University of New Mexico running back Nate Jones and linebacker Ray Leutele say they have no friendly bets this week and no trash talking about who has the better high school.
There’s only great respect for each other and their alma maters.
They’re Lobo teammates who know all about the Trinity League rivalry — St. John Bosco vs. Mater Dei — that made each of them stronger players for UNM.
Jones was a running back for the Bosco Braves in Bellflower, California. Leutele played linebacker for the Monarchs in Santa Ana, California. Both graduated in 2000.
The two national powerhouse programs that churn out high-level college football players will clash Friday night at the Santa Ana Bowl.
MaxPreps ranks Bosco No. 1 in the nation, and Mater Dei No. 2. USA Today has it flipped with the Monarchs taking the top spot. The game features 70 players who have at least one FBS offer, 38 players for the Braves and 32 for Mater Dei, according to MaxPreps. Junior quarterback Elijah Brown is 23-0 since starting every game as a freshman for the Monarchs.
“Playing against Bosco, it’s a top competitor, a top team in the nation,” Leutele said. “Having them in our league, it was always us two going back and forth.”
Leutele, who is dealing with a right foot injury, and Jones, the Lobos’ lead back, were interviewed together after Tuesday’s practice. Leutele has missed the past two games. He’ll most likely return for the Lobos after their open week and play at Utah State Nov. 5, unless his status greatly improves.
“Going against Nate, he had some hard running,” Leutele said of their high school years. He then turned toward Jones and said, “You’re not scared to run the ball.”
Jones said he has gained more confidence in UNM’s offense and is eager to show that in the Lobos’ big Mountain West game against Wyoming on Saturday.
On Tuesday, he could talk a bit about the past.
“It’s a great rivalry,” Jones said. “We always had to go hard to play against them. Going against Ray, he was a good linebacker. He stopped us sometimes and we got a couple of good runs on him. It was always a good matchup.”
Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson, reached by phone on Wednesday, takes pride in the program’s alumni who go on to achieve greatness. He expressed sympathy for Leutele being out with an injury for a big game on Saturday because he knows how much Leutele loves football and wants to play.
Rollinson said he was shown a clip recently of Leutele’s 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown from last year against San Diego State.
He said games like the one against Bosco prepared Leutele for college football.
“It’s kind of cool that we have emerged as two of the most powerful teams in the nation,” Rollinson said. “What’s crazy is that it’s a league game.”
He said tickets for the game sold out within five minutes of being available. The game will be available via online streaming by Bally Sports West at 8:30 p.m. (Mountain time)
“It’s an electrifying atmosphere,” he said. “It’s high school football at its best.”
Bosco coach Jason Negro said he’s happy for Jones that he’s found a home with the Lobos. Negro said he doesn’t want to think what Jones’ life would be without football because the game paved a much better path for the Lobos’ running back.
The Bosco-Mater Dei game taught Jones about respect for the opponent, Negro said. The teams are meeting for the 20th time, with Mater winning 10 of the games, including last year, Rollinson said. At one point, Bosco won six straight and Rollinson sought Negro’s advice. The Braves coach said to schedule high-powered teams from across the nation and keep well connected with nearby youth football programs, both coaches confirmed.
“Playing in this game is so important,” Negro said. “It’s a fierce rivalry. We’re going to get after it. We want to win just as bad as they do. There’s a lot of mutual respect. Our kids know how hard they prepare and all the time they put in. It’s almost like a rivalry college football game.”
The Lobos (2-3, 0-2 MW) and the Cowboys (3-3, 1-1) actually have a fierce rivalry of their own.
The two programs have been in the same conferences since 1951. The series is divided by only four games with Wyoming having won 39 times and New Mexico 35, including the past two.
UNM coach Danny Gonzales said Wyoming and New Mexico are “two very similar-minded football programs. There’s going to be a lot of physical combat out there,” he said.