ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — On a fall afternoon some two years ago, David Anaya approached a stranger in the University Stadium parking lot.
Being relatively new in town, the University of New Mexico walk-on freshman football player from Roswell asked the man if he could recommend a restaurant where he could get a tasty but nutritious lunch.
“I like to eat healthy,” Anaya said.
Two years later, Anaya is still hungry. No longer a walk-on, his appetite is for more opportunities on the football field.
“(This) is kind of a coming-out year,” Anaya, a junior running back, said after a recent practice. “I’ve got to break out and have a good season, so I can show that I deserve to be on scholarship and to be on this team.” On neither count, said Lobos coach Bob Davie, is there any doubt in his mind. When UNM lines up against UTEP on Aug. 30 at University Stadium in the season opener, expect to see plenty of Anaya’s red No. 25 jersey.
“David Anaya is definitely a player that will be on that field against UTEP,” Davie said. “He’s got so many different roles he does for us as a football player. That’s why he’s on scholarship.”
After a spectacular athletic career at Roswell Goddard — all-state running back, state champion wrestler — Anaya came to UNM without a scholarship in the fall of 2012. He made his presence known almost immediately, rushing for 65 yards on seven carries in a season-opening rout of Southern.
Since then, such opportunities have been scarce.
Whenever Anaya got his hands on the ball, he has produced — a 32-yard run in that game against Southern; a 51-yarder last season in a victory over New Mexico State; 35 yards rushing and 52 yards receiving in a 2013 loss to Colorado State.
But with Kasey Carrier shouldering the bulk of the load at running back in UNM’s run-heavy offense the past two years, Anaya has rushed just 24 times — averaging better than 7 yards per carry.
Still, Davie and his staff looked for ways to get Anaya on the field. They moved him briefly from running back to defensive back, then to H-back. In the meantime, he became a special-teams standout.
“I haven’t gotten the ball too much,” Anaya said, “but I’ve made some plays when I have gotten the ball. I’m looking to make even more plays if I get the ball a little more.”
Chances are good that he will.
This year, with Carrier having departed, senior Crusoe Gongbay was expected to step into the role as lead running back. But Gongbay remains under suspension after being arrested on rape and kidnapping charges in April — the charges have been dropped, but could be refiled — and his absence creates opportunities at that position.
Regardless of Gongbay’s status, Davie said, Anaya will get work at running back. He’s been sharing time with junior Jhurell Pressley and sophomore Teriyon Gipson when the first-team offense is on the field at practice.
“David Anaya, we really trust,” said Davie, who announced in December that walk-ons Anaya and Reece White, a tight end from Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, would be awarded scholarships. “He’s a dependable guy.”
Neither exceptionally fast nor particularly big (5-foot-9, 193 pounds), Anaya nevertheless runs with power, balance and a quick burst. Strong, versatile and durable, his style might be more similar to Gongbay’s than any other running back on the roster. He’s probably the team’s best runner between the tackles.
“I’ve always done what a running back does,” he said. “Run, block, do whatever.”
Doing whatever is what Anaya does best. He expects to continue playing on special teams, no matter how many carries he gets at running back.
“When you’re on the field,” he said, “It doesn’t matter what you’re doing as long as you do your job.”