The UTEP football team launched 2020 Spring Ball on Tuesday morning at Glory Field, as the day’s heavy rains held off long enough for the Miners to get in their first two hours of drills.
“I was really happy with the energy and the excitement that the guys brought to the table,” third-year UTEP head coach Dana Dimel said. “Obviously there are new faces that we’re bringing into the fold, so I thought for the most part they did a nice job. That’s going to be the big thing, seeing how these new guys develop.”
Another area of focus – and perhaps THE area of focus for the casual observer – is the evolution at the quarterback position, since last year’s starters, Brandon Jones and Kai Locksley, have exhausted their eligibility. Senior Isaiah Bravo, sophomore Calvin Brownholtz, redshirt freshman T.J. Goodwin and sophomore Gavin Hardison are part of a four-man derby to determine who will start under center when the Miners take the field for the 2020 opener versus Texas Tech on Sept. 5.
“Equal reps for [all four] today and tomorrow,” Dimel said. “And then we’ll analyze the first two days on Thursday and start making our rotations. We’ll start critiquing them, grading them, and as they grade one through four, the number one will get the most reps and so on.”
The quartet has combined to attempt 37 passes for the Miners – all from Hardison, who saw action in two games (at UAB, versus Rice) a year ago before redshirting. Brownholtz is next in line in terms of experience; he has appeared in 11 games for UTEP but has yet to throw a ball under the lights. Bravo and Goodwin may be younger, but all the signal-callers have talent.
“They bring different things to the table,” Dimel said. “We know that Gavin can throw the football. We want to develop his ability to run and process the offense. We want T.J. to get more experience running the offense and enhance his ability to run the football as well. Isaiah is someone we haven’t talked about a whole lot, but he’s got some ability to throw the ball. He has been a starter at the junior college level and has had success. And Calvin is a really hard worker, a gym rat who does a lot of positive things. He can be a good runner of the football and we want him to work on that part of his game, but also work on his understanding of the offense.”
In 21 games for Cerritos College, Bravo passed for 3,333 yards and 32 touchdowns with only 13 interceptions. He is enjoying the excitement of a true quarterback battle.
“We’re all really competitive and we know that the best man is going to play, but at the same time we’re all trying to help each other be the best versions of ourselves,” he said. “There’s no stalling each other out. We’re going to go at each other every day.”
Goodwin was a decorated prep player at Cypress Falls High School in Houston, throwing for 3,106 yards and 19 TDs. He feels infinitely more comfortable in year two in the Sun City.
“I came in last year at this time and I really didn’t know defensive structures, how to check in and out of defense and where I wanted to go with the ball,” he said. “Now I feel a lot more confident.”
Hardison made an impressive Miner debut at UAB, throwing for 222 yards and a touchdown against one of Conference USA’s elite defenses. Like Goodwin, he’s much more at ease with his second stint in the Orange and Blue.
“I feel more experienced,” he said. “But at the same time, you can never be satisfied. I need to keep working, keep learning the offense. You never know enough. The guys in the [NFL], they’re still studying every day. For me, I just need to keep studying and keep acting like I don’t know the offense.”
Hardison said his two appearances in 2019 were invaluable.
“It was big for me, just to see what the game speed is like,” he said. “It was fun. But at the same time, we didn’t come out with a win in those two games. For me to know what that feels like, to be in a game and come out with some experience, was huge for me.”
Brownholtz is four years removed from his senior year at Jesuit High School in Carmichael, Calif., when he threw for 2,333 yards and 26 TDs with only 10 picks. He also brings the built-in advantage of being in Dimel’s system for a third year. But he recognizes he still has work to do.
“In terms of my game, it’s about not only reading when to run and throw the football, but when do you keep it and what not,” he said. “It’s about picking up on coverages, blitzes and pressure checks, but the biggest thing is probably reading coverages and fronts and knowing the ins and outs of the defense.”
After Jones and Locksley entered last year’s camp as the heavy favorites to earn the starting nod, this race feels wide open and it’s thrilling for the contenders.
“Whatever you do is really up to you,” Goodwin said. “How you perform is going to determine whether you get on the field or not. I feel like if I go out and take care of business, the rest is going to take care of itself.”
“It’s what you want, to compete and have people push you,” Hardison said.
“I love it, it’s awesome,” Brownholtz said. “Competition brings out the best in all the quarterbacks. I love T.J., Gavin and Isaiah. They are all great guys. But we’re all fighting for that starting job. I’m excited and just like them, I’m looking for that number one spot.”