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Lobo football: QB Tuioti’s return is welcomed

Quarterback Tevaka Tuioti, who started for the Lobos last season, was back at practice Monday after missing eight practices while dealing with his grandfather’s illness in California. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Tevaka Tuioti was welcomed back with a round of applause from his University of New Mexico football teammates during a Monday morning meeting, coach Bob Davie said.

The redshirt sophomore quarterback said it felt good, but he knows he has a lot of work to do if he wants to win the starting job as he did last summer.

“I have to stay on point,” Tuioti said of what he must do to become the Lobos’ starter for their season opener against Sam Houston State Aug. 31 at Dreamstyle Stadium. “I feel like I’m in catch-up mode.”

Tuioti missed eight practices, including one key intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday, because he was in California with his family, as his grandfather, Leoga, was in the hospital with an illness.

“All I can say is that he’s doing better,” Tuioti said. “He’s in stable condition right now.”

Tuioti, who watched game film while at the hospital, said he remained connected to UNM football because of well wishes and concern from teammates and coaches via text messages and phone calls. He said his grandfather has played a big role in his life. During Tuioti’s childhood, Leoga watched over Tuioti’s brothers and sisters when his father was working. Tuioti has six siblings, including two older sisters, two older brothers and two younger brothers.

Tuioti’s football family in Albuquerque was happy to see him back in practice. Even his competition for the starting job was welcoming.

“That’s a brother to me,” said Sheriron Jones, a senior quarterback who started seven games last year. “It’s great to have him back, to see him smiling, see him around everybody and everyone accepting him.”

Brandt Hughes, a junior college transfer quarterback who has made great progress during preseason camp, said Tuioti’s return elevates the level of play among the signal-callers.

Saturday’s 85-play scrimmage, a closed practice in the stadium, proved to be another step in the right direction for Hughes. It was another opportunity for him to get familiar with the offense.

“I’m getting there,” Hughes said. “I’m starting to really understand the offense and be more comfortable. I’m being able to be myself out on the field, rather than panicking. I’m getting to know my reads. I’m getting a lot better feel for the offense. I’m feeling good.”

Redshirt freshman quarterback Trae Hall said it’s exciting to have Tuioti back, and he noted that there is more chemistry among the quarterbacks than there was last year. They compete against each other, but they encourage one another, Hall said.

Last season showed that they all must be ready to play when called upon. Injuries forced Tuioti to the sideline. Jones dealt with inconsistent play and went to the bench.

Still, the quarterbacks remain in a competitive mindset, and each wants to win the starting job.

“Being able to see Sheriron, Trae and Brandt compete, they are high competitors,” Tuioti said. “They expect a lot. Being able to play at their level, it’s going to be a great competition.”

Davie said Tuioti has his work cut out for him, describing his situation as a “double whammy,” because Tuioti is dealing with rustiness and the other quarterbacks have improved.

Tuioti, per NCAA rules, won’t be able to practice in pads and full contact until Friday.

Joe Dailey, UNM’s first-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said he wants to see how Tuioti will perform when he’s fatigued, to see if he can execute “under a little bit of adversity.”

“This system is designed for any type of quarterback to play in it,” Dailey said. “The more talent you have, the more numbers you could put up. We need to be able to reel (Tuioti) in and get him to play within the confines of the system, and he could have a really good season.”

FACEBOOK GAME: UNM’s regular-season finale against Utah State on Nov. 30 at 2 p.m. at Dreamstyle Stadium will be streamed exclusively on Facebook, the Mountain West Conference and Stadium announced on Monday.

The Lobos’ game against Utah State is one of seven MWC contests on Facebook this season.

This is the third consecutive year the MWC and Stadium have partnered with Facebook and the third straight year UNM will be a featured game.

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