Aggies host Sacramento State in opener

New Mexico State football will open the 2012 season on Thursday, Aug. 30, against FCS school Sacramento State. This will be the first meeting between the two schools. Kickoff is set for 6:07 p.m. in Aggie Memorial Stadium.

Since 2000 the Aggies are 2-10 in season openers, with both wins coming at home against Southeastern Louisiana — in 2006 and 2007.

The Aggies (4-9 overall and 2-5 WAC last year) were picked to finish fourth in the Western Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll and fifth in the media poll. Louisiana Tech, Utah State and San Jose State were the top three in both polls.

Quarterback Andrew Manley returns to the field for the Aggies in 2012 after suffering a season-ending injury in 2011 against UTEP. In three games, Manley threw for 892 yards on 62 of 109 passing and six touchdowns, completing 56 percent of his pass attempts. In the Aggies’ opening game of the season against Ohio (Sept. 3), Manley threw for a career-high 362 yards and two touchdowns.

The wide receiver corps is led by veterans Kemonte Bateman and Austin Franklin. Bateman recorded 28 catches for 414 yards and four touchdowns last season, and Franklin had 34 receptions for 524 yards and three touchdowns.

The running game is led by senior Robert Clay, who rushed for 133 yards last year. He’s backed up by Akeelie Mustafa, Tiger Powell and Germi Morrison.

Tackle Davonte Wallace and guard Andrew Kersten lead the offensive line. Wallace has started 25 consecutive games and was a second-team All-Western Athletic Conference selection last year.

The defense will be anchored by ends Alex LaVoy and Donte Savage. Lavoy started at middle linebacker last year. Savage has 11 career sacks.

Bryan Bonilla leads the linebacker corps after registering a team-high 71 tackles last season. The defensive backfield will consist of four new starters: Junior Darien Johnson and junior college transfer Cameron Fuller at the corners and juniors Justin Smith and George Callender at safety.

Tyler Stampler again handles the kicking duties after making 7 of 12 field goals last year.

Coach DeWayne Walker will have two new coordinators on his staff this season, with Jerry McManus taking the offensive reins and David Elson calling the shots on defense.

Sacramento State ended the 2011 season at 4-7 overall and tied for sixth in the Big Sky Conference at 3-5.

Garrett Safron is slated to start at quarterback. He played in five games last season, completing 42.1 percent of his passes for 394 yards and three touchdowns. Morris Norrise returns as Sac State’s leading wide receiver, after catching 38 passes for 471 yards averaging 12.4 yards per catch. Running back Sam McCowan is the lead returning running back, averaging 27.9 yards per game in 2011.

Linebacker Todd Davis leads the defense after recording a team-high 96 tackles in 2011.