ALBUQUERQUE — Christian Washington was one of only two sophomores to earn a slot on the 2023 Preseason All-Mountain West football team, which was announced last month during Mountain West Media Day.

Washington was the lone University of New Mexico player to make the squad, and he joined linebacker Ike Larsen of Utah State as the only sophomores on the squad.

Washington, says UNM head coach Danny Gonzales, has a good chance to be his team’s starting running back, although he told the media on Aug.2, “There’s nobody at the front of the pack,” and there’s good depth in that “running back room.”

Washington was named Second Team All-Mountain West as a kickoff returner in 2022, leading UNM with a 26.7 kickoff return average with 427 yards on 16 returns  He finished third nationally among all freshmen in kickoff returns, and was named Mountain West Freshman of the Week after his 100-yard kickoff return against Boise State — UNM’s ninth-ever 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

He also had kickoff returns of 63 yards against Fresno State and he totaled 84 yards on three returns against Boise State. He was second on the team in rushing with 310 yards on 73 attempts and tied for third in receptions with 12, going for 76 yards.

Also mentioned by Gonzales, when he rattled off names in that room, are two former City of Vision tailbacks, each of whom won a Gatorade Player of the Year Award in the state: Cleveland High’s Dorian Lewis and Rio Rancho’s Zach Vigil.

Lewis, Gonzales said, “has put himself in the conversation,” before mentioning Vigil and a few other hopefuls at that position.

Durability is a must, though. Gonzales said his starter will need to carry the ball 22-25 times a game if his offense, which averaged about 12 points a game, will be successful.

“Competition drives success,” Gonzales added, not wanting to name the front runner at that position, although he said there’ll be a strong offensive line in front of whoever the feature tailback is, near quarterback Dylan Hopkins, who has 19 victories in 25 starts with his previous school, University of Alabama-Birmingham.

There’s where the new offensive coordinator hails from; Bryant Vincent joined the Lobo family in December and is also quarterbacks’ coach. In 2022 he led UAB to a 7-6 season and a win in the 2022 Bahamas Bowl as UAB’s interim head coach, and Gonzales knows with four years in the Blazers’ system, much like UNM’s offense, Hopkins, whom Gonzales said “solidified himself in the spring,” can be successful with the Lobos.

“He’s been the leader of our team since January,” although he said nothing’s guaranteed, then with 15 days of “fall camp” awaiting the Lobos.

That’ll be a welcome change for Lobo football fans.

Twice Gonzales told the media “the last three years have been miserable,” capped by a 2-10 record in 2022.

Now, he says, “We have a strong football team. … They look like they’re supposed to look,” vowing his team will play hard, aggressively, fast and smarter. It’s got good chemistry and “is going in the right direction.”

Lobo lowdown: UNM opens the season Sept. 2 at Texas A&M, “the most-talented football team we’re gonna play.” UNM’s first home game is the following Saturday, Sept. 9, vs. Tennessee Tech.

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