Connor O’Toole is taking his talents to Salt Lake City.
O’Toole, a star wide receiver at La Cueva High and generally regarded as the state’s top football prospect, announced Wednesday at school that he will continue his career at the University of Utah.
Seated at a table, which held a Utah hat, a Washington State hat and a Baylor hat, O’Toole placed the Utah hat on his head and removed his La Cueva jacket to reveal a Utah shirt to a loud cheer from a crowd of approximately 150 coaches, friends, family and fellow coaches.
Also on the table were lanyards from the other 16 schools that offered O’Toole a scholarship, including one from the University of New Mexico.
UNM announced the hiring of Danny Gonzales as new football coach Tuesday night, and Gonzales got right to work on recruiting O’Toole — the top-rated recruit in New Mexico according to 247sports.com.
“Danny Gonzales called me last night after he was announced as head coach and he told me ‘let’s make a splash together,'” O’Toole said. “It was just too late in the process for me. I love Albuquerque and I wish them the best and I’ll be rooting for them all the way. Danny is going to do a great job too.”
Before his announcement, O’Toole dedicated this day to his friend Austin Denton, the voice of La Cueva athletics, prep sports radio broadcaster and well-known community figure who died early Tuesday due to complications from a tumor at the age of 18.
“Austin was a great kid. I remember the first time he interviewed me,” O’Toole said. “Looking back on (his death), it made me sick to my stomach. Knowing what a good kid he was and how many people he impacted in a positive manner, to see that stuff get the best of him was extremely sad. Austin left a legacy in this community that no one will ever forget.”
O’Toole had offers from 19 schools and another three showed interest. Among those schools he spurned Wednesday were Maryland, coached by former UNM boss Mike Locksley, and LSU, the No. 1 ranked team in the College Football Playoff.
Utah, coached by Kyle Wittingham, is 11-2 this season after losing in the Pac-12 title game. The Utes are ranked 11th in the College Football Playoff Rankings and play Texas in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 31.
“It was definitely a hard decision. I was leaning towards Baylor for a while, but it’s just the people,” O’Toole said of Utah. “Every school has good facilities; the academics are pretty good everywhere but it’s just the people. I felt comfortable there. At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for you and your family, and I felt like this was the best decision.”
O’Toole was the Journal’s metro male Athlete of the Year for 2018-19 and is one the state’s best track and field athletes.
The 247sports.com website lists the 17-year old at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds and as a tight end. The Journal has listed O’Toole at 6-4, 210 pounds. He helped the Bears win a state championship in 2018 and was the high-point athlete among metro entries at the state track meet that year. He also carries over a 3.5 grade-point average.
“He’s just been one of the most dependable players,” La Cueva football coach Brandon Back said. “That’s the one thing that separates him from everybody else. His talent and his measurables — being as tall as he is and as fast as he is — makes him a great player but his greatness really comes from his dedication. That’s what makes him special.”
O’Toole says despite leaving the state to play collegiately, he hopes to make home-state fans proud while he’s at Utah.
“I appreciate everyone and I couldn’t have done this alone,” O’Toole said. “There’s not a lot of people that come out of New Mexico, and I take a lot of pride in it. I’m not going to let New Mexico down. I got put in this position for a reason and I’m going to make the most of it.”