When New Mexico coach Bob Davie said it was a close competition to become the Lobos’ starting quarterback, he wasn’t just feeding the media a cliché.
How close was it?
Even the ever-confident Tevaka Tuioti was shocked when he was told Monday morning that he will lead the Lobos as the starter for their season opener against Incarnate Word on Saturday at Dreamstyle Stadium.
“It was shocking to me,” said Tuioti, a redshirt sophomore who saw action in eight games with one start last year. “But now I just have to keep it rolling.”
Tuioti’s confidence, or what he calls, “that Cali swag,” is one of the assets that carried the Long Beach native to the top of the depth chart at quarterback.
Tuioti won a high-profile three-man battle, with redshirt senior Coltin Gerhart and junior transfer Sheriron Jones, to become the starter. Jones faced an uphill battle after he missed a week earlier this month with a troublesome hamstring.
Tuioti’s knowledge within the program, as he enters his third season with the Lobos, and his knack for making the right decisions while under pressure helped him secure the job, Davie said.
Tuioti, who turned 20 last week, showed his talent last year when he nearly led UNM to a comeback win against New Mexico State. He threw for 151 yards and two touchdowns, completing 10 of 19 passes in the 30-28 loss.
“Tevaka showed signs last year when he played of really having a chance to maybe be someone special,” Davie said.
Tuioti sat out the 2016 season as a redshirt. Davie noticed Tuioti’s strong confidence back then when Tuioti never backed down while on the scout team against the UNM defense. Teammates would rally around him because of the way he played the game, Davie said.
“He’s pretty cocky in a positive way,” Davie said. “That’s what I like about him. He definitely brings some swagger to the position every day, and I’m anxious to watch him play. He definitely has a competitive edge to him and he’s not afraid to show it. He’s a pretty confident guy.”
The Lobos cheered for Tuioti when Davie made the starting quarterback announcement Monday morning, Davie said. Davie told the Journal of Tuioti’s new role shortly after practice began.
Tuioti, who possesses a strong arm, said he didn’t feel any different while at practice Monday. He just plays football and practices the same way, he said, relying on his competitiveness and sometimes his improvisational skills.
He struggled to describe his game.
“I just go out there and play some football,” Tuioti said Friday. “For me it’s more like backyard football. It’s reaction. I’m more of a dual threat. I can run and throw.”
Tuioti’s teammates have no trouble describing the way he plays.
“Oh my gosh, Tevaka is dynamic,” Jones said Friday. “He’s fast. He can throw. He can do everything. We basically can do all the same things. He’s smart. He know where he wants to go with the ball. He had a chance to do it a lot in the spring.”
Calvin Magee, UNM’s first-year offensive coordinator, has been looking for his “point guard,” to lead the offense since arriving earlier this year. Magee, who coached with Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona, believes Tuioti’s running ability will open lanes for the running backs. Tuioti also has the ability to get the ball to the receivers, Magee said.
And, if Tuioti ever makes a mistake, he doesn’t let it bother him.
“Sometimes as a coach you want him to show some emotion,” Magee said. “But I think that’s going to be a strength of his that he can stay even keel and just go to the next play. At first I was like, ‘show some emotion.’ But it’s just not him. As long as he can stay even keel and stay the leader, he’ll be great.”
Davie said the leadership qualities of Tuioti and Gerhart are equal. Gerhart, who played defense while at Arizona State before transferring to UNM, is known for his relentless work ethic. He has a quiet way of leading, Davie said, while Tuioti is a bit more outspoken.
Tuioti made fewer mistakes than Gerhart did, Davie said.
Davie told Gerhart to be ready to play as situations such as injury, or a large lead or deficit, could lead to him being under center.
“We have different playing styles,” Gerhart said Friday. “(Tuioti) can sit in the pocket and throw. And he can move well. He’s not going to go out and put his head down when he runs. We’re two different type of mindsets.”