LAS CRUCES, N.M. – It’s been seven years since Jerry Kill was a head coach of a college football program. At New Mexico State’s media day on Wednesday, the 60-year-old man was like a kid on Christmas morning.

Well-chronicled health issues forced Kill to step down as Minnesota’s head coach in 2015; he’s bounced around as an assistant since then as he tried to get a handle on his health. It appears he has that now and if he does, there may not be a better person to lead NMSU’s rebuild as it gets ready for a move to Conference USA in 2023.

First thing’s first though, is fall camp and the 2022 season opener vs. Nevada on Aug. 27 at Aggie Memorial Stadium.

Kill is clearly a football junkie. He arrived Nov. 30, 2021, and by mid-December, he had recruited over 15 players to Las Cruces. He’s hired a myriad of former head coaches and up-and-coming young minds to help him take the Aggies to prominence. The Kansas native is back in his happy place and NMSU could be better for it.

“Now I just get to coach football; that’s my safe haven,” Kill said, 48 hours before the Aggies start fall camp on Friday. “Being around the kids, helping them get better, we’ve done a lot of work.”

Coming off a 2-10 season in Doug Martin’s last year at the helm of the Aggies, Kill added multiple Power-5 transfers, players that could step in and help immediately. They include former TCU running back Ahmonte Watkins; former Michigan cornerback Andre Seldon, who is likely a day one starter; defensive lineman Noah Arinze, who comes in from Oklahoma; and a myriad of junior college players like quarterback Diego Pavia that have already taken the reigns.

It doesn’t hurt that Kill and defensive coordinator Nate Dreiling will have nine starters from last year’s defensive unit back, either. Expect some changes to be made with that unit, but players like linebacker Chris Ojoh and Trevor Brohard still figure to see plenty of playing time.

Kill was described as a passionate, fiery guy by almost all of his players on Wednesday. They say the culture change from 2021 was pretty immediate and noticeable.

“I think all the players feel the love from Coach Kill, from a father figure to a coach figure. Just him wanting to help the kids, he always tells us it’s about us, not about him,” said defensive lineman Lama Lavea, a four-year veteran in Las Cruces who played high school football at Chapin in El Paso.

The self-described “fix-it guy” in college football, Kill knows a rebuild at New Mexico State won’t happen overnight. However, he’s committed to the process.

After all the man has been through the last few years, patience isn’t an issue for him.

“We have a pretty good landscape of what we need to do. It’s going to take time, we’re not going to do the quick-fix thing. We believe in what we do but it won’t happen overnight,” said Kill.

On the field, Kill said in the spring that Diego Pavia would be the starting quarterback had NMSU’s first game been in the spring. He wouldn’t commit to that on Wednesday, however, and a drawn-out QB competition appears to be on the horizon.

Kill also said that no announcement would be imminent; Pavia will compete for the job with true freshman Gavin Frakes; veteran Weston Eget; and perhaps even Dino Maldonado, who stepped in and won a game for the Aggies in 2021.

“(Not announcing a starter) is our advantage going into the first game,” Kill said. “We have to see how Gavin comes along and Diego is going to fight and tell you that no one is going to beat him out and that’s what you want to see. Weston’s gotten a lot better, which is good because we’re going to need depth there with what we do.”

Expect a lot of competition all over the field during fall camp for the Aggies, which is exactly what Kill wants. He brought in talent to test the incumbents for one reason: to raise the bar of the program.