UTEP heads into the 2022 season with a one-two punch at running back in the form of Ronald Awatt and Deion Hankins. Each scored six rushing touchdowns a year ago while the duo combined for more than 1,300 yards on the ground.
Known affectionately as “Thunder” (Hankins) and “Lightning” (Awatt), the power backs both have the ability to wear down defenses throughout the contest.
Assistant head coach/running backs coach Barrick Nealy knows what he has in the pair.
“Those guys put in a lot of work,” Nealy said. “They’re veterans and the thing that I’m most proud of is that they’ve developed. They’ve bought in and allowed me to coach them hard, and they are producing. I just love the way they’re growing right now.”
Their production and effort do not go unnoticed by head coach Dana Dimel.
“We obviously know about (Awatt and Hankins) and what they bring to the table,” Dimel said. “They’re having a good camp, however, need to keep working to improve.”
Hankins has a special ability to find the end zone, with 15 career rushing touchdowns. He needs four scores to crack the top-10 career rushing TD list at UTEP. Awatt, meanwhile, is coming off a year with 800+ rushing yards and an average of better than five yards per carry, the first Miner to produce such numbers since now NFL standout Aaron Jones did so in 2016.
The Miners also have a pair of smaller (when compared to Awatt or Hankins) running backs (Cartraven Walker and Torrance Burgess Jr.) who are poised to be good change of pace options in 2022. It gives UTEP lots of variety in the position, something that Nealy loves.
“All of guys are different, that’s one of the things I love about my room,” Nealy said. “Cartraven (Walker) has spring ball under his belt so he’s a little farther advanced, but TJ (Burgess Jr.) is a playmaker. He is dynamic, but they both will have a role to play this year.”
Consider Dimel another individual who is a fan of the depth and different running styles that the team features.
“Walker and Burgess Jr. are nice shifty backs, and they do certain things well, and that’s a big complement,” Dimel said. “It was important for us to bring those two guys along and compliment the two bigger backs.
While trying to find enough touches for everyone might seem like an obvious issue, it’s not something that Nealy concerns himself with.
“I have selfless guys, team guys who want to win a conference championship,” Nealy said. “We want to win a bowl game. We just want to win as a team. We don’t really lock in on individual stuff, that kind of takes care of itself.”
That attitude is personified by Hankins, one of the leaders at the position.
“It just feels great to know that I have a good group of guys on my back,” Hankins said. “We want to live up to our potential. We want to be the best group on the field whenever we touch the ball to help this team.”