For Lobo football, return to Vegas brings back poignant memories of 2020 - Albuquerque Journal

For Lobo football, return to Vegas brings back poignant memories of 2020

(*This story has been corrected to show that Gavin Bevis did not play for Dennis Franchione at Southwestern College in Kansas)

Setting up the logistics for a road trip is always an arduous task for Gavin Bevis, the University of New Mexico football director of operations.

But the Lobos’ upcoming trip to Las Vegas, Nevada is easy compared to all the planning that went into the team’s unprecedented 43-day stay in Las Vegas in 2020, during the coronavirus-shortened season.

“Piece of cake,” Bevis said about planning the logistics of the team’s trip to Vegas for its Friday night game against UNLV at Allegiant Stadium.

In 2020, UNM camped at Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa in Henderson, Nevada and trained at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Gavin Bevis

For the first time since that season, UNM returns to Sin City. But back then it might as well have been Bizarro City.

There are many stories, enough for a book perhaps, that took place during the 2020 seven-game season, when the Lobos had to leave New Mexico due to the restrictions in place.

There were two Mountain West Conference teams in Vegas that year, but UNM and UNLV never interacted.

Danny Gonzales was in his first year as coach of the Lobos. They performed coronavirus testing at Sam Boyd Stadium. But one day, the computers used for the testing were stolen, Gonzales said.

“The governor of Nevada did not want us anywhere near … anything to do with UNLV,” Gonzales said. “When the Mountain West stepped in we had to take buses over to their campus and it wasn’t in the same place they tested. It was in the middle of campus somewhere and in a science building. Everyone just walked straight down the middle, down the stairs, got tested, and walked right out the back door and back onto the buses. It was very weird.”

During the Lobos’ stay in Nevada, the team spent roughly $70,000 per week for hotel rooms, meals and other expenses. Bevis did his best to find deals for the meals to feed nearly 150 people, including players and staff. For the postgame meal this Friday night, he renewed the Lobos’ relationship with Smoking Pig BBQ Company, which also helped with discounted meals in 2020.

Bevis, 67, said he usually tried to find a couple of hours during the day for alone time to decompress, catch up on texts and plan for future meals. He had gotten married in August of 2019 and wanted to stay in touch with his wife.

He never planned meals two weeks out “because you never know what could happen that far into the future.”

Bevis, in his 27th season at UNM, relied on his experience to make it through most days. But he said 2020 will always be that outlier year.

“I didn’t get bored because there was always something to do,” said Bevis, who worked with coach Dennis Franchione at UNM starting in 1991. “Bottom line is you take care of the team and coaches. Whatever it takes, that’s what you want to do.”

Bevis played at Southwestern College in Kansas (1974-77) and was then a high school coach for football and wrestling before working with Franchione, who coached at Southwestern (1981-82).

The scene for the Lobos will be much different this time in Vegas. They never entered Allegiant Stadium in 2020. They’ll play there against one of the hottest teams in the Mountain West. The Rebels are 3-1, 1-0 in the MW and 14½-point favorites.

“It’ll be nice to be back in Vegas this time (and play at Allegiant),” said Isaak Gutierrez, a redshirt senior offensive lineman. “But we’re there for one reason, and that’s to win a football game.”

Gutierrez, who starts at left guard, said UNM’s 38-0 loss at LSU on Saturday was a learning experience for an offensive line that is a work in progress. UNM had just two first downs, an all-time program low, and gained just 88 yards on 33 plays.

Gutierrez said UNM is a much different team than 2020’s and much improved.

“That was a crazy experience,” he said. “That’s something you never think could happen in your college career. … I’m glad we’re out of there. It wasn’t the best thing for your (mental health) being stuck there. New Mexico wasn’t trying to have us play here. But coach said, ‘We’re going to play the season.’ We had to get it done. There was no other option.”

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