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When it comes to Las Cruces sports history, few have been involved in as many milestones as Keith Colson, who passed away March 26 at age 88.
“Keith Colson’s certainly an all-time Aggie great,” Mario Moccia, New Mexico State University athletic director, told the Bulletin in a phone interview. “He will be sorely missed.”
Colson came to Las Cruces in 1954, in tow with Presley Askew, the coach for whom he’d played junior college basketball in Oklahoma. Colson played alongside another Oklahoma import, Lou Henson. Askew was hired to coach New Mexico State University (then New Mexico A&M), which he did for 12 seasons through 1965, adding baseball coaching duties in 1962 when the Aggies started that program.
In 1960, Colson began coaching the Las Cruces High School junior varsity basketball team. The varsity coach at that time was Henson, with whom Colson would follow to Hardin-Simmons University in 1962. That was Henson’s first collegiate coaching job, and Colson was a basketball assistant coach and head track coach.
In 1965, when Mayfield High School opened, Colson returned to Las Cruces to become the Trojans’ first head basketball coach.
Henson returned to Las Cruces in 1966 to become the Aggies’ head basketball coach. In 1968, Henson tabbed Colson to be NMSU’s assistant coach. The two made history in 1970, as they guided the Aggies to the Final Four.
“Keith’s name is synonymous with Lou Henson,” Moccia said.
When Henson left to coach Illinois in 1975, Colson stepped up to take the athletic director position, a job he would hold until 1986. During that time, Colson helped instrument the transformation of NMSU from a small, independent athletic program to a member of the Big West, while building the framework for the department that exists today.
Under Colson's leadership, Aggie facilities experienced the greatest growth in school history as he spearheaded the construction of Aggie Memorial Stadium, the Presley Askew Baseball Field, the NM State Softball Complex and new facilities for tennis and track.
He was also a factor nationally, serving on a number of NCAA committees, including the NCAA Football Television Committee.
“Throughout the years, I would talk to Coach Colson at different games and events,” Moccia said. “We always got off to the side and would talk athletic director stuff and about the difficulties of this job. He was a great counsel, as well as a historian who knew so much about this program over the years.”
Colson’s work at NMSU through the years was recognized in 1997, when he was inducted into the US Bank/NM State Athletics Hall of Fame.
Colson is survived by his wife, Evelyn; his son, Louie Keith Colson; daughters Sally Johnson, Martha Akers and Mary Jones; his 13 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.