ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Clayton Mitchem will step onto the steamy surface of the Sun Bowl on Saturday and take his place among starting quarterbacks in Lobo football history.
It’s a largely inglorious list. It’s a bunch of guys who have been bruised and battered, abused by opponents and fans alike.
The most recent being Cole Gautsche.
It’s Gautsche’s predicament – concussion symptoms and an erratic arm – that causes us to turn to Mitchem, a transfer with strong junior college credentials.
But Saturday, Mitchem will be starting a major college game for the first time. He will be playing the most difficult position in sports.
“That’s the thing about that position,” Lobos coach Bob Davie says. “You don’t know. Like Clayton Mitchem. I think he’s really good.”
But Davie doesn’t know.
“We’ll find out,” Davie says. “We’ll find out if he’s the guy.”
It seems as though UNM has been looking for that guy for a while.
Ask 25 Lobo fans what quarterback from the past 25 years they remember most (either fondly or not so much), and you’re likely to get 25 different memories.
They’ve been a gritty bunch. Witness Billy Rucker, Kole McKamey and the incumbent Gautsche. Stoney Case once popped his own shoulder back into place so he could get back into a game.
Some have been productive. Casey Kelly was 19-13 as a starter. Graham Leigh led UNM to the Insight.com Bowl.
Donald Sellers was efficient, as was Ned James. Donovan Porterie completed 58 percent of his passes in his career.
Rudy Caamano, anyone?
And how about Jeremy Leach? The kid was a monster. He once threw for 622 yards in a single game. Unfortunately, he lost that game. Even more unfortunate was the pounding he took. No one should be forced to watch the beatings he suffered, much less take them.
Then there was a personal favorite, Marcus Goodloe. He was charismatic and smart, and we talked about the issues of the day, far beyond football. The former UNM student body president went on to become a minister.
Goodloe was the starter on Aug. 31, 1991, when the Lobos visited UTEP at the Sun Bowl. On the first drive, on the second play of the season, Goodloe threw a touchdown pass. UNM, however, lost 35-19. Goodloe ended his career playing wide receiver.
You just don’t know.
Davie says when it comes to quarterbacks, it’s about the intangibles.
Davie and offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse got into a conversation about Texas-San Antonio’s Eric Soza. He’s got the intangibles, they decided. Soza wasn’t highly recruited, but he worked his way through the fledgling Roadrunners program.
“All of a sudden, he’s as good as most Mountain West quarterbacks,” Davie says.
And last Saturday night, he found a way to beat New Mexico. New Mexico couldn’t find a way to beat UTSA.
“I don’t think it’s just talent,” Davie says. “It’s when they get under center. The moxie they have. The coachability, the swagger, that whole thing. But you better have it.”
Does Mitchem have it? Can Gautsche get it? What about David Vega? He’s certainly confident. What about the freshmen?
Davie looks at his quarterback situation as he does the rest of his team. There’s potential, but limited or no experience.
The coach is looking for a guy with magic.
“Some of them have the magic,” he says. “You better find a guy who has some magic. That’s what it is. That’s what this game is.”