Los Lunas High School grad Bryce Santana is living out his dream, even though it doesn’t quite look how he would have pictured it.
Santana, who graduated from Los Lunas in the spring, is a member of The University of New Mexico football team and is living in a Las Vegas, Nev. hotel as part of the team’s bubble to allow them to play the season, after state health orders wouldn’t allow for them to compete.
Santana made his debut on Thanksgiving in a game against Utah State, and recorded a tackle on his very first play.
“It’s been a dream, I never expected that I would be able to come into a division one program my first year and get playing time at all,” Santana said. “It was hard for me to even get that first scholarship. It’s a dream come true.”
When he got out onto the field for the very first time, there was only one thing that was going through his head.
“I just kept thinking, don’t screw up, don’t screw up,” Santana said. “I didn’t know if I was going to get another chance if I messed up so I knew I had to do the best I could and the very first play I ended up getting a tackle. It was just an amazing feeling. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I was going to be.
“I just treated it like it was the state championships.”
Santana’s one and only division one scholarship offer came from the Lobos after head coach Danny Gonzalez took over the program. Gonzalez is high on Santana, and thinks he’ll turn into the kind of player that makes other programs regret overlooking him.
“He’s strong, he’s physical, he’s one of the 22 freshman that have played already,” Gonzalez said. “I think he’s going to be a really good player for us. Unfortunately, the way we had to lift in the summer and then coming out here, has slowed down his first year progress, but he’s one of the ones I tell every day I cannot wait until we can get him into the weight room in February.”
Santana, who saw more time in the Wyoming game last Saturday, the Lobos first win of the season, will also be in the rotation for the team on the defensive line this week when UNM hosts Fresno State on Dec. 12 at 8:30 p.m.
As he wrapped up his senior season at LLHS, Santana still didn’t have any division one offers and said he wouldn’t have believed he would be where he is today.
“I wouldn’t have believed you,” Santana said. “At the time I was just trying to get anything I could, so the fact that I’m here now and doing what I’m doing, it’s crazy.”
Living out of a hotel room in Nevada has been tough, not so much because of the football, but adjusting to being away from family.
“It’s a little tough, just because the initial time was to come for four days so that’s what everyone packed for, but now we’ve been out here for six or seven weeks,” Santana said. “As far as the football goes that hasn’t been too bad, just because we’re in a routine with meetings and practice. It’s just adjusting to not being around your family, not having all your things around you.”
Santana is majoring in mechanical engineering at UNM, and said his first semester has been going well.
Now, knowing he’s in the rotation has helped Santana to build more confidence, but the goal is still to continue to earn more playing time and to eventually become a starter.
The big thing he has been working on so far has been improving his hands. As a group, he says the coaches are focused on making sure they’re the toughest guys out there.
Santana isn’t the only LLHS grad on the Lobos, as Walter Baca, who graduated alongside Santana last spring, is a walk-on at offensive line. Santana said it has been cool to go through his first year of college football alongside someone he has known his entire life.
“It’s a cool experience,” Santana said. “I’ve known him since I was a little kid, its nice having someone that I know around.”
The Lobos will play their season finale on Dec. 12 at 8:30 p.m. against Fresno State. The game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Two.