Dino Maldonado is set to start at quarterback for New Mexico State Saturday night.
How did the Santa Maria native and former St. Joseph standout wind up in Las Cruces?
Before graduating from St. Joseph in 2018, Maldonado intended to play at Portland State, an FCS program. From there, the signal-caller transferred to Ventura College to play for offensive guru Steve Mooshigian and his powerhouse program.
Maldonado, the son of Abel and Laura, played one season with the Pirates, playing in eight games. He threw for 1,724 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019.
Like most junior colleges in California, Ventura didn't have a season in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This summer, Maldonado still didn't have a college destination. So the former Knight decided to walk-on at New Mexico State, an FBS program that's independent, meaning the Aggies don't play in a conference.
As a walk-on, it wasn't guaranteed that he'd see any playing time this season.
However, in the third game of the season, last Saturday against the University of New Mexico, Maldonado was thrust into the lineup.
Aggies starter Jonah Johnson injured his wrist in the first quarter of last week's game against the Lobos. Backup Weston Eget was not available due to a knee injury.
So in comes Maldonado, who was a dynamic player at St. Joseph, where he started for two seasons after spending two years at Righetti.
Maldonado slung the ball over the field last Saturday. He finished 13-for-34 for 192 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in Albuquerque. He also ran six times for 46 yards.
"It was a great opportunity for me and I wanted to help my team get the win," Maldonado said after the game, per the Las Cruces Sun. "We came up short doing that so we have to get back to practice on Monday and Tuesday and get prepared for the next game."
Now Maldonado leads the Aggies into Saturday's game against South Carolina State, an FCS program. He's so new to the program that NMSU even spelled his last name wrong in the preseason media guide.
Now he'll be starting for the Aggies as they go for their first win of the season.
Maldonado threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to teammate Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda that cut New Mexico's leads to 21-20 in the second quarter of last weekend's game against UNM.
Maldonado helped lead a drive that led to a field goal that got the Aggies within 27-25 in the fourth quarter, but the Lobos pulled out a 34-25 win Saturday.
The Aggies started the season with a 30-3 loss to UTEP before falling 28-10 to San Diego State. Maldonado didn’t play in those games.
Kickoff for Saturday's game is slated for 5 p.m. PST. The South Carolina State Bulldogs, in the lower FCS division, are 0-2. They lost to No. 6 Clemson 49-3 last weekend.
While at St. Joseph, Maldonado threw for 3,125 yards, 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a senior. He ended up setting six school records at St. Joseph. He threw for 1,529 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior.
Taua, Cooks power Nevada
Lompoc grad Toa Taua and Atascadero's Elijah Cooks, who also played at St. Joseph, had big games for Nevada last week.
The Wolf Pack is set to play at Kansas State Saturday. Nevada is 2-0 after wins over Cal and Idaho State.
In the 49-10 win over Idaho State, Taua needed only nine carries to pick up 103 yards.
Cooks led the Wolf Pack with seven catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns.
Kansas State, a Power Five program in the Big 12, is 2-0 with wins over Stanford and Southern Illinois.