The pairing started with a short introduction last June.
Tyler Kiehne of Los Lunas High School was in the Los Angeles area for a camp being held at a small college, and it was during this camp that the head coach of UCLA football, Chip Kelly, who also was in attendance, wandered over to say hello.
“It made me realize they were really serious about me,” Kiehne said. The conversation was quick; Kelly inquired about Kiehne’s name and hometown.
And so began the start of the Bruins’ courtship of the Tigers’ coveted defensive end. On Saturday night, UCLA’s legwork paid off as Kiehne — New Mexico’s highest-profile prep football prospect from the Class of 2021 — made a verbal commitment to the Pac-12 program.
“The thing that separated them for me is, it’s UCLA, it’s a huge, world-wide brand,” Kiehne said Sunday afternoon. “It’s a great institution, a great school academically.
“Just the whole coaching staff, they’ve always shown me so much love. I just really wanted to be a part of that.”
Kiehne was a first-team, Class 5A All-State end last season for Los Lunas, recording nine sacks and 13 tackles for loss for the Tigers as a junior.
A dozen Division I schools, including New Mexico, had offered the 6-foot-3½, 250-pound Kiehne. That list also included Toledo, Wisconsin, Washington State, Cal, Utah, Arizona, Kansas, Kansas State, San Diego State and Boise State. Plenty others had expressed interest.
Kiehne said Sunday his three finalists were UCLA, Kansas State and Arizona. He visited UCLA unofficially last summer.
“I wanted to wait until I took my official visit (to decide), but I’m not even sure I’ll be able to do that now, so I didn’t want to wait any longer,” Kiehne said. “That’s where I wanted to go, and that’s where I wanted to be. Why wait, if I knew that’s what my decision was going to be?”
The Bruins came in to Los Lunas to watch Kiehne work out last September, a session that featured more linebacker drills than defensive end drills, he said. The Bruins believe he can play both end and/or a walk-up LB slot at the next level, Kiehne added.
As for the Lobos, who earlier this year signed Kiehne’s defensive end bookend at Los Lunas, Bryce Santana — and who have been extremely active recruiting the state under new head coach Danny Gonzales — he said he is impressed by Gonzales and the direction the program is going. Kiehne first met Gonzales when Gonzales was coaching at Arizona State.
“But I just personally wanted to get out of state,” Kiehne said. He is rated as a three-star prospect by 247Sports. “I wanted to experience something new.”
247Sports described Kiehne, a quick-off-the-ball athlete and a skilled pass rusher, as “one of the West region’s most coveted defensive ends” and its No. 1 prospect in the state for the Class of 2021. The No. 2 on that list, Sandia DE Sam Carrell, recently committed to Baylor. No. 3, Clovis quarterback Chance Harris, just last week committed to Colorado State.
Nos. 4-6 on those rankings — Cleveland’s Luke Wysong, Goddard’s Larry Luna and Clovis’ Jaden Phillips — are all verbally committed to the Lobos.
Several of the metro area’s other elite prospects, most notably Cleveland wide receiver Tre Watson, have yet to announce their intentions.