Just a couple weeks before Christmas, Tyler Kiehne tweeted that he was coming home to play for the University of New Mexico.
Immediately, he felt the love from friends and Lobo football fans, replies and messages congratulating him and saying they’re excited to see him in cherry and silver.
Kiehne, a former Los Lunas standout who transferred from UCLA after one season, said it felt “pretty cool” to receive all the welcome-home messages. In a way, it made him feel that he had made the right choice.
But, in reality, the real confirmation of his decision will come in the fall and thereafter at UNM. He’s starting to work toward his new goals with his new team during spring football.
“It’s kind of clichè and not very deep, but I just want to become the best version of Tyler Kiehne that Tyler Kiehne can possibly be,” the defensive lineman said after a recent practice. “We all hear about potential, but potential doesn’t mean anything if you don’t act on it. I’m just trying to act on it.”
Jeremy Maupin, the former Los Lunas coach who is now the head man at Artesia, saw Kiehne’s potential and love for the game early on. Late during Kiehne’s freshman season, Los Lunas experienced injuries to the offensive line. Maupin wanted Kiehne to play offensive tackle.
“Some guys gripe when you make those decisions, and Tyler just wanted to play,” Maupin said. “That always stood out to me. He was like, ‘If that gets me on the field, then OK.’ He came over and did a great job there. Of course, he had a big career for us.”
As a junior, Kiehne had a big season for the Tigers with 56 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and nine sacks to help Los Lunas into the 5A state title game. The coronavirus pandemic cut his senior season short, but by then he had already made his decision to play for the Bruins.
He said it was like a dream to live in Southern California and play for a Pac-12 team. But things just didn’t work out at UCLA. Kiehne didn’t get too specific about what went wrong. He just knew it was time for a change.
“There were some things kind of out of my control,” Kiehne said. “I have just been always wanting to play here (at UNM). I just didn’t know it yet. I got there to UCLA, it was amazing, but I just couldn’t really see myself playing there. I didn’t really fit the scheme.”
When Kiehne thought to enter the transfer portal, he said he spoke with people close to him, including his parents and Maupin. He said he kept the Lobos in the back of his mind.
After entering the transfer portal, Kiehne said he looked into some programs other than UNM, but he felt the Lobos were a good fit. He already had a strong connection with UNM coach Danny Gonzales, who started recruiting Kiehne to Arizona State when he was the defensive coordinator for the Sun Devils.
When Gonzales was hired as UNM head coach in December of 2019, he made another effort to recruit Kiehne to the Lobos.
Kiehne said Gonzales also told him to put himself first, chase his dreams and to do what was best for him.
“He just kept it real with me,” Kiehne said. “He was really genuine and honest and wanted the best for me.”
When Kiehne entered the transfer portal, Gonzales was the same person keeping it real.
“Recruiting is all about relationships,” Gonzales said. “I started a relationship with Tyler when I was at Arizona State. It wasn’t a hard conversation. (Kiehne and his family) were able to see everything I talked about in the recruiting in 2018 and 2019. It’s who I am and what we do. They have a belief in us. So it was an easy decision for them. It was comfortable. He wanted to come home.
“It’s a people business. You can find genuine people and you can find a car salesman. And most of the time over the longevity of it, the truth comes out. I think he’s excited where he is and we’re excited to have him.”
Kiehne is fitting in just fine with the Lobos, Gonzales said. Bryce Santana, who played at Los Lunas with Kiehne, is also on the defensive line, and the UNM roster features several other former high school stars from the state. They’re all wanting to make Gonzales’ third year his best and turn around a team that has gone 5-14 the past two seasons.
“We just want to win,” Kiehne said. “I think everybody is tired of losing. Everyone is tired of being looked at like an underdog. Looking like a little brother that you just could beat down on. I think the main thing we all want to do is just win.”