Ruben O. Lucero, Sr.: On Football Chain Gang At 81, Stellar Career As Player And Coach

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 Lucero, An NMHU Hall Of Famer, Played Football For The Cowboys With Lionel Taylor And Others Who Turned Pro


This is a story that must be told. And there are many of them in northern New Mexico. This story is about an athlete, not just any athlete, one who played football for the New Mexico Highlands University Cowboys, in the 1950’s when it was rare to see a Spanish surnamed New Mexican playing football at the university level. And, Lucero played alongside Cowboys like Lionel Taylor, who turned pro and and made a name for himself in pro football, and held the Denver Broncos reception record. Lucero also played with Monte Crockett, who went on to play tight end with the Boston Patriots. Yet another teammate with the HU Cowboys, Humps Cowan, played with the Los Angeles Rams. A couple of years ago, Ruben O. Lucero, Sr. was inducted into the NMHU Hall of Honor/Hall of Fame and told the audience of the incredible experience  playing with these top-notch Black players who went to play pro football.

Amazingly, he not only lettered in football but lettered for two years in track, and played basketball,  too, for the HU Cowboys. Lucero said that back in those days, it was not unusal to see an athlete letter in two or three sports.

This is the first of a series of stories following Ruben O. Lucero, Sr. as an athlete through his high school sports years at El Rito, and his college days in sports at NMHU, then his coaching career where he had a cross country runner, Jerry Garcia, who was a five-time New Mexico State Champion in Cross Country, and according to Lucero, is one of only three cross country runners in the nation to become State Champion five years straight. Jerry Garcia later ran for the Army and actually competed with Steve Prefontaine, an American great in running, who died just as his career was taking off. Lucero kept a bronzed tennis shoe, a racing flat, belonging to Jerry Garcia, on his coffee table for many years. He still has it.

Photo shows “Chain Gang” members, L-R, Elizabeth Lucero, granddaughter of Ruben O. Lucero, Sr., Ruben O. Lucero, Sr., 81 years old, and Lucero’s son, Larry Lucero who was inducted into the NRG Hall of Fame, joining his brother, Ruben A. Lucero, Jr., a star athlete for McCurdy and recruited to play baskball for NMHU, and his father, Ruben O. Lucero, Sr., all NRG Hall of Famers. Ruben Lucero, Sr. says that the family three-generation “Chain Gang” has done the New Mexico North/South football game for more than 10 years. 


Lucero is 81 years young today, and keeps himself busy as a chain gang member for football games. And, incredibly, he may go for two! Two sports in two days. For example, on August 26, he was on the gridiron on the chain gang with his son, Larry and Larry’s daughter, Elizabeth, a three-generation family chain gang, during the football game between the Espanola Valley Sundevils  and the Show Low, AZ, Cougars.

Lucero, an affable, friendly type talked to some of the Cougar players when he got minute. There was another chain gang member that night with the Lucero trio, Adrian Salazar.. The next day, and on the same football field, the Sundevils were hosting their 39th Annual EVHS Cross Country Invitational, now with a new name, the 2nd Annual Del Valdez EVHS Cross Country Invitational, honoring  a former long-time coach, and teacher in the Espanola School District, Del Valdez, now retired but was helping out on Saturday.

Now here’s the amazing part. Who do you suppose was the starter for all the cross country races that Saturday. Right! Ruben O. Lucero, Sr.  Back to back. An Incredible man.