Los Lunas High School star Bryce Santana has committed to play football at the University of New Mexico, he announced on Proview Networks program Local Focus with Sebastian Noel.
Santana, who received an offer from the Lobos last Monday, also had scholarship offers from eight other schools, including Eastern New Mexico, Western New Mexico, and Colorado Mesa University.
“This was the one I was waiting for,” Santana said of his offer from the Lobos. “I wanted to stay close to home and for my family to be able to see me play.”
In his standout senior season, Santana led Classes 5 and 6A with 13 sacks to go along with 67 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and one pass deflection.
He contributed offensively as well, adding 15 rushing touchdowns and one passing touchdown to his ledger for the state runner up Tigers.
For his efforts, he was named first-team all-state by both MaxPreps.com and the coaches association, as well as being named district player of the year.
Santana received his offer from head coach Danny Gonzales at the Lobos football facility on Monday, Jan. 20, and made his decision last Friday in advance of Monday’s announcement.
“I’m really excited about the culture they are looking to build there,” Santana said. “They want there to be a family atmosphere which is what I’ve always been around.”
Another point of emphasis for Gonzales which caught Santana’s eye is bringing in coaches who are not only good football minds, but good people as well.
He specifically highlighted the recent return of Rocky Long, the former UNM and San Diego State head coach who will serve as defensive coordinator, as someone he is excited to be able to learn from.
Santana will continue as a defensive lineman at the collegiate level, his primary position for the Tigers.
“(Gonzales) told me that they really want me to be a Lobo,” Santana said.
A multi-sport athlete, he is also a member of the Tigers basketball team.
Santana was part of a flood of offers made to New Mexico prep stars by new UNM head coach Gonzales, a former New Mexico prep star himself, who put an emphasis on keeping local players in-state at his introductory press conference in December.
Since that time, the Lobos have extended offers to five more in-state athletes, including Santana, ahead of National Signing Day on Feb. 5. He was the first from that group to announce their commitment. Rio Rancho running back Dorian Lewis became the second when he committed to Coffeyville Community College on Tuesday.
Primarily, Santana was recruited by former offensive line coach Saga Tuitele, who was initially the only member of Bob Davie’s staff retained by Gonzales, but Tuitele took a job with the Army West Point football program.
Following his departure, Santana’s recruitment was handled primarily by Gonzales and director of recruiting Greg Svarczkopf.
Santana also pointed to the experience that the coaching staff has in New Mexico, as well as the success they had under Long during his decade leading the program as reasons he is excited about the new staff.
He is still the winningest coach in program history.
Jeremy Maupin, the Tigers’ head coach, was effusive talking about Santana’s commitment.
“He is a hard-working and great kid,” Maupin said. “I’m proud that others have seen and believe as I have along the way.
“Bryce is special and this whole process is special. So proud and excited to have had the honor to coach him, I wish him the best of luck and will be at as many games as possible.”
Maupin added there has been an increased level of interest and attention in his program since the new UNM coaching staff was put in place, a sentiment that has been echoed by programs around the state.
The Lobos finished last season with a 2-10 record and lost nine straight to close out the year.
Prior to the season finale, UNM announced Davie would not return and replaced him with Gonzales on Dec. 17.
Gonzales comes to UNM from Arizona State, where he has spent the last two years as the defensive coordinator under head coach Herm Edwards.
The Lobos season begins on Saturday, Aug. 29 at home against Idaho State.