Burges alum Alec Marenco making mark for New Mexico Lobos
The last time Alex Marenco squared off against Deion Hankins in a football game, it was lights out.
In 2018, when Marenco was a sophomore at Burges and Hankins was a senior at Parkland, their game ended up getting suspended and declared a tie when the stadium lights went out.
That's unlikely to happen in their next meeting Saturday at University Stadium in Albuquerque. Marenco is now a sophomore linebacker and key special teams player for the New Mexico Lobos, who host UTEP (including sophomore tailback Deion Hankins) in the 6 p.m. kick.
This is a game Marenco has had circled for a while.
"El Paso is very special to my heart, I love El Paso, I watched a lot of UTEP games in the Sun Bowl," Marenco said. "Coach (Dana) Dimel is doing a great job of building the program over there at UTEP, they're doing good things.
"(When he was picking a college) I just felt there were a lot of distractions in El Paso for me and I needed to get out. I know coach (Danny Gonzales) and (defensive coordinator Rocky) Long are building something special over here and I just wanted to be a part of it."
To that end, in middle of the COVID pandemic in 2020, Marenco committed to New Mexico without even taking a visit.
"It was unique, it was different than what I thought the recruiting process would be due to COVID," Marenco said. "A lot of places backed out because they couldn't see me in person, a lot of coaches moved, with the transfer portal schools didn't know how many scholarships they'd have.
"I didn't step foot on (the UNM) campus until my move-in day. That was shocking. But it was off a feeling, the coaches, the family aspect. It was a feel and an understanding. I had been here a few times for summer track and did get a little feel for it up here."
In short order Marenco has made himself a big part of the Lobo football program. Last season he played in nine games as a true freshman, mostly on special teams, though he did get a few snaps at linebacker in the Sun Bowl against UTEP last year.
This year he's the second-team rightside linebacker and in the rotation, as he's eighth on the team with seven tackles in two games. This is for a defense that opened the season with a shutout of Maine then held Boise State to five first-half first downs in what turned into a 31-14 loss last week.
"Last year was a lot of development, understanding college, getting used to the atmosphere away from home, the play calls, the scheme," Marenco said. "Being able now to have a year under my belt, understand the system, understand everything, it makes me a better player from last year to this year."
Gonzales said Marenco's willingness to learn has propelled him up the depth chart.
"He's a smart player, he's becoming quite the leader out there, getting guys to do what they are supposed to do," Gonzales said. "We saw it happening in the spring and he kept at it all through summer. He's strong in the weight room. Good players earn opportunities and he's done that."
As for this season, "it's going well, but there's a lot more plays to be made," Marenco said. "I have a lot to learn. I'm happy with where I am, but there is a lot more to do.
"I'm impressed with how we've played as a team but never satisfied. None of us are satisfied. We still had a loss. Keeping them out of the end zone is the philosophy of our defense. Giving up points isn't good."
That's where UNM is building from as it gets ready to revive its rivalry with UTEP.
Bret Bloomquist can be reached at 915-546-6359; email@example.com; @Bretbloomquist on Twitter.