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No turning back for 4 who just entered portal

Confirmed: wide receiver Elijah Lilly, here making a touchdown catch against Sam Houston State last season, will not return to UNM after having entered the transfer portal. The same goes, first-year UNM coach Danny Gonzales said, for Jacobi Hearn, Brandon Burton and Kentrail Moran.
Jim Thompson/Journal File

This article has been updated because wide receiver Q’ Drennan left the program during the 2019 season.

The four University of New Mexico football players – Jacobi Hearn, Brandon Burton, Elijah Lilly and Kentrail Moran – who recently entered the transfer portal will not be playing for the Lobos this season, coach Danny Gonzales confirmed Wednesday.

“They’re no longer with our program,” Gonzales said during a post-practice virtual press conference. “They’re allowed to use our facilities to work out and train, to get themselves ready to wherever they’re going. But that’s it. They will not be with us this (season).”

The quartet makes it seven players who have left UNM after previous coach Bob Davie was let go last November.

Defensive lineman Aaron Blackwell transferred to Arizona, linebacker Dylan Horton is at TCU and running back Lawrence Johnson left the Lobos to compete in track and field and probably football at Wisconsin.

When Gonzales was hired in December he spoke with Blackwell, Horton and Johnson to let them know they could return to the program, as they entered the transfer portal before he was hired. Johnson returned, only to transfer later to the Badgers.

When Hearn (linebacker), Burton (defensive back), Lilly (wide receiver), and Moran (running back), entered the transfer portal, Gonzales said he spoke to each individually letting them know they would not be able to play for the Lobos upon UNM’s return to play because of their decision.

The four players were a part of a senior group of 31 who were told they were not guaranteed a scholarship in 2021 due to a cap of 85 scholarships. The NCAA said the 2020 season would not count against a player’s eligibility if the player did not compete because of COVID-19 concerns, or if they entered the transfer portal due to the original plan of playing a spring season.

“They knew what they were doing when they made that choice,” Gonzales said. “That was the last we talked about that. I talked to them, not about returning, and they’re working out. We reached out to places they’re interested in. We’ll help them find a spot. But that’s been the conversation.”

Three players on offense and four players on defense are now gone. The defense appears to be more affected by the transfers. Lilly was the lone returning starter among the offensive players to leave. Blackwell, a team captain in 2019 when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in last season’s opener, Horton, Hearn and Burton were all starters last year, albeit for a defense that struggled.

MORE TESTING: The Lobos went through another round of COVID-19 testing Wednesday morning, Gonzales said. He expects to receive results Thursday, most likely in the afternoon, as it takes about 36 hours for results to come in, he said.

The team will then begin its testing on Monday under the direction of the Mountain West Conference, which will test the players three times per week.

The Lobos had zero positives after its round of testing Sunday.

Testing was the key reason the Mountain West returned to play, and UNM received clearance for full contact from state officials.


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