Hallettsville graduate rewarded for perseverance
Jan. 4, 2018 at 10:18 p.m.
Updated Jan. 5, 2018 at 6 a.m.
HALLETTSVILLE - Dalton Herrington was so excited he hopped on a training table behind the New Mexico State bench and exhorted the fans as they rushed the field at Arizona Stadium.
Herrington had just watched Larry Rose III run 21 yards for a touchdown in overtime to give the Aggies a 26-20 win over Utah State in the Arizona Bowl.
Herrington couldn't help but celebrate a storybook end to New Mexico State's first bowl appearance since 1960, and cap a personal journey that began when he signed a letter of intent during his senior year at Hallettsville.
"The whole experience was really good," Herrington said. "Our coach (Doug Martin) really emphasized enjoying it, but we still had to focus on the game. He kept telling us the thing we're going to remember is the game. We were there (in Tucson) for three days and stayed at a resort and got bowl gifts, which made it really enjoyable. To cap it off with a win kind of put the cherry on top. You couldn't have written the story any better."
Herrington embarked on the road to the Las Cruces, N.M., school when his family made the 700-mile drive for an unofficial visit after Hallettsville won the state baseball championship to conclude his junior year.
He decided to sign with New Mexico State after helping the Brahmas reach the quarterfinals as a senior even though the Aggies had won only two games the previous year and were limited in scholarships and practice time because of academic sanctions.
"Las Cruces is quite a bit different," Herrington said. "It has a different feel and a different vibe. At the same time, college football is difficult. High school - it still has a little where it's all for fun and you can kind of do it after school. If you're good, you don't have to put in a lot of extra time.
"In college football, everybody is good. I think for a lot of people if a place isn't where you want to be, it's tough to stick it out."
Herrington moved from safety to outside linebacker and played as a true freshman when the team had only 65 players on scholarship.
He was one of nine players from his recruiting class to stay at New Mexico State despite a 17-game losing streak that extended through his sophomore year.
"I've never been through losing like that and it was hard," he admitted. "There's no hiding the fact we went through struggles and a lot of guys left. I think the biggest thing is each year we kind of did a little bit better. Our coach stuck with his vision and continued to add pieces around us. He kind of put together a really good team this last year."
New Mexico State was rocked with injuries and finished 3-9 in 2016, but went into this season determined to become bowl eligible.
Herrington did his part by leading the team in tackles (134) and tackles for loss (16), and the Aggies secured a bowl bid with a 22-17 win over South Alabama in the regular-season finale.
"I think the biggest thing player wise was if not this year, then when?," Herrington said. "We had a lot of seniors, and we kind of knew. We knew if we could stay healthy, we could be pretty good.
"Our defensive coordinator (Frank Spaziani) was back for a second year," he added. "Everything is so much easier when you're doing it for two years. We felt like it was now or never. If we don't make a bowl game this year, then how were they going to do it in the future? We felt like this was the team to get it done. That gave us an extra sense of urgency to get it done."
Herrington, 22, not only accomplished his mission on the field, he also did so in the classroom, earning his bachelor's degree in business finance in the spring.
He is currently pursuing a master's degree, which he plans to complete online when he moves to Tucson this month to begin an internship in the University of Arizona athletic department.
Herrington wants to become an athletic director on the college level.
If the last four years have taught him anything, it's to never quit on your goal.
"It's really about the people and finding a place that motivates you to work hard and that you can see yourself achieving your goals at," he said. "It's really about setting goals and always having something that motivates you to wake up every day - you have to have a reason why.
"When you're losing 17 games in a row, you have to have a reason why you're showing up for weights at 6 a.m. every day. If you're just going through the motions, you're going to lose. You have to find something that can help you stand out from the others."
Mike Forman is the sports editor for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or email@example.com.