As destructive as COVID-19 was to college athletics in 2020, and nowhere more than in New Mexico, there was this in compensation: the super senior season.
Friday in Fort Collins, Colorado, Lobos offensive lineman Adam Gay will complete his sixth year as a college football player.
His teammate, wide receiver Trae Hall, will finish his fifth with a sixth year to come.
And though the transfer portal would afford him the chance to go elsewhere, as have a few of his former teammates, Hall says he’ll be a Lobo in 2023.
“That’s my plan,” he said on Monday during a post-practice interview. “I want to be able to come back and make history as a Lobo.”
Hall came to UNM in 2018, signed out of Henderson, Texas by then-coach Bob Davie as a dual-threat quarterback. After sitting out the 2018 season, he displayed intriguing talent as a redshirt freshman, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another against Utah State in the 2019 season finale. He rushed for 115 yards that afternoon.
After starting quarterback Tevaka Tuioti was injured against Hawaii in the third game of the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Hall started against UNLV and Utah State but took a shot to the ribs in the USU game and played no more that fall.
The 2021 season was one of change and misfortune.
In October, injuries to UNM’s wide receiver corps prompted a move for Hall to that position. But his season was cut short by a gruesome ankle injury against UNLV.
This season, Hall has caught eight passes for 83 yards for the offense-challenged Lobos (2-9, 0-7 Mountain West). Four of those receptions came last Friday in a 34-10 loss to San Diego State.
The Trae Hall that Lobo fans will see in year six, he said, will be a wide receiver fully healed from the ankle injury and fully adjusted to his new position.
“During the offseason,” he said, “I’m gonna get my left leg even stronger, be able to get back to my original ability and be even better.”
For Gay, Friday’s game against Colorado State almost certainly will be his last – though he’d welcome any opportunity to keep playing.
“I love the grind,” he said. “I love being with my teammates … It’s really the staple of my life, getting up in the morning, grinding all day, taking advantage of the schooling, taking advantage of the friendships.
“It means the world to me, especially to be a Lobo.”
As long as Gay’s college career has been, his high school football career consisted of one season at Volcano Vista. Baseball had been his game until an injury ended his hopes of pitching in college.
“I took advantage of my height and my size (6-foot-5, 285 pounds), tried football and was pretty good at it,” he said.
After his one year of football at Volcano Vista in 2016, Gay played three years at New Mexico Highlands before transferring to UNM as a senior. He took a redshirt year in 2020, the COVID year, played sparingly as a fifth-year senior last season and has appeared in every game so far this season.
Lobos coach Danny Gonzales said Gay has made himself an valued member of the team as a backup.
“Those guys are invaluable because they believe in the mission. They believe in what we’re doing,” Gonzales said. “He’s a local kid that has a good voice. I think those guys are really important.”
As for Hall, Gonzales agrees that the best is yet to come.
“I thought he was really coming into his own last year when he got hurt,” Gonzales said. “… Now he’s getting back into it, and I thought what he did last week (against San Diego State) showed that he’s got some of those tools that he’s getting back to using.”
As for the super senior season in general, Gonzales said he’s grateful that linebacker Reno Hannah, safety Jerrick Reed II, Gay, kicker George Steinkamp, offensive lineman/tight end Radson Jang and deep snapper Isaiah Perez stayed the course and helped build a bridge to what Gonzales believes is a better future.
“We had a few guys depart and that’s OK,” he said, “because what we’re doing is not easy.”