Second-year UNM head coach Danny Gonzales listens to a question from a media member during Tuesday’s press session. Gary Herron photo.

ALBUQUERQUE — “Football is the only game you practice more than you play,” says second-year University of New Mexico football coach Danny Gonzales, and after all the practices he has lined up, he’s expecting his 2021 Lobos to be a darn good team.
“Exciting times here; I can’t wait to get started,” Gonzales said at an Aug. 3 afternoon media session. “It’s time to get rolling.”
UNM opened its fall football camp Aug. 4 with the first of 16 practice sessions, which run through Aug. 21. The team’s opener is Sept. 2 at home against Houston Baptist.
The Lobos were 2-5 last year, led to the two victories in the final games of the season by none other than former Rio Rancho High School quarterback Isaiah Chavez.
Although Chavez will be on scholarship now, after that walk-on and No. 5 on the depth chart status he had in the pandemic-shortened season of 2020, there’s no guarantee he’ll be under center Sept. 2.
That position is where there’ll be quite a battle, with UNM having added former Kentucky QB Terry Wilson to the mix. There were seven quarterbacks listed on the initial roster, and “trying to figure out the quarterback rotation” is one of the question marks facing his team.
Wilson has to be considered the front runner.
“We’re big-time football; we’re not a mid-major program,” Gonzales said. “We’re bringing one (quarterback) in from a big league. He’s got a whole bunch of advantages; the advantage he doesn’t have, he hasn’t been in our system for the last two years, like those other two guys (Trae Hall and Connor Genal). … He took the University of Kentucky to Florida and won … he took the team to Knoxville and beat (Tennessee). He led Kentucky to a 10-1 season, so there are some built-in advantages right there.” (Wilson’s Wildcats also beat Penn State, 27-24, in the Citrus Bowl.)
“The best one will play. It’ll shake out between now and the 19th, I have a feeling,” Gonzales said. “The hardest thing … will be getting all those quarterbacks we have reps to determine who can take charge.”
And by taking charge, he means there’ll be only one guy playing the position in games, short of injury: “We won’t rotate quarterbacks.
“Isaiah, whether he’s the quarterback or not, he does things those other guys don’t,” Gonzales added, thus there could be some instances when the speedy Chavez is under center, possibly for a “wildcat” play.
He expects his players to be in good cardio shape, although “football shape” is a bit different. When camp ends, he said, “(We’ll be) seeing how far we are schematically and see where we have to go.”
The goal of the fall camp, Gonzales said, is “They should feel absolutely amazing: They should be fresh, their legs should feel good, they shouldn’t be too sore or beat up,” Gonzales said. “And then after Game 1, they should feel terrible for the rest of the year. So finding that happy medium in the next four weeks is probably the biggest challenge.
“Because if they do feel good after that, we’re not very good,” he quipped.
One place where the Lobos weren’t very good last season was the secondary, and Gonzales didn’t shirk from a question about his cornerbacks and safeties getting frequently beaten on long passes last season.
“Some of that was we weren’t very fast; some of that was technique,” Gonzales said. “I think we addressed the speed issue through recruiting. Now, are those guys good enough to play? I have no idea and we won’t know for two weeks.
“The further you are away from the ball as a true freshman, the easier it is to play,” he explained. “The closer you are, it’s almost impossible. … I think Donte Martin and Corey Hightower have a chance to be real good corners. … (But) if you don’t get to the quarterback, it doesn’t matter how good those guys are.”
A former Lobo, Gonzales said he wants his team to be the toughest in the Mountain West, where they’ve been picked to finish last in the Mountain Conference.
“I think we have a great model of what it takes to be successful,” Gonzales said. “You have to adjust that as you go.”
Despite all his optimism and that two-game winning streak, “We have a long way to go before we become a great football team,” Gonzales admitted. “We’re here to compete and play football. … I just want to play.”
Lobo lowdown: Houston Baptist, which began playing football in 2014, has never had a winning season. The Huskies play in the Southland Conference and have been coached since Day 1 by Vic Shealy.
… The Lobos have four former Rio Rancho players on their roster: linebacker Dion Hunter and wide receiver Luke Wysong from Cleveland High School, and Chavez and linebacker Josh Howes from Rio Rancho High School. Howes’ father, Dave, is in his second season as the Lobos’ safeties coach, after spending 11 years as the head coach at RRHS.
… Gonzales estimated that 80 percent of his players have been vaccinated. The team had zero positive COVID-19 tests last season. “Our guys have done a great job in keeping this community safe,” he said.
… Former QB Tevaka Tuioti, the victim of at least three concussions while playing, has decided to be an assistant on Gonzales’s staff this year. “He is not cleared to play football,” Gonzales said. “I think Tevaka and his family made a great decision. … That is one of the most-competitive young men that made a tough decision and I support him fully. … He did what was best for his future.”
… Jerrick Reed II, named a preseason All-MWC selection, is among 40 players named to the prestigious Paycom Jim Thorpe Award Preseason Watch List by the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and Jim Thorpe Association. Reed started five games last season and played in all seven, and was fourth on the team in tackles with 33 and led the team in interceptions with four.
… Last season in the MWC preseason poll, the Lobos were selected last. At the time, Danny Gonzales, who had yet to coach a game at UNM, summed up that preseason poll placement succinctly: “I don’t care.” He doesn’t care about being picked sixth in the Mountain West this year, either. “We will see what happens at the end of the season. That said, we have to go out and prove people wrong, but that’s OK. We will either prove them wrong, or it’s on us.”