LAS CRUCES – While the luster of winning his first bowl game as a head coach hasn’t worn off, New Mexico State football coach Jerry Kill has set his sights on Year 2.
Nearly a month after New Mexico State’s Quick Lane Bowl victory, Aggies fans filled Plaza De Las Cruces downtown to celebrate the school’s fifth bowl game victory. The turnout surprised Kill, who went 7-6 in his first year at NM State.
“It says to me that football is pretty important to Las Cruces and winning,” Kill said. “They want to be a part of it. The people are great here and it’s important for the players to see that support. I think the people here relate to who we are.”
As the Aggies turn the page to 2023 and Conference USA, they expect to add nine scholarship players on signing day on Wednesday who will join the 29 players they signed in December to make up Kill’s second recruiting class.
New Mexico State football signing day tracker
Kill and his staff had a month to sign last year’s recruiting class and the Aggies overacheived in his first season. With a full recruiting cycle under their belts and a successful season for those players returning, there is infrastructure in place for the Aggies to take another step forward.
“I don’t know if we are more comfortable, but we are excited about seeing what we can do to make it better,” Kill said. “We are not even close to being as good as we should be. We were fortunate last year to do what we did, but it’s going to take three years to get where I want to be. We have a lot to do to get better . The verdict is still out.”
Aggies add to 2023 recruiting class Wednesday
After signing 29 players during the early signing period in December, Kill continues to remake the Aggies roster during the regular signing period from Wednesday through April 1.
Kill said the Aggies will use the regular signing period to address specific needs – depth up front on both sides of the ball, experience in secondary and linebacker – that they missed during the early signing period in December.
“Early signing day helped us because coaches did a great job recruiting kids in the spring and got them signed and committed so that teams can’t come back on them because everyone else was in the portal,” Kill said. “The kids from Bishop Gorman (three star defensive back Jeremiah Vessel and three star linebacker Quincy Davis signed in December), we wouldn’t be able to touch them now. We have good evaluators who did a great job in the spring.”
The Aggies have also utilized the transfer portal for the 2023 class. NM State added four FBS transfers during the early period (although Arkansas transfer and Tulsa native Keuan Parker ended up at Tulsa) and have already made a splash for the regular period with Jamari Buddin’s ouncement that he will transfer from Penn State to NM State to join friend and former high school teammate Andre Seldon at Belleville High in Michigan.
“Our best recruiters here are the players who have played here,” Kill said. “They want to be good and not upset the chemistry. If someone doesn’t fit in, they will tell us.”
Buddin appears to have three years of eligibility. During the 2022 season, Buddin appeared in nine games for the Nittany Lions, racking up eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and recovered a forced fumble. His true freshman season in 2021, Buddin racked up four tackles.
Buddin was a four-star prospect according to 247Sports out of high school as the No. 26 linebackers.
The Aggies also appear to have added needed depth at important position with Stony Brook transfer tight end Tyler Devera and defensive lineman Denver Warren from Independence Community College. Warren started his career at Bowling Green and had an offer from Murray State. Devera had 22 receptions for 308 yards and three touchdowns last season.
Defensive back John Huggins also announced on his Twitter page that he has committed to NM State for his final year of eligibility.
The Aggies have added 10 offensive line in the 2023 class, signing seven early with three returning starters up front and 6-foot-8 recent offensive lineman committ Jack Gogue from Richmond, Missouri, has the potential to play tight end to begin his career.
“We went for specific needs that we didn’t get in the first 30 players,” Kill said. “We wanted two tight ends and are still working on that and a safety that I think we can get that, maybe a freak pass rusher and we may take one more defensive lineman because I want to be good up front.”
Competition, building depth will be focus of spring ball
Aggie’s quarterback Diego Pavia improved throughout the course of last season culminated in bowl game victory.
But Pavia’s spot, or any returner’s spot for that matter, isn’t safe when the Aggies hold spring practice from March 21 through the spring game at Aggie Memorial Stadium on April 20.
“Just because you started last year doesn’t mean you will start this year,” Kill said. “I want competition out there. I don’t want anyone relaxed.”
Pavia and Gavin Frakes split quarterback duties last season and the Aggies signed Texas A&M transfer Eli Stowers, a four-star prospect out of high school, in December. Kill said Blaze Berlowitz, a high school prospect from Oklahoma, will also get reps during spring practice.
“We’re going to have four very good quarterbacks in that room,” Kill said.
The Aggies have significant depth at running back, although Kill said freshman Braylon Stewart is no longer with the team due to personal reasons, but freshman Makhilyn Young will have an opportunity to crack the rotation with a strong spring.
The most intriguing position group to watch defensively in spring practice will be linebacker, where the Aggies lost senior starters at all four positions and two-year standouts Trevor Brohard and Chris Ojoh at the inside linebacker positions.
Keyshaun Elliott was a rotation player last year behind Ojoh and Brohard and should start at one of the two inside linebacker positions. TCU transfer Jayvhion Gipson, Buddin and sophomore Pierce Humpich will all compete for those two spots.
“We lost two really good players,” Kill said. “I don’t worry about Keyshaun, but who is going to be that other guy?”
Oklahoma transfer Noah Arinze has moved to outside linebacker and will compete to replace Lazarus Williams. Gabe Peterson and Nikhil Webb Walker were rotation players on the outside as freshman after Lezeric Bailey went down with a leg injury. Buddha Peleti and junior college signee Zyier Thornton is a 6-4 230 pound edge player who played last year at Los Angeles Harbor College and signed early in December.
“It will be a tone of competition and evaluation of players,” Kill said. “I don’t want to go away from the fundamentals but we will tweak some stuff and we have to be more physical.
“My biggest job is to make sure we have a close team with great chemistry that cares about each other. Last year they were dying to win and now they have a taste of winning, but we brought in other recruits so it will be a whole new team.”
Jason Groves can be reached at 575-541-5459 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves.