By Joe Naiman
Eric Box, a 2012 Ramona High School graduate and Bulldog football player, made his college football debut Sept. 7 on Western New Mexico University’s team at University of San Diego.
Box, an offensive lineman, was on Western New Mexico’s special teams unit. The Mustangs lost to University of San Diego by 38-35.
“We fought hard, made a lot of mistakes both sides of the ball, but played a close game,” Box said.
WNMU is in Division II of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. USD is in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision, which was formerly known as Division I-AA. WNMU Coach Adam Clark was raised in Santee and played at West Hills High School and Grossmont College before closing out his playing career at St. Ambrose University in Iowa. Clark utilizes Southern California for his recruits and the Mustangs have more players from San Diego County than from New Mexico.
USD and WNMU have played in San Diego each year since 2011, allowing family members and friends of the Mustang players to see a game without traveling to Silver City, N.M., and providing USD with gate revenue from those players’ friends and families. The 2013 game drew 4,186 fans, the largest USD home crowd since 2007.
Box signed a letter of intent to play college football at WNMU in February 2012, but spent the 2012 season as a non-playing redshirt.
Western New Mexico’s players also include running back Tyler Jackson, a 2010 Ramona High graduate, although Jackson is recovering from anterior cruciate ligament surgery and is redshirting this year. Box expects to play with Jackson in 2014.
“He’ll be back ready to go next year,” Box said.
WNMU plays in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. The Mustangs will open their conference season Sept. 21 at Colorado State University-Pueblo.
“We’re going to be ready for them,” Box said.