Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
It took several injuries to players farther up the Capital running back depth chart when Luke Padilla was a freshman before he finally got a chance to show what he could do.
Jaguars coach Bill Moon likes to joke that it just shows how smart he is as a coach.
That was right at district time and all Padilla did in those four games was rush for nearly 1,200 yards.
Now, despite facing an abbreviated final season, Padilla already holds the school record for rushing yards, with well more than 4,000 in 23 games. And he set the individual game mark with 405.
He’s averaged nearly nine yards per tote.
And he’s a true team leader in every sense of the word, Moon said.
It all added up to a scholarship at Fort Lewis College, a D-II school in Durango, Colorado, where he plans to study engineering at the school’s spiffy, new $35-million, state-of-the art Geosciences, Physics and Engineering Hall. The Skyhawks play in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference along with New Mexico Highlands University.
“The intangibles are even more amazing,” Moon said of Padilla. “He’s a great kid to have on the team. He’s a great asset in a metaphysical realm. It’s hard to talk about. I don’t think anybody believes a coach when we talk about that stuff. When we talk about the metaphysics, they just don’t believe us, it’s just coach speak.”
But not when it comes to Padilla, Moon said.
“Luke is that kind of kid,” he said. “But you wouldn’t believe it. They just trust in him. He gives inspiration. He’s money in the bank and the kids believe in him. They know.”
Standing nearly 6 feet tall and weighing 185 pounds, Padilla speeds across the field with 4.448 in the 40 speed.
“If there’s a wall, he’ll run through it,” Moon said. “If there is a bigger wall, he’ll run around it. Once Luke turns the corner, not very many people are going to catch him.”
While Padilla could very well have had a chance to play at a D-I school, being one of the very few states that were prohibited from playing high school football this fall reduced his chances, Moon said, as other players had recent video.
But Padilla said there was plenty to like about Fort Lewis.
“First of all, they gave me an offer that me and my family couldn’t really turn down,” he said. “And they have a great engineering program and that’s what I’m going into. Their program is nationally certified in the engineering field.”
A few other schools were staying in touch with Padilla, but none really came close to the interest of Fort Lewis, he said.
“Coming into this last month, Fort Lewis was way ahead of any other schools I was identified with,” Padilla said. “Three weeks ago, I got to visit campus. I couldn’t go inside anywhere, but I got to visit all the facilities and meet the coaching staff. Everybody was great. It was like a small family. Everyone welcomed me with open arms.”
With an abbreviated high school season remaining for his senior year, Padilla said he is looking forward to getting out on the field with his buddies before heading out to college, especially since the break has given his body time to rest and heal.
“I’ve been playing year-round sports since I was 6 or 7,” he said. “You don’t realize the impact that has on your body until you stop doing it. I got an entire year off to heal my body. I got time off just to heal. That was unbelievable.”
Still, Padilla kept his body tuned and ready to go.
“Throughout the course of the pandemic, I’ve been in the weight room,” he said. “We shut down here in New Mexico, but I was fortunate a close family member has a home gym and I could do my workouts there. I was constantly in workouts every single day, building up my body. My body is ready to go. If anything I’m ahead of the game.”
Padilla said that, when he gets to Fort Lewis in the fall, he knows he’s going to be starting over, simply looking to earn some playing time.
“Coach (Darrius) Smith, he told me when I was on my visit that he wanted to get me the system as soon as possible and ‘Get you playing time as freshman.’ That’s not a guarantee or anything certain,” Padilla said. “But I plan to work hard and, hopefully, I will get that time as a freshman. I’ll still work hard just like I did my freshman year here.”
And just maybe, Smith might prove as perceptive as Moon.