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Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico’s new cast of junior college football transfers are doing their best to fit in with the team, yet in truth they embody the 2019 Lobos.
Eric Cuffee, a highly recruited defensive back out of Waco (Texas) High who spent two seasons at the University of Texas before going the JUCO route, perhaps typifies this year’s UNM team the most. He’s looking for an opportunity to show why he was so sought-after coming out of high school.
The Lobos, feeding off energy of a new season, want to show they are not the laughingstock of the Mountain West Conference. Only three seasons ago they were MWC darlings and an up-and-coming Group of Five program, but they have gone 3-9 overall, 1-7 in league play, each of the past two seasons.
Cuffee garnered “about 50-plus offers” before he made the decision to play for the Longhorns, he said. He possesses the length (5-foot-11) and speed many teams covet. He was a four-star recruit, an all-state player who was rated by ESPN as among the nation’s top 125 high school defensive backs.
Yet, after a little more than two seasons at Texas, Cuffee believed a reboot was needed. He wanted to transfer to a junior college (Trinity Valley CC in Athens, Texas) and reset his college career.
“There was no specific reason as to why I left (Texas),” said Cuffee, who plays cornerback. “If you’re asking if there’s a reason why I left or if I was kicked out of there, no I was not. I simply just gave myself a better opportunity. I talked to my family and to (Texas) coach (Tom) Herman. It was a well-thought decision. Obviously, they didn’t want it to work out that way, but I gotta do what’s best for myself.”
Now. instead of raising the “Hook ’em Horns” sign, Cuffee can use his hand to make the Lobo. He is settling into his new home, getting to know his teammates and coaches. He said among his highest priorities is to help the Lobos win and to become a part of a brotherhood, because he believes team chemistry will be important for a turnaround season.
“He’s learning the terminology and how we do things here on a daily basis,” said Perry Eliano, UNM’s cornerbacks coach. “I’m learning him and he’s learning me. … You can see his ability. But he’s not playing as fast as he can right now, because he’s still learning.”
Eliano said he’s excited to see what Cuffee can do during the final seven spring practices, then what he can bring to the table in August and into the season.
UNM will need several things to go right in order for the Lobos to turn it around. Cuffee and the junior college transfers will definitely factor into that rebuild.
Cuffee is one of 19 JUCO transfers in a 25-player recruiting class the Lobos are expecting to contribute immediately this season, particularly on defense.
Of the 19 JUCO transfers, 12 are defensive players, including five defensive backs, four linebackers and three linemen. Thirteen of the 19 JUCO transfers are enrolled at UNM this spring and are practicing with the Lobos.
“They’ve added so much,” UNM coach Bob Davie said. “I start with that group of linebackers. That’s a good group. James Lewis, Reco Hannah, Jacobi Hearn and Devin Sanders. All four of those guys are legitimate guys. They’ve added a lot to our team. … Overall as a group, (the junior college transfers are) very impressive. (They) have come in and added to this team already, and they’ve provided athleticism. They’ve provided some competition at positions. They’re all hungry guys that want to play. I really like their personalities.”
Cuffee said he has noticed the JUCO transfers fitting in well with the rest of the Lobos. Sanders, from San Diego, said he is still getting used to Albuquerque’s higher elevation.
Sanders and Cuffee both chose to play at UNM because they believed they were getting a better opportunity to showcase their skills than they would anywhere else.
“The majority of us are mature enough to know the game enough to come into any situation and thrive because of where we come from and the maturity level we have,” Cuffee said of the JUCO transfers.