Aaron Molina has come home.
Marcus Williams never left.
And here they both are.
Williams, a freshman tight end from Cleveland, and Molina, a junior wide receiver from Valley, are two of eight in-state scholarship players on the University of New Mexico 2017 football roster.
Their stories are similar in some respects, different in others, and the endings are yet to be written. But they’re where they want to be.
“This is home,” Molina said after Tuesday’s practice. “… I think that’s the biggest part, being able to play in front of the people who’ve watched me play since I was little.”
Williams is sensitive to the Cleveland tradition at UNM. Three players from the Storm’s 2011 state champions, Cole Gautsche, Reece White and Romell Jordan, became Lobos. Willliams and Gabe Ortega, from the 2015 state champs, followed suit.
Besides, Williams said, a scholarship offer from UNM was too valuable to pass up.
“Education was the biggest part, coming here to get a free education. … That was one of the biggest things.”
At Cleveland, Williams caught 104 passes for 1,868 yards and 29 touchdowns in three varsity seasons. At Valley, Molina once had 351 yards receiving in a single game.
Despite those sterling résumés, neither player was highly recruited out of high school. Some thought Williams, a two-sport star at Cleveland, would opt for basketball in college. Molina weighed just 165 pounds, soaking wet, coming out of Valley.
But the Lobos wanted them both. Molina signed with UNM in February 2014, Williams two years later.
Neither player, though, enrolled in the same year they signed.
Williams, by mutual agreement with the coaching staff, sat out the 2016 season as a “grayshirt” and enrolled in January. A wide receiver at Cleveland, he’s now an off-the-ball tight end in the fashion of White, his fellow Cleveland grad.
“Reece was a great player, so it would be an honor to live up to his standards,” Williams said. “The stuff he did, the things he accomplished here (at UNM) and in high school.”
The potential, UNM tight ends coach Clay Davie said, is there.
“It’s really exciting, because you look at how young he is and how little he’s actually played so far,” said Davie, the son of head coach Bob Davie. “We’ve really just had him in the spring; that was his entry into college football, so the sky’s the limit.”
In any offense, a tight end’s first responsibility is to block in the run game — something Williams wasn’t often called upon to do at Cleveland. He doesn’t shrink from that responsibility.
“I’ve got to know my role and get my job done,” he said. “It’s going pretty good.”
For Molina, the 6-mile trip from Valley to University Stadium took a 1,000-mile detour (there and back).
After not qualifying academically in 2014, Molina headed to Mesa (Ariz.) Community College. He grayshirted that fall, then caught 60 passes for 1,028 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2015-16.
Last year, he considered an offer from Utah State. But the assistant coach who was recruiting him was fired, and USU stopped recruiting him. “Fortunately,” Molina said.
Why fortunately? UNM, he said, was always where he wanted to be.
And the Lobo coaching staff never lost touch.
“UNM’s the only school that’s been with me the past three years,” he said. “… They’ve shown the most love.”
Bob Davie loves Molina’s long frame (6-foot-2, 191 pounds) and his ability to win contested balls, comparing him in that regard to Lobos junior Delane Hart-Johnson.
Williams and Molina both have redshirt years available, and there’s no guarantee they’ll see the field this fall. If they have to wait, they will.
“I’m gonna make the most of it,” Molina said. “I’m just glad to be a Lobo.”