Danny Gonzales, playing for the Valley Vikings about 25 years ago.

Yeah, the Howes family in Rio Rancho will probably get free tickets to next season’s University of New Mexico football games.

After all, Tami Howes, the wife of Rio Rancho High School football coach David Howes, is the sister of the new UNM head coach, Danny Gonzales.

“I’m just so thrilled for Danny and what he’s done and the support his community, and the Arizona community, have shown,” Dave Howes said. “This community will jump in with both feet β€” but it’s going to take everybody.”

Lobo football has been struggling the past three seasons under now-departed head coach Bob Davie β€” and that’s struggling to win and struggling to attract fans. In fact, there were more fannies in the seats at Rio Rancho Stadium on Nov. 30 for the Rams-Cleveland championship game than at Dreamstyle Stadium that afternoon to see a Division 1 football game.

So far, people seem to like what they’ve heard: “He doesn’t pull punches and he’s no liar. He said in his press conference he’s going to find the best players in New Mexico and I think he’s committed to this,” Dave Howes said. “You have (talented) kids all around β€” he’s going to work tirelessly. I am 100 percent confident that is his goal: He will commit to recruiting New Mexico kids.”

Tami Howes, understandably proud of her younger (by two years) brother, said the two have always competed, going back to math flash cards when he was in kindergarten and she was a big second-grader.

“He’s really been a competitor, and he has an incredible memory for crazy detail,” she said. “I’m convinced (with those flash cards), Danny would be there memorizing them faster than me, and that set up my competitive streak.”

Listening to her talk, you get the idea you don’t want to be last to a family dinner if you’re not a sports fanatic.

“You’re constantly surrounded by sports β€” sports talk, sports stats, games β€” every holiday revolves around sports,” she said. “(But) it’s not a bad thing.”

Growing up, she recalled, “We were fortunate enough that my folks lived on a cul-de-sac and purposefully bought a large backyard. We had a large hill, so we would play every single game back there β€” one team working to dribble the ball up the hill if we were playing soccer, or throw it up the hill. It’s not like it is today β€” we were always outside. In the driveway we would play a game with a larger ball, banging the ball over the other person’s head, and play until we could no longer see the ball.”

Brother Danny, she said, “started off a soccer player. We went to all of the games, all of the time. Soccer led him into becoming a kicker for the football team. He played baseball; he played basketball.”

Now, she says, when watching her son Joshua, an RRHS junior, play football, she gets flashbacks to Danny.

“Joshua is very similar to my brother β€” some of the things he says, the sound of his voice β€” yes, it’s uncanny sometimes.”

Although Danny didn’t ask her what she thought about this opportunity with UNM, Tami said, “He did sit down and he spoke with my dad, but I don’t think he asked for any advice. They talked about the possibility and what it could mean.

“My take was different β€” I always want the best for Danny, but I’m worried about my dad, going through this heartache (his wife, Rebecca Ann, passed away in November). People can be brutal; it won’t even be a full year after my mom’s death (when he coaches his first game).”

Wife of a prominent coach, sister of a D-1 coach; which is the bigger deal?

“You know what? Because (Dave’s) my spouse, to me and my world, that’s a bigger deal,” she said. “It’s bigger because it’s in my house and my son plays. I’m super-proud because it’s my brother. It’s not surprising when he does well.”

As confident as Gonzales is in taking on this Lobo challenge, his older sister may be even more confident.

“My brother is different,” she said, and will be successful. “(Our parents) instilled in us, no matter what you do, you’re gonna work your tail off to get better.

“I don’t have any doubts β€” I know he has a challenge in front of him and the naysayers are going to be pleasantly surprised. It’s gonna be rough the first year, but like he says, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. This will be a fun program in this community.”

Naturally, Dave Howes will be happy to have his brother-in-law close at hand. Gonzales has been helpful more than once in his 11 seasons at the helm of the Rams program.

“I have had many chats with him and we have drawn plays up on napkins,” he said. “In 2010, he joined the staff for the second half of that year and I learned a ton from him. It was my second year as a head coach β€” and I’d never been on a staff (with a mentor), so there was a lot of the stuff we did we had to figure out.

“This year, in Week 3 (with the Rams having lost their first two games), we had to make some drastic changes and the first person I called was Danny, so I can tell you he’s had a huge impact on Rio Rancho football,” he said.

As they say, the proof is in the pudding: The Rams went on a six-game winning streak, received the 4 seed for the playoffs and went on to meet the Storm for all the marbles.