Mike Powers| News-Bulletin photos
Bryce Santana and Tyler Kiehne, above, along with Zach Doyle and Walter Baca, are Los Lunas High School graduates on the University of New Mexico football team.


Call them the three amigos, plus one.

In the last few years, Bryce Santana, Tyler Kiehne, Zach Doyle and Walter Baca all traded in their orange and blue of Los Lunas High School for cherry and silver of the University of New Mexico football team.

Those four, carrying a total of about 1,100 pounds of interior linemen heft, are the lone Valencia County players listed on the rosters for either UNM or New Mexico State University.

“Out of high school, I wasn’t recruited very highly,” Santana, a red-shirt junior defensive tackle, recalls. “This was my only Division 1 offer. I kind of took it and rolled with it and never looked back.”

That attitude seems to be the consensus. All four sing the praises about how well they were prepared coming out of high school, but all agree college football is a lot different than when they were suiting up for the Tigers.

“High school is all about fun, all about playing, making memories and stuff. But college football is serious,” said Kiehne, who enters his red-shirt sophomore year.

“Like night and day,” is how Baca describes it. The red-shirt junior center-guard says, “Being from Los Lunas, we were some pretty big dudes — but you get to college and everybody’s big.”

Doyle calls college “a totally different animal—you have to work the hardest on days you don’t want to get up and work.”

Santana says playing teams like LSU and Texas A&M in front of 100,000 fans is a thrill, but to get to game day, “is a grind—it’s pretty much a year-long sport just to play 12 games.”

Tyler Kiehne, at right in the foreground, and Bryce Santana, both of Los Lunas, aim to help turnaround the UNM football program.

When Kiehne graduated from LLHS in 2021, he signed with UCLA as the top-ranked prospect in New Mexico. After redshirting his freshman season, what he called “an amazing experience,” he headed back home.

“It wasn’t the right fit for me — it’s a business and my business decision was I want to play for the Lobos,” Kiehne said. “I want to represent my home state and I want to be close to my family.”

Despite being hampered by injuries during his first season at UNM, the defensive end played in seven games and earned enough respect this year to garner a fourth team preseason All Mountain West Conference selection by Phil Steele Magazine.

Three of the four are defensive linemen, so Kiehne, Santana and Doyle not only battle other teams but each other for playing time.

“Iron sharpens iron,” is how Kiehne describes it. “It brings out the best in all of us, having that competition — just like the good old days.”

“We’ve always been competitors — we have a closeness between us that couldn’t be built in the amount of time we have in college,” said Doyle, a red-shirt freshman.

Not only are the three on the defensive line, each is a business major, working toward the future.

Kiehne is constantly on the lookout for the next investment.

“I’m an entrepreneur. I come from a family of entrepreneurs,” a family of “hustlers” as he puts it. “I think I inherited that gene.”

Santana is already hawking wares with his own clothing brand, B D Strength, selling everything from shirts to backpacks. It’s a far cry from when he was walking the halls at Los Lunas High School.

“I just dressed in shorts and a tee shirt every day,” he said. “(But since heading off to college) I’ve been more interested in fashion. I have total control in design and what I want to be released.”

The business-at-hand is to improve Lobo football. While it may be a hard sell to skeptical fans, all four believe UNM is primed for big improvement after winning just seven games over the last three seasons.

“We have a different dynamic this year that seems more competitive, driven to win,” Doyle says, convincingly. “Now we have more key pieces to help us do that,” including on offense, which has seen major changes.

“We’re on the same page, moving in the right direction,” said Baca, who plans to be a physical education teacher.

“The growth that this team has made is obvious — in our strength, in our speed,” said Kiehne.

As an example, Doyle, Santana and Baca excelled in the Lobos’ “Night of Champions” weight-lifting showcase, with Santana and Baca completing all of their lifts.

To steal a phrase, it’s one for all and all for one — from Los Lunas up the road to UNM.

Santana sums it up for his amigos.

“Football is the sport I fell in love with as a little kid,” he said. “I never really lost that love. Just to be able to do it every day, I feel blessed.”

The Lobos open the season Saturday, Sept. 2, at Texas A&M, with the in-state showdown against New Mexico State set for Saturday, Sept. 16, in Albuquerque.

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Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.