Austin Apodaca sounded incredulous, almost offended, at the question.
The question was this: after his release by the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers last June, did the former UNM quarterback consider walking away from the game?
The answer: not just no, but heck no.
“I never thought about hanging it up,” Apodaca, 24, said last week in a phone interview. “I was always in this for the long run. I know I can play pro football.
“I just wanted to keep pursuing it. At this point it’s all about opportunity.”
Apodaca’s next opportunity begins Wednesday in Austin, Texas. He’s one of some 150 former college players and one of nine quarterbacks — Johnny Manziel among them — who’ll display their talents in The Spring League.
“League,” perhaps, isn’t the most accurate description of the enterprise.
The players are divided into four teams, but only four games — two for each team — are scheduled during the 17-day scouting opportunity. Apodaca said he expects the practices to be as important as the games in showing talent evaluators that he belongs.
The Spring League is not affiliated with any professional league, but all Spring League activities are open to NFL, CFL and Arena Football League scouts. All statistics and all practice and game film will be made available.
There has never been doubt about the strength of Apodaca’s right arm. But in his two years at UNM (2015-16), playing in a triple-option offense and sharing time at quarterback with Lamar Jordan, the Colorado native never got a chance to show what he might be able to do in a pro-style offense.
Apodaca, an all-state quarterback at Silver Creek High School in Longmont, Colo., came to UNM after a prolific season at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College, where in 2014 he threw for 2,534 yards and 27 touchdowns. He had transferred to Mesa from Washington State, where he redshirted in 2012 and played as a backup in 2013.
At Winnipeg, Apodaca performed well in training camp. But, at No. 4 on the depth chart behind three veteran CFL quarterbacks, he saw few snaps in the preseason before the Blue Bombers let him go.
Even so, he said, the CFL experience left him even more confident that, given the chance, he can play for pay.
No matter the limitations imposed at UNM, no matter the quick hook in Winnipeg, Apodaca said, it’s all up to him.
“It’s hard to stick (on a roster), for anyone,” he said. “I think that’s what I’ve learned, I guess, is I can blame other people, I can blame circumstances, (but) at the end of the day I’ve got to be a better pro, and that’s what I’m striving for. I can only get better.
“I’ve got to bring professionalism and bring my A game to everything I do (in Austin). That’s why I’m excited, because I’ll get to show that I can do other things besides just throw the ball hard.”
Apodaca is one of three quarterbacks on the Spring League’s West roster, with Bryan Scott of Occidental and Nevada’s Tyler Stewart, who quarterbacked the Wolf Pack to a 35-17 victory over the Lobos in 2015.
The three other teams have only two quarterbacks. Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner who has struggled on and off the field the past few years, is on the South Roster.
Joining Apodaca on the West roster is former Lobo cornerback SaQwan Edwards (2012-14). But Edwards, who spent two seasons with the Oakland Raiders and was in camp with the New York Giants last year, is erroneously listed as having played at New Mexico State.
Though he spent only two years in New Mexico, Apodaca is as irritated as a native might be at the UNM-NMSU confusion that keeps cropping up online and on television.
“That drives me nuts,” he said. “How hard is it?
“Washington, Washington State. Colorado, Colorado State. It seems like we’re the only ones that get confused.”
An actual former New Mexico State Aggie, offensive lineman Isaiah Folasa-Lutui (2012-15), also is on the West roster.
Apodaca said he has stayed in touch with some of his former UNM teammates, notably kicker Jason Sanders and linebacker Alex Hart. He found the Lobos’ 3-9 season last fall, after 7-6 and 9-4 records during his two years in the program, disappointing but not terribly surprising.
“Let’s be honest,” he said. “There are probably 20 schools in the country, 15 to 20, that always have a winning record. Everybody else is pretty cyclical, and that’s kind of just with sports in general.
“(But) I wanted them to do well, because I’m an alum, and I’ve got Lobo in me, in my blood, for sure.”
Apodaca said he has not kept a close eye on the investigations into the behavior of UNM coach Bob Davie that led to the coach’s recent 30-day suspension, and he declined comment.
Austin Apodaca: By the (passing) numbers
At Silver Creek HS
516-of-810, 7,655 yards, 81 TDs, 33 INT
At Washington State
21-of-42, 187 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INT
At Mesa CC
233-of-394, 2,534 yards, 27 TDs, 9 INT
110-of-207, 1,377 yards, 6 TDs, 8 INT