New Mexico’s football team, which has suffered back-to-back 3-9 seasons and just seen two key defensive players transfer, is on the verge beginning Wednesday of securing a group of 16 signees, the Journal has learned through social media and other publications. It features an offensive lineman, an intriguing quarterback-receiver combo and six defensive backs.
There are zero players from New Mexico among the group.
Rocky Aitogi, a 6-foot-5, 354-pound offensive lineman out of Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, had committed to Arizona, but switched because of a desire to play for the Lobos.
Brandt Hughes, a 6-2, 226-pound quarterback from Aaron Rodgers’ alma mater, Butte Community College in California, will attempt to become UNM’s starting signal-caller. And, Jordan Kress (6-foot, 197), who was the leading receiver for Butte, could be catching passes from his JUCO quarterback while with the Lobos.
The early signing period for high school football players, in its second year, begins today and goes through Friday. For junior college players, it goes through Jan. 15.
Last year, UNM announced 12 recruits on the December signing day. Another signing period begins in February.
Lobos coach Bob Davie and UNM cannot comment on the players until they sign today. Davie is planning to meet with the media Thursday.
Davie recently received support from the UNM athletic administration to continue coaching on a contract that has three years remaining.
The 64-year-old coach, who is set to enter his eighth season with the Lobos, has experienced various challenging moments throughout the past two losing seasons.
Last month, he saw free safety Marcus Hayes, who led the nation in punt return average and earned All-Mountain West Conference second-team honors, and outside linebacker Rhashaun Epting, UNM’s 2018 sack leader (5½), transfer. Hayes landed with Kansas State and Epting with Tennessee State, they announced on Twitter this week.
An obvious emphasis for this recruiting cycle is defensive backs. UNM was vulnerable against deep passes throughout this past season.
Eric Cuffee, a 6-foot, 195-pound defensive back, announced his intentions to play for the Lobos via Twitter on Monday. He was a four-star prospect out of Waco High School when he signed with Texas in 2016, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The newspaper reported that he never played any games for Texas and would have been a redshirt sophomore this fall, but he left the program during camp and instead spent the season at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas.
Defensive backs Antonio Hunt (5-8, 152) and Shaddrick Lowery (5-9, 191) played for 10-1 College of the Canyons, located in Santa Clarita, Calif. Lowery had committed to Eastern Michigan.
Marquae Kirkendoll (6-0 171) is the youngest of the incoming defensive backs. He is coming out of Simeon Career Academy, a high school in Chicago.
The offensive line was a bright spot for the Lobos this past season. All the starters return except for ironman Aaron Jenkins, who broke the school record for games played (52) and consecutive starts (50).
In addition to Aitogi, the Lobos are gaining 6-2, 275-pound offensive lineman Cade Briggs, an expected incoming freshman out of national powerhouse Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, Nev.
The Lobos have 11 junior college transfers in this expected signing class, and five prep players.
Wide receiver Tye Moore is also from Las Vegas, Nev., out of Desert Pines High School.
Chad Alexander, 5-6, 164 pounds, was a productive running back for Landry-Walker in New Orleans.
Omar Darame, 6-2, 238 pounds, from Sam Houston in Arlington, Texas, was one of the top defensive linemen in the Fort Worth area, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.