Eight years ago, when Alec Marenco was 11 he traveled with his family from El Paso to Albuquerque to see UTEP play against Utah State in the New Mexico Bowl.
His hometown Miners, who featured twin brothers Aaron and Alvin Jones from Burges High, lost to the Aggies, 21-6. Marenco had no clue back then that his future would be at University Stadium – and with the New Mexico Lobos.
Marenco, a sophomore linebacker for New Mexico, starred at Burges and picked up his first scholarship offer from UTEP, from where his mother Christina was a volleyball player, and where father, Oscar also earned his degree. The family frequently attended UTEP football games and tailgated before entering the Sun Bowl.
Marenco always loved the Miners, but he made an audible of his own and chose the Lobos because he said he believed that coach Danny Gonzales and his staff “are building something special.” Last year, as a freshman, Marenco contributed on special teams and was disappointed when the Miners rallied for a 20-13 win in El Paso. This year, Marenco is in the linebacker rotation and has a larger role.
“I love my hometown,” Marenco said after Wednesday’s practice. “The 915 has a very special place in my heart. I grew up always going to UTEP games, tailgating over there. To be able to play against them just feels great. It’s kind of like stress on me to do well this week. But I just want to play my tail off, and hopefully the chips will fall as they should.”
Family and friends, about 22 in all including Marenco’s older sister, Savannah, who plays beach volleyball at UTEP, are coming to watch the Lobos play against “their” Miners.
Just who will Christina root for on Saturday?
“My son! For UNM,” said Christina. She is a special education teacher at Burges, where she also coaches volleyball and track and field. “Beach volleyball season in the spring, I’ll be rooting for my daughter at UTEP. I’ve got colors for both teams. We’re good.”
Christina said her son was a precocious child away from the field and in youth football played in older age groups. He has always seemed eager to mature quickly. He took early college courses in high school and wanted to graduate in the December of his senior year at Burges. He’s actually on pace to earn a degree in business by May, when he still will be just 19 years old.
“We’re not going to rush this ‘growing up’ thing,” Christina said of what she told her only son. “Enjoy it while you can because when you get up there and in college it’s tough. The responsibility and the decision making and being accountable for everything. You’re on your own.”
At UNM, Marenco quickly found a confidant in cornerbacks coach Troy Reffett, also from El Paso and his main recruiting contact.
Reffett, who is known for his intense demeanor, played at Eastwood High in El Paso and walked on at UTEP, where he helped the Miners to a 10-2 record as a defensive back in 1987. He also coached at UTEP for 14 seasons, including 2002 and 2003 as the Miners’ defensive coordinator.
Marenco felt at ease last year when he told Reffett about some players from El Paso who could be good recruits for the Lobos. Jayden Wilson, who had a breakout year in 2021 at Austin High, was among them.
Marenco said he sent Reffett video on Wilson.
“I’m grateful to help out El Paso kids and El Paso recruits,” he said. “I feel like El Paso is overlooked, kind of like the same as New Mexico. (Wilson is) nice. I didn’t get to play against him but from what I saw he’s a very good player.”
Wilson, a running back and linebacker, said UNM offered him a scholarship in March, and he accepted that lone offer on the Fourth of July.
Maybe he was trying to set off some fireworks by having another El Paso linebacker leave the Sun City for the Duke City.
“Yes sir,” Wilson said with a laugh. “It was a good Fourth.”
Wilson, who recorded 122 tackles as a junior and rushed for 1,414 yards last year, said UTEP showed interest in him, but never has made an offer. Wilson was named a Co-MVP of District 2-5A, Division II along with Andress defensive back Jeremiah Cooper, now at Iowa State, and Burges running back Tavorus Jones, now at Missouri. Wilson led the district in tackles and he finished behind Jones in rushing. He was recruited to UNM as a linebacker.
Wilson, his father, Julian, mother, Erica, and girlfriend, Adellynn Ontiveros, are coming to watch the game on Saturday.
“My whole life I’ve been eager to play at the next level,” Wilson said. “Anyone to give me the opportunity it’s just a blessing. To see what I have and to recognize it, that was just a blessing. God put me in this position. When UNM reached out it was just an unbelievable feeling. It was just the best feeling in the world.”