Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
PROVO — In his third year as the head coach at New Mexico State, DeWayne Walker is in the process of building a program that hasn't been to a bowl game since 1960.
As part of that process, Walker is drawing upon some of his experiences he had as a BYU assistant coach in 1994.
Walker became the first black coach in Cougar football history when legendary coach LaVell Edwards hired him to oversee the defensive secondary.
Walker was in Provo for only one season, but he remembers BYU having "just a solid foundation. Solid kids, solid coaches. (Former assistant) Barry Lamb and I coached the secondary together. I really enjoyed working with that staff and the chance to be around coach Edwards. I've taken some things (from BYU) to try to instill in our program as well."
Walker returns to Edwards Stadium Saturday (8:15 p.m., MT, ESPNU) as his Aggies visit the Cougars.
"It's good for our program to see where we are at this stage of the season," Walker said of the matchup.
But it's not the first time Walker has faced BYU since he left Provo. In 2007, as UCLA's defensive coordinator, he helped the Bruins defeat the Cougars in Pasadena, 27-17. Later that season, the two teams met again in the Las Vegas Bowl. In that game, he was serving as the interim head coach and UCLA fell, 17-16, after the Cougars blocked a last-second field goal attempt. The following year, BYU crushed the Bruins in Provo, 59-0.
In 2009, Walker took the head coaching job at New Mexico State.
Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall and Walker have forged a friendship over the years.
"I would say our relationship is slightly more than professional, more friendly than most coaches I interact with," Mendenhall said this week. "He's done a nice job. … The progress they're making, you can see it in athleticism and in talent. The schemes are catching up to that. Whether this will be the breakthrough year or whether it will be next year, you can see progress."
Though Walker's background is defense, his New Mexico State squad is a prolific offensive team.
"It will be one of the best offenses that we'll play," Mendenhall said. "The strength of their team is their offense. They're talented."
Last weekend, the Aggies (4-6) defeated Fresno State, 48-45, at home, marking their first victory over the Bulldogs in 18 tries.
"It was just a team victory. Our offense kept us in it," Walker said. "The thing I liked about our defense at the end is, we got key stops when we needed them. With this particular team, I'm not really into stats. I'm really not into style. I'm into let's win a football game."
In that victory over Fresno State, wide receiver Taveon Rogers racked up a school-record 412 all-purpose yards, with 166 receiving yards and 246 kick return yards, including a 99-yard kick return for a touchdown. Rogers leads the country in all-purpose yards.
Senior quarterback Matt Christian threw for 360 yards despite being hampered with shoulder and hip injuries.
"Matt is Matt," Walker said. "He's going to be hurt and feeling bad on Sunday and Monday. He'll practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Do the walk-through Friday. Come out maybe a series on Saturday, finish the game, have great stats, help our football team compete, then hurt again on Sunday and Monday. That's kind of his protocol. We definitely appreciate him. I have the utmost respect for him."
The Aggie defense has struggled, giving up 495 yards per game in total offense. Last week, it allowed Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr to throw for 391 yards and three touchdowns.
But Walker said his team overall is improving. He knows Saturday's game is an opportunity to take a big step forward.
"BYU is solid. I've coached at BYU and I know Bronco. He's a great coach. He's solid across the board," Walker said. "We're going to have to play our best game that we've ever played, I think, and hopefully they won't play their best game, to give us a chance to be competitive, get the game in the fourth quarter and see if we can pull an upset."
Cougars on the air
New Mexico State (4-6) at
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MT
LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FMHeady goes here
- Why one Mormon man left Hollywood to be a...
- Best and worst of the BYU, Utah and USU...
- High school football: 5A All-State teams
- High school football: 4A all-state teams
- Utah Jazz: Jazz forward Richard Jefferson...
- High school football: East's Ula Tolutau...
- High school football: 2013 Deseret News MVPs...
- BYU fan reflects: 6 lessons I learned at...
- BYU football: Cougars to play... 105
- Crystal ball commentary: National... 97
- Utah football: Utah coach Kyle... 79
- Utah basketball: Utes rally to defeat... 64
- Florida St-Auburn title game to usher... 50
- Dick Harmon: How would BYU's Taysom... 49
- Best and worst of the BYU, Utah and USU... 47
- Utah basketball: Runnin' Utes bounce... 43