Above: Super shot of No, 44, Xavier Vigil, carrying the football. But his goal at UNM is to play linebacker.
Middle: Seated at the table after signing up to attend UNM, St. Michael's Xavier Vigil is surrounded by his football teammate, with long-time friend Dylan Herrera leaning on the left.
Below: St. Michael's principal Sam Govea gives a hardy handshake to Xavier at Thursday's signing.
Disappointed to skip wrestling and track following a football injury, St. Michael's Xavier Vigil is delighted signing for UNM
Intents to play linebacker after four seasons of stardom with the Horsemen, as well as wrestling championships
By ARNIE LESHIN
There's joy on Xavier Vigil's face, there's disappointment, but neither one blocked out his big moment before a party-like crowd at St. Michael's Perez-Shelley gymnasium Thursday morning.
There, wearing a University of New Mexico shirt, he signed on the dotted line to continue his education and play football for the Lobos. Still wearing a brace on his left leg from the football injury he suffered at Moriarty in the state 4A tournament, he had to skip wrestling and track and field because of this.
"We were on offense right before halftime," he said, "it was play number 71 and I took a hard hit in the back, came to the sidelines and that was the end of my high school football career."
But not the end of his days on the football field. At UNM, where he might have gotten a free ride because of the injury, he comes in as an invited walk-on and intends to play linebacker.
Of course with the Horsemen, he played multiple positions. He ran the ball, blocked, sometimes took a turn at quarterback, and as a lineman came away with a school-record 398 tackles.
His older brother, Zach, who also wrestled and ran track for St. Michael's, is now a sophomore at UNM. His dad, Zack, and Horsemen head coach Joey Fernandez were also Lobos.
"I had some other college offers," the X man said, "but I always wanted to go to UNM. I had football offers from New Mexico Highlands and Eastern New Mexico, and a few for wrestling, but my mind was set."
In wrestling, he won two state championships and was runner-up twice. These loses in the finals were close enough to where he could have emerged with four titles. In 8th grade, he was at 145 pounds, went up to 170 as a freshman, to 182 as a sophomore, and to 195 last year.
Before his stellar high schools days on the mats, he won seven national championships and was ranked number one nationally.
"He was bigger than most of the kids," said his mom, Dawn, taking a break from her employment at Century Bank, "and some stood up to his shoulders. I went to mostly all his matches than. Once in high school, I was at wrestling, football and track and field, knew each sport, and was forever rooting for him."
No doubt mom and dad were and still are his greatest supporters.
"We were blessed," his dad said, "to have two of our sons as such wonderful athletes."
Not to leave out the other siblings, there's 5-year-old Bryce already excited about football, there's 11-year Danay, holder of a Black Belt and on the cheerleading team at Amy Biehl Charter School in Santa Fe.
The entire football team turned out. St. Michael's principal Sam Govea wore a Dallas Cowboy top, Fernandez served as the host, and the relatives were truly in evidence. Athletic director Tom Manning, still on crutches while recovering from knee surgery, also made it to the gym.
Oh, and there were plenty of photographers.
And Horsemen football statistician Mike Pitel provided the gridiron stats for Xavier.
On defense, he ranks 4th best in school history with a career total of 119 tackles. He got some playing time as an 8th grader, and in his freshman year, became a starter. But it was a season of Dan Ortega heroics and Xavier only carried the ball nine times for 42 yards. In the game at Albuquerque Academy, he broke his leg to end his campaign.
As a sophomore, he ran for eight TDs, scored once via an interception, and rushed for 576 yards on 108 carries. He also had 107 tackles, and ran for a two-point conversion.
Last season, he was a two-way threat, running the ball 138 times for 1114 yards and 15 TDs. He had 373 yards of pass receptions and reached the end zone three times. Against Taos, he tied for most school tackles in a game, 18, with 15 of them solos.
He made All-State and All-District his sophomore and junior years.
In track and field, he was mostly a sprinter on the relay teams.
Xavier began as a 6th grader at St. Michael's and participated in junior high sports. In 8th grade, he made his first of four seasons as a varsity football player, not a usual task for the Horsemen, and took to the mats and ran the sprints on the track team that Fernandez also coaches.
He had no problem wrestling or running, but football is his favorite. He loves the game, watches it on television, has no special favorite team, but will soon be competing for a spot with the Lobos.
"I went to a lot of the UNM games," he said, "and I also traveled to Oklahoma City with some of my teammates for the (DI) national wrestling championships."
There's joy for him in graduating with a 3.5 grade-point-average and moving on to his dream of playing college ball. The disappointment for him is having no chance to compete in wrestling and track and field his last time around.
He's a true St. Michael's supporter, said he attends about all of the sports events. He's still walking with a limp, but the brace comes off next Wednesday. He wore his eye glasses that come off when the competition start. He's currently weighing in around 220 pounds and stands 6-feet.
On the table was his St. Michael's jacket lined with achievement and awards from the sports he competed in. There was also his football helmet.
And no way that his two best friends, former Horsemen football player Mino Martinez, and football and wrestling teammate Dylan Herrera, would be left out of the signing ceremony.
Mino intends to move on to UNM or the Air Force Academy. Herrera is set for New Mexico State.
Xavier referred to this past season's football games against Taos and West Las Vegas as his best performances. And to break down his contributions, he spent more time on the field than on the sidelines.
"There was one game," said Fernandez, "when he came up to me and told me to get him the ball."
Xavier said that was the game against Capital, although with his will to do well, he might have requested this in other games, too.
He said he presently has no idea of what to major in at UNM, only that he's excited about attending there and wearing the football uniform.
Perhaps he can also be the X Factor there.
Photos by Susan R. Patton and Zack Vigil.