LAS CRUCES, NEW MEXICO (KTSM) – It’s a sight that will be seen for the first time in two years in just 49 days: New Mexico State running out of the tunnel at Aggie Memorial Stadium.

NMSU was one of only three D-I FBS programs that didn’t play last fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they’re ready to finally get a full season going.

As a refresher, instead of playing in the fall of 2020 after the majority of their games were cancelled (being an FBS Independent had major limitations during the pandemic), New Mexico State played two games in the spring – losing to Tarleton State, and beating Dixie State – while also holding 30 practices.

“This is unprecedented what our program went through,” said NMSU head coach Doug Martin. “I think our players really missed football, it was a wake-up for them, it made them appreciate what they had. I love the way they responded, we’ve got a great group of kids here.”

Both of their games were played at UTEP’s Sun Bowl Stadium, without fans, because of New Mexico COVID guidelines that barred them from playing at home. As they gear up for their first real season of football in two years, Martin knows just how important that spring season was.

“We needed that badly. When we came back it was obvious we were very tentative playing, it took a long time to get the guys back in a rhythm,” Martin said earlier this week. “If we’d only had 15 practices in the spring, we’d never be where we are right now. We had over 30 practices and the two games, and that put us back in a position to be able to hopefully compete well this fall.”

Martin said there will be open competitions at every position when fall camp begins at the end of July, leading up to the season opener Aug. 28 at home against rival UTEP in the Battle of I-10.

Those position battles will include at quarterback, where Jonah Johnson and Weston Eget split time during the spring. Eget looked impressive in NMSU’s win over Dixie State, before going out with an ankle injury late in the first half. Johnson then came in and closed out the victory.

Martin told KTSM this week that Eget has fully recovered and will be ready to go when fall practices begin to compete for the starting job.

Just seven Saturdays separate the Aggies between their season opener, Aug. 28 at Aggie Memorial Stadium vs. UTEP. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and NMSU’s stadium is slated to be at 100 percent capacity for the Battle of I-10 that night, the true return to college football that Las Cruces, and the entire Borderland, has been waiting for.