running backs in the upcoming NFL draft. I think he gave one of the best answers to a question that was similar that I’ve ever heard. It provides at least part of the answer to why more kids from New Mexico high schools don’t have the success at the elite level or even the so-called mid-majors in college, that many people think they would have had given their success at the high school level here in New Mexico.

When I’ve been asked the question whether in general terms were about specific athletes, one of the answers I’ve always given is that it’s a numbers game. High schools in Texas, Florida, and California are huge. There are more players that are talented in those high schools than there are in probably two or three high schools here in New Mexico. When you’re playing against mortality competition in practice every day you get better. Dalvin was asked by John Clayton how growing up in Florida pushed him to be a better player. He said quite simply there are so many good running backs in Florida that you push yourself to be better than all of them. You watch things that some of the better ones doing you try to emulate them or do it better. You watch college running backs just at the schools in Florida and you see the best of the best and you learn from them. In other words the standard of excellence is much higher where there are a larger number of potentially elite players than where the number of potentially elite players is minimal.

That’s the problem with New Mexico, there is a dearth of talented players that can push the potentially elite players to get even better. Yes traveling teams and AAU can’t help but those seasons are so short as compared to the practice and regular-season in high school sports. If you are consistently playing against teammates and or opponents in high school that are going to go on to play college at some level you will get better if you continue to work hard. If you’re playing against the kid who spend their summers goofing off or doesn’t have the potential to play at the next level, there’s only so far you can advance on your own. Yes there have been exceptions like Brian Urlacher or Tim Smith; but those guys are the exceptions.

I can tell you how many top high school players in football and basketball from New Mexico I’ve watched attend Division I programs and never really get a chance to play. My cousin was one of those players. He played his high school basketball in Aztec and was recruited by a number of what we call Division II schools now and a few Division I schools. Like a lot of New Mexico athletes he wanted to go to the best school in Division I that he could. He ended up at the University of New Mexico playing with the likes of Luc Longley. He sat the bench for three years, rarely getting into a game. He was the kid that everyone cheered for when he finally got into the game for the last 30 seconds of a blowout win. He didn’t play his final season for a variety of reasons, mostly not liking the new coach, but including the fact that he just sat the bench.

Too often this is the story for many of the top athletes in New Mexico. Because they are outstanding at the high school level everyone tells them they can go to the top level in college athletics but more often than not they end up sitting the bench or quitting somewhere during their career. They could go to a very good Division II school and get to play almost from the beginning and be a top player on the top team at that level. If they really love the game they’re playing, why would you go somewhere just to sit on the bench and say I’m a Division I athlete as opposed to playing at a lower level and potentially becoming a legend there?

I have seen some of the top high school athletes in New Mexico attend Division II schools and become stars for them and never regretted that decision. I have also seen some that spent two years at the lower level and then transferred to a Division I school and gotten to play some and it worked for them. But rarely do I see in New Mexico athlete go straight to Division I and become an impact player for their entire career. More often than not that watch those players quit because it wasn’t fun anymore.

So I guess that’s kind of a long-winded, roundabout way of saying that New Mexico schools do try to recruit New Mexico high school athletes but too often those surrounding that athlete have a higher opinion of that person’s ability and push them to go to bigger schools. Every coach I’ve been around, including schools for whom I do not broadcast, have said the same thing; the biggest obstacle they have been trying to recruit New Mexico high school athletes is the parents and most of the coaches who are telling this kid to go Division I. The story is usually the same, a coach from a big school is telling that kid that they will make him or her a project and that they will eventually play for that team. And what kid doesn’t want to go to a bigger school where the lights are brighter and the crowds are bigger? But a lot of the schools that I’ve been around in my career have crowds that are just as passionate, lights that are just as bright and yes they send a significant number of kids to the next level.

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