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At the end of the Quick Lane Bowl on ESPN Dec. 26 in Detroit, New Mexico State University head football coach Jerry Kill was on the turf of Ford Field accepting congratulations from fans and well-wishers who had spilled onto the turf following the Aggies’ victory over Bowling Green.
After greeting one supporter Kill looked him in the eye and said in his Kansas drawl, audibly on national TV, “Hey, you’re part of this, too.”
And that’s the way it’s been since Coach Kill first arrived in Las Cruces.
Shortly after NMSU Athletic Director Mario Moccia hired him Nov. 29, 2021, Kill was at an Aggie home basketball game in the Pan American Center, walking up and down the aisles, meeting and greeting fans.
From Day One, he knew turning around NMSU football couldn’t be just a “me” thing. It had to be a “we” thing.
Kill most definitely needed his own experience, skills and expertise. He also needed the experience, skills and expertise of a great coaching staff, which he quickly assembled. But he also believed he needed the support and participation of the Las Cruces community. And so he has worked tirelessly since then to engage Aggie fans of all ages into his job.
So, when he said, “You’re part of this, too,” Jerry Kill wasn’t just talking to that one fan in Detroit. He was talking to the ticket-taker at the Pan Am. He was talking to the second-string linebacker for Camino Real Middle School. He was talking to an administrative assistant at NMSU. He was talking to longtime Aggie supporters like Lou Sisbarro and Wanda Bowman. He was talking to the server at Hooters, the cook at the food truck and the couple who have had season tickets to Aggie games for 50 years.
Of course, Kill and his coach didn’t make any of the plays on the field during the bowl game, or during any of their 12 games this season. Those were the Aggie players, all of whom are talented athletes and hard-working individuals. But they are different today than they were Aug. 27 when they opened their season losing against Nevada.
The first time I heard Coach Kill speak publicly was at a meeting of the Rio Grande Rotary Club last February. Someone asked him the first thing he had to do when he took the job.
“Get to know the players,” Kill said. “I can’t coach him if I don’t know ‘em.”
Over the course of a year, as he’s gotten to know the players, and as they’ve gotten to know him, they all learned something together.
They play these football games, and somebody’s gotta win.
“Why can’t it be us Aggies?”