Tevaka Tuioti paced about, behind the scenes during the first day of preseason fall camp for the University of New Mexico football team Wednesday evening.
Tuioti is in a much different role this sesaon than previous years, when he was vying to become the Lobos’ starting quarterback. Twice he won the starting job before the season opener in 2018 and last year.
Now, Tuioti is a student assistant coach after he was not cleared for the start of camp stemming from three reported concussions. He works mostly with the quarterbacks.
UNM second-year coach Danny Gonzales made the announcement about Tuioti at his press conference on Tuesday when Tuioti was not available to the media. On Wednesday, Tuioti spoke to the media for the first time since November.
“Just being out there (as a student assistant coach) it was bittersweet,” Tuioti said. “Usually I’m the one seeing through the facemask, not seeing them in a face mask.”
During practice, Tuioti said he spoke with defensive coordinator Rocky Long, who asked Tuioti how he felt.
“I just said it felt weird,” Tuioti said.
Long, a former UNM head coach who also played for the Lobos, told Tuioti that he would get used to his new role.
Tuioti said he had not really thought about coaching earlier this year because he was mostly thinking about gaining clearance to return to football activities.
He said that transferring to another program in an attempt to gain clearance from different doctors wasn’t ever really an option. While he is a student coach, Tuioti said he is studying to earn a business graduate degree. He earned an undergraduate degree in communications.
Tuioti had been planning to play as a redshirt senior this season, yet he also had an extra year of eligibility from the coronavirus-delayed and shortened season.
“I wouldn’t change it one bit,” Tuioti said of his time at UNM. “I’ve been blessed for every moment that I’ve been given. Now it’s time for me to turn the chapter.”
As for the UNM quarterbacks, the rotation began with redshirt junior Trae Hall, then to redshirt freshman Isaiah Chavez and to Kentucky transfer Terry Wilson.
Gonzales has said that the quarterback position battle will be very competitive and won’t be handed to Wilson, who led Kentucky in 2018 to its first 10-win season since 1977.
Wilson, a 6-foot-3, 203-pound dual threat quarterback became the first Wildcat player with at least 1,500 passing yards and 500 net rushing yards in the same season that ended with a 27-24 win over Penn State in the VRBO Citrus Bowl. The season also featured a 27-16 win at Florida, the Wildcats’ first win there since 1986.
Wilson said he is fine with competing for the job.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I’ve been in competition my whole life. I’ve been in college for six years and I’ve been in a lot of quarterback competitions. It’s pretty fun. At the quarterback spot, you gotta bring it everyday. It’s not given to you, so you gotta bring it. You gotta bring that juice and know that you’re fighting for the job.”
Wilson said he has been approached with name, image, likeness opportunities since arriving in Albuquerque last month.
“I’m just really focused on getting better,” Wilson said. “I’m just concerned about this season and getting better during fall camp. I have been approached.
I’m not really worried about it. I’m just trying to get better as a quarterback and trying to be better for this team. I’m not really focused on NIL.”
Wilson said his UNM teammates have welcomed him, yet is still adjusting to his move to Albuquerque.
“I’m trying to be that vocal leader, trying to encourage the younger guys,” Wilson said. “I feel like it’s been my role to be a leader. I’ve enjoyed it.”
Gonzales said Wilson’s path toward connecting with the Lobos and building team chemistry started in March via Zoom when he connected with UNM players.
Gonzales had told the other UNM quarterbacks that he was recruiting a transfer quarterback.
“The great thing about not having secrets and not being worried about hurting anyone’s feelings is that I tell our entire team our job is to out-recruit you,” Gonzales said. “If you don’t want be out-recruited then compete and be better than the guys we bring in. And if we do that then we’ll be really good.”
Gonzales spoke to the media in the weight room after practice because the wind picked up as the night went on at UNM.
He was pleased with the energy during practice and he pointed how far the Lobos have come.
“From our first spring practice (in 2020) to now, they understand our expectations,” said Gonzales, who spoke with a hoarse voice after shouting during practice. “I’m kind of excited that I sound like this because it means that we’re out there practicing football. It’s more about doing the things we want them to do at a high effort.”