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‘Pokes open Thursday

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By The Staff

Looking to break through in the win column this fall — and erase the taste of 2009’s 1-10 campaign — the New Mexico Highlands University football team kicks off its season at 7 p.m. Thursday when Midwestern State comes to Perkins Stadium.

In last year’s season opener, Midwestern State toppled Highlands 41-0 in a non-conference game and wound up capturing the Lone Star Conference’s South Division title.

But most of that team’s starting defense is gone, with just three returning starters expected to suit up on that side of the ball. On offense, five starters are back.

Highlands, on the other hand, has much of its core group back from ‘09 but has loaded new talent in the offseason.

It’s the start of Year Three of the Chad Roanhaus Era in NMHU football. Roanhaus has built his program largely through freshman recruiting, investing in student-athletes who can play a full four years.

Exhibit A is Jordan Mendoza, a Clovis quarterback who started two games and played in four others as a freshman last season. He’s one of the returning Cowboys.

Also expected back are linebackers Chris Burns and T.J. Norris, who led the Cowboys with 74 and 72 tackles, respectively, in 2009. They’ll be playing under the direction of new defensive coordinator Joe Morris, formerly of Fort Lewis College.

Kevon Williams (36 catches, 575 yards, four TDs) was the team’s No. 2 wideout a year ago and is listed as a returner. So are  receivers Anthony Ratliff (15 catches, 180 yards, one TD) and Daniel Valdez (12 receptions, 138 yards).