University of New Mexico senior quarterback Tevaka Tuioti has waited nine months to gain clearance for football activities after he sustained his third reported concussion.
He won’t wait anymore.
Tuioti, who won the starting job before the season last year, has not been cleared for the start of preseason fall camp, which begins Wednesday, UNM coach Danny Gonzales said during his press conference Tuesday. Rather than attempt to transfer to gain clearance and play elsewhere, Tuioti has decided to be an assistant coach for the Lobos this season, Gonzales said.
“I’ve had conversations with Tevaka and he wants to be a part of our program,” Gonzales said. “I think Tevaka and his family made a great decision for him to be a student coach on our staff. That’s one of the most competitive young men that made a really tough decision, that I support fully. I’m proud of him because it was hard on him because he loves to compete. He loves to play. He did what was best for his future.”
Tuioti, who will assist coaching the quarterbacks, is expected to be available to the media after Wednesday night’s practice, which is closed to the public. He will also help with the offense and special teams during practice.
Tuioti played as a redshirt junior last year and would have had an extra year of eligibility because of the coronavirus-delayed and shortened 2020 season.
Doctors typically recommend athletes who sustain three concussions to stop playing or to sit out for more than a year, Dr. Marc Malkoff, the professor and vice chair of neurology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, said in an interview with the Journal last month.
Tuioti has sustained three concussions that were reported/documented, according to Journal archives:
⋄ Sept. 9, 2017, in a 30-28 loss to New Mexico State;
⋄ Sept. 8, 2018, in a 45-14 loss to Wisconsin;
⋄ Nov. 7, 2020, in a 39-33 loss to Hawaii.
In 2020, he threw for 475 yards, second on the team, completing 37 of his 66 passes with four touchdowns and one interception in the two games he started.
The Lobos still have plenty of quarterbacks – seven – vying to become the starter in one of the more intriguing, yet predictable position battles of preseason camp.
It would be a surprise if Kentucky transfer Terry Wilson does not win the starting job before the Lobos open the season Sept. 2 at home against Houston Baptist.
Wilson, a 6-foot-2, 203-pound dual threat, was 17-8 over a little more than two active seasons at Kentucky. In 2018 as a redshirt sophomore, Wilson led the Wildcats to their first 10-win season since 1977. That season featured a 27-16 Wildcats win at Florida for the first time since 1986, and ended with a 27-24 win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.
Wilson “probably” does have a leg up on the other UNM quarterbacks to become the starter, Gonzales said, adding, “the best one will play and it will shake out between now and Aug. 19 (the Lobos’ second scheduled intrasquad scrimmage), I have a feeling.”
Junior Trae Hall and redshirt freshman Isaiah Chavez are expected to be the most viable contenders.
Chavez, the Rio Rancho High product who began last year as a walk-on and the fifth-string QB, started one game last year and led the Lobos to their final two wins of their 2-5 season. He came on in relief in a 17-16 win over Wyoming and led UNM to a 49-39 victory against Fresno State as the starter.
Chavez is expected to be on scholarship before the season starts, Gonzales said last month.
“With Isaiah, regardless if he’s the starter or not, he does some things that those other guys don’t, so he’ll have a package (of plays),” Gonzales said. “And, if he’s the starter (there will be a game plan around him). We’ll try to find stuff for the other guys.”
Freshmen Bear Milacek and CJ Montes; Brandt Hughes, who is listed as a redshirt senior; and sophomore walk-on Connor Genal, who started one game last year, are also in the mix.
NOTE: UNM football season ticket renewals are up to 77%. Also, UNM football is approaching 1,000 new season tickets sold. That’s the first time there’s been season ticket growth since 2014, UNM deputy athletic director Dave Williams said.