As devastating as COVID-19 has been for collegiate athletics in 2020, and nowhere more so than in New Mexico, has it compensated: the super senior season.
On Friday in Fort Collins, Colorado, Lobo’s offensive lineman Adam Gay will complete his sixth year as a college football player.
His teammate, wide receiver Trae Hall, will finish his fifth-place finish of his sixth year.
And although the transfer portal would offer him an opportunity to go elsewhere like some of his former teammates, Hall says he will be a Lobo in 2023.
“That’s my plan,” he said during a post-training interview on Monday. “I want to come back and be able to make history as Lobo.”
Hall joined UNM in 2018 and was signed off as a dual threat quarterback by then-coach Bob Davie of Henderson, Texas. After skipping the 2018 season, he displayed fascinating talent as a redshirt freshman, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another in the 2019 season finale against Utah State. That afternoon he ran 115 meters.
After quarterback Tevaka Tuioti was injured in game three of the COVID-shortened 2020 season against Hawaii, Hall started against UNLV and Utah State but shot his ribs in the USU game and didn’t play again that fall.
The 2021 season has been one of change and adversity.
In October, injuries to UNM’s wide receiver corps led Hall to move 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 offense-challenged Lobos (2-9, 0-7 Mountain West). Four of those receptions came in a 34-10 loss to San Diego State last Friday.
Trae Hall, who Lobo fans will see in Year 6, will be a wide receiver, fully healed from the ankle injury and fully adjusted to his new position.
“During the off-season,” he said, “I’m going to get my left leg even stronger, be able to go back to my original skills and get even better.”
Friday’s game against Colorado State will almost certainly be Gay’s last — although he’d welcome any opportunity to continue playing.
“I love the grind,” he said. “I love being with my teammates… It’s really the most important thing in my life to get up in the morning, grind all day, capitalize on the school, capitalize on the friendships.
“It means the world to me especially to be a Lobo.”
As long as Gay’s college career lasted, his high school football career consisted of one season at Volcano Vista. Baseball had been his game until an injury dashed his hopes of getting into college.
“I took advantage of my height and my height (6ft 5, 285lbs), tried football and was pretty good at it,” he said.
After his year-long football game with Volcano Vista in 2016, Gay played three years with the New Mexico Highlands before joining UNM as a senior. He completed a redshirt year in 2020, the COVID year, played sparingly last season as a fifth grader and has appeared in every game so far this season.
Lobos coach Danny Gonzales said Gay made himself a valued member of the team as a backup.
“These guys are invaluable because they believe in the mission. They believe in what we do,” Gonzales said. “He’s a local who has a good voice. I think these guys are really important.”
As for Hall, Gonzales agrees the best is yet to come.
“I thought he was really coming to himself last year when he got injured,” Gonzales said. “…Now he’s coming back into the game, and I thought what he did last week (against San Diego State) showed he has some of those tools that he’s using again.”
As for the super seniors 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 made the course maintained and helped build a bridge to what Gonzales believes is a brighter future.
“We left a few people, and that’s okay,” he said, “because what we’re doing isn’t easy.”