In this University of New Mexico Athletics file photo, Riley McGovern handles a soccer ball during a game.
In this University of New Mexico Athletics file photo, Riley McGovern handles a soccer ball during a game. (Courtesy of New Mexico Athletics/David Benyak)

FARMINGTON  Riley McGovern is making the most of his opportunities with the No. 14-ranked University of New Mexico men's soccer team.

McGovern, a 2010 graduate of Farmington High, made his first collegiate start on Friday against unranked Drake, and the 21-year-old scored his first career goal earlier this season in a 7-2 win against Vanderbilt on Aug. 30. The former Scorpion has earned playing time thanks to his versatility. This years, he plays defender and outside attacker.

"The season is going well. It has been a nice transition for me to start attacking after playing center back in my club years and in high school," McGovern said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "Most players want to be attacking because it is fun. I definitely enjoy it more, too. Everybody wants to be a part of goals."

Scoring against Vanderbilt is something McGovern said he would never forget. He also had his only assist so far this season in the win against the Commodores.

"It is obviously a special moment scoring your first collegiate goal. It was a big, and I will always remember that," said the 6-foot-2 redshirt junior. "It took awhile for it to really register with me. Later that night, it sunk in that I had a game like that. The trick is to forget it happened and not to get complacent. Scoring a goal is a big thing, but what the team needs out of attackers is guys scoring a lot of goals and helping the team score a lot more."

Lobos associate head coach Paul Souders said McGovern has transitioned nicely into the new role the team is asking him to play.

"He is a very good athlete, and we thought getting his skill set involved in attacking more was important," Souders said. "I think the biggest area where he has developed the last few years is the mental side of the game. He was always a talented athlete from the time he played soccer and ran track in high school, but it has been developing his mentality that is so important of any athlete maturing in college. It could have been a bit of a challenge for him to change his role from an outside defender to a wide attacking player, but he has a real understanding of the system and of himself."

Getting the chance to start a game and playing regularly has been rewarding for McGovern.

"It is definitely an improvement from the last couple of years. I played extremely spotty minutes the last two years, so getting to contribute is a special feeling," he said.

McGovern, whose parents Mike and Robin still live in Farmington, led the Scorpions to a 4A state championship in 2009 while being named the 4A Player of the Year. He was the District 1-4A Player of the Year in his junior and senior seasons, and he also placed fourth in the 110 hurdles in track as a sophomore at FHS. While growing up in Farmington and playing under FHS head coach Pete Rankin, McGovern said he never imagined he would fly around the country playing major schools with a highly-ranked Division I team.

"In high school, I was never positive that I would end up playing soccer at a university, especially a Division I school. Making trips to the East Coast and such is pretty special," he said. "When I take a step back and think about it, it is pretty awesome to go to all of these places and have this experience."

McGovern has been able to lead by example for another former Scorpion turned UNM Lobo, C.J. Klepac. Like McGovern, Klepac redshirted his freshman season. This season, Klepac has played in only one game for just eight minutes.

"I think a lot of the advice I can give C.J. is unspoken. He is a very talented guy, but he is just not quite developed yet because he hasn't been here as long. I was the same way when I was his age," McGovern said. "C.J. is going to do very well here once he has another year under his belt. I know what it is like to be where he is, and I definitely talk to him about making sure he doesn't want to leave because it is a special opportunity here and a great program to be a part of."

McGovern believes this year's Lobos team has a good chance of pushing deep into the NCAA tournament. He said the team's new conference, Conference USA, should help them get a better seed and possibly a home game in the tournament thanks to the team's increased strength of schedule.

"We have a ton of talent and potential this year," McGovern said. "We have all the right things in place to be potentially very good this season. We are taking it one game at a time for now, but it is nice for us to play a stronger schedule and have a chance at a higher seed in the tournament. A few years ago, we were undefeated and still got a 10-seed. Hopefully, this year we can do better."

John Livingston can be reached at jlivingston@daily-times.com; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.