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Offensive lineman Sage Doxtater (76) is an Aggie veteran, but the state of New Mexico is eager to use its two-game spring schedule to see what newcomers can do in the 2021 regular season. (New Mexico State Athletics photo)

February football, anyone?

The New Mexico State University football team will attempt a completely different Sunday and face Tarleton State in the Sun Bowl in El Paso. The kick-off is scheduled for 3 p.m.

It is a long-awaited moment for the Aggies, who did not participate in fall football due to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s the first of two spring games for NMSU, which also hosts Dixie State at the Sun Bowl on March 6.

While two games barely qualify as a season, they do represent an opportunity for New Mexico State. Coach Doug Martin’s team will take the spotlight for a moment as the only Football Bowl Subdivision team to play spring games. It is also an opportunity for the rebuilt Aggies to gain the necessary experience.

“We’re just excited to have a game,” said Martin, “everywhere, against anyone. This clearly feels more like a spring camp than a real season and the primary goal is to prepare for the fall. But we have so many new players in the program and you can learn a lot by putting guys in game situations. This can really help us. “

It will be the first game in 450 days for the Aggies, who started full-team practice on January 19, but are banned from playing at home due to New Mexico coronavirus restrictions. It is the first meeting between NMSU and Tarleton State, transitioning to Division I football and playing its first-ever FBS opponent.

Fans are not allowed into Sunday’s game, but NMSU coaches will get a look at a number of new players for the first time. That includes junior quarterback Jonah Johnson, who is expected to start against the Texans.

A transfer from Fresno City College, Johnson passed 1,818 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019 while rushing for 254 yards and six TDs. Johnson fights Redshirt freshman Weston Eget for the starting place, and Martin indicated that Eget can start against Dixie State, allowing both players to play an entire game.

Both QBs add a dimension to the NMSU attack that has been missing for the past few seasons, Martin said.

“They both have strong arms, which allow us to throw deeply,” he said. They are also both fairly mobile, but Jonah is especially good on the road. For a man his height (1.8 meters) he can really run. “

The Aggies have a number of returnees in violation and their line is expected to be a strength. O’Maury Samuels, former Los Lunas High highlight and transfer to Michigan, is likely the NMSU’s most important race in 2021, but a “minor” injury could keep him out of the game on Sunday, Martin said.

The Aggies have little defense experience and should be tested by a Tarleton State team that scored 37 points in a double overtime loss to McNeese State last week. Running backs Braelon Bridges and Ryheem Skinner led the hurried Texans with a combination of 167 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carriers.

“They will be a big test for us,” said Martin. “Tarleton State has been a good program for a long time and they are ready to move up to Division I. If you drop them in the Sun Belt, I bet they can win six games. They have that kind of talent. “

THINK FORWARD: Tarleton State and Dixie State are members of the expanding Western Athletic Conference, which will sponsor Football Championship Subdivision football starting in 2022. NMSU is a WAC member for other sports, but remains an independent FBS for football and as such has planned through 2025, said athletic director Mario Moccia.

The state of New Mexico could eventually rejoin the conference football ranks if the WAC moved up to the FBS level. Dr. James Hurley, president of Tarleton State, says such a transition is already in the works.

“Our goal of getting into this is to immediately begin drawing up a plan among the presidents and sports directors to develop a strategic plan to become an FBS conference,” Hurley told . “That work starts on day 1. We understand that realistically this will take at least five years to complete.”

The WAC has announced that football schools Lamar, Abilene Christian, Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State and Southern Utah will join the league in July 2022.

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