Kyle Stapley is not a typical senior on the University of New Mexico football team, even as none of the Lobos’ seniors for that matter would carry the label of “typical.”
They all went through a bizarre and unprecedented 2020 season.
But Stapley, an offensive lineman, is a unique story.
He celebrated his 26th birthday on Saturday when UNM lost 37-0 at Boise State. He has been married for six months. He has an undergraduate degree in business and is on schedule to earn his Master’s in Business Administration when this semester ends.
“I’ve had a little bit of a different trail here,” said Stapley, who has started 42 consecutive games, 40 at center and two at right guard. “I’ve been here a while. The biggest thing is that I feel very blessed. I’m grateful for coach (Bob) Davie bringing me in and giving me an opportunity, and all the relationships. It’s been a wonderful time for me. I love this program. I always will. It’s been a big part of my life.”
Stapley is one of 20 seniors expected to be honored by the Lobos (3-8, 1-6 Mountain West) in their season finale against Utah State (8-3, 5-2) on Friday at University Stadium. Some of those seniors might return next season as they have an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, the majority of which the Lobos spent in Las Vegas, Nevada because of the state restrictions that didn’t allow for them to play in New Mexico.
UNM coach Danny Gonzales brought back 14 “super seniors,” including Stapley, from last season. Stapley will have exhausted all eligibility by Friday afternoon.
Before arriving at UNM in 2018, Stapley served a Latter Day Saints mission and then spent two years at Snow College, a community college in Utah, redshirting one season. While at UNM, the Lobos have gone 10-32, never winning more than three games each season, unless they pull off a win Friday as a double-digit underdog.
Stapley said he would do it all over again because he has enjoyed his time at UNM, where he has shown great durability and leadership as a three-time captain.
More than half of the seniors to be honored came in from junior college football programs. Gonzales has said that recruiting junior college players won’t be a part of the Lobos’ rebuilding plan. He has also referred to his current team as low on talent. He has said during this second season that his fears it could get ugly were realized because of the makeup of the roster, which is heavy with junior college transfers.
“I like that Coach G is a really upfront guy,” Stapley said. “We knew the game plan coming in. It wasn’t like any of us were surprised. It means a lot to me that Coach G was so honest. It helped me understand my role better.”
Gonzales recognizes it has been rough on the seniors, and he holds them in high regard saying that they have played a part in the rebuilding. He also plans to honor the seniors after the season during a team banquet on Dec. 11, an event that will include fans.
“The seniors wanted to be a part of starting something that’s going to be really good in the future,” Gonzales said. “They fought through. I’m very thankful for what they have done for this program.”
Gonzales looks forward to honoring the seniors, including cornerback Corey Hightower and defensive end Joey Noble.
Hightower is the first, and most likely to be the only, five-year letter-winner in program history. He arrived at UNM in 2016 when he redshirted. It was the last time the Lobos have had a winning season.
Noble has had a standout season, one likely to result in All-Mountain West honors. He leads the team with 15½ tackles for losses, which is eighth most in the nation. He leads the team with 4½ sacks and six quarterback hurries and is third on the team in tackles with 68.
Noble said he plans to attempt to play in the NFL. If that doesn’t happen, he wants to become a firefighter in Southern California. He said he’ll work out with Cip Montes and Top Notch Training in San Dimas, Calif. Montes, the father of UNM freshman quarterback CJ Montes, has worked with several NFL hopefuls, including New York Giants wide receiver John Ross.