The Sun City, out west in the great state of Texas is making some noise in C-USA. With probably the most disappointing season behind them. The Miners went 0-12 in 2017. They saw their Coach Sean Kugler step down, and not even the almighty Mike Price could bring them back from the dead. UTEP ranked #130 out of 130 FBS Division-1 schools.
With that being said, why is El Paso so excited for the 2018 season? There hasn’t been such big hype like this for Miner football in a long time,
At the beginning of last season, it was clear that the QB battle was between Zack Greenlee and Ryan Metz. That battle quickly gassed out throughout the season when Greenlee posted 47.7% completion rate compared to Metz 48.9% completion rate in 2017. Yard comparison wasn’t much better with Zack racking up a total of 818 and Ryan with 652. The numbers were not good, and the miners record showed it.
RB Joshua Fields a freshmen from Americas High School in El Paso Texas. Younger brother of Boise States RB Jack Fields. Joshua had an interesting season, with not alot of touches at RB but clearly the first option, Fields ended up with 359 yards on 88 attempts with only 2 rushing TDs. If Joshua wants to continue being the star running back, he has some big shoes to fill.
Compared to Aaron Jones freshmen season stats of 811 yards on 155 attempts and 4 touchdowns. Fields has some improvements to make, but some help is on the way for UTEP regarding the offensive line. This can make Joshua Fields very happy. Look for Fields to have a huge 2018 season
The Miners made alot of noise this off-season when – surprisingly – Kai Locksley, JUCO QB from Iowa Western committed to UTEP. Kai numbers at Iowa Western were great. Passing yards: 2,238 with a average of 186.5 per game. Also adding 705 rushing yards in the season, and a total of 40 touchdowns. He was a former ESPN top 300 QB in the class of 2015 and had big dogs like Florida State, Texas, Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Ole miss, Clemson and more knocking at his door.
After committing to Florida State, he switched over to Texas, were his lack of playing time and disagreement when moved over to WR reached it’s limit, he didn’t even see a snap on the field. He decided JUCO was the best choice, committed to Arizona Western were again didn’t see much playing time and transferred over to Iowa Western were he found his grove in 2017, being named the Offensive MVP in the Graphics Edge Bowl win over #5 Northwest Mississippi, posting 274 yards and adding 34 rushing and a TD. He gives UTEP something to look forward at QB, were they need a lot of improvement.
Somebody that’s gonna be protecting Kai is JUCO standout from Tyler, Texas. His name is Tres Barboza. Offensive tackle standing at 6’5″ 295 lbs, I had a chance to speak with him and ask him some questions:
1)Utep is coming off one of its worst seasons, yet Coach Canales and Coach Dimel have been able to get the fans intrigued and excited about recruits like yourself. What are your expectations for the 2018 season?
Tres: “Coach Dimel and the new staff all came from great programs and they bring an energy that UTEP fans have been waiting for and I know with a QB like Kai and the rest of the recruits. UTEP fans are in for a surprise!“
2)Utep is a beautiful campus, what was your favorite part?
Tres: My favorite thing about UTEP is the way the Buildings are designed brings out a Mexican culture vibe and myself being from that culture that was something I noticed off the top.
3) Fans and Miner insiders are predicting huge attendance numbers for the opening game of 2018, what do you think is a major key to get fans back into the SunBowl on a regular basis?
Tres: Win Games.
Win games, that’s all it takes. Tres Barboza will be a good addition to the offensive line in 2018, with Will Hernandez leaving for the NFL Draft.
Will Hernandez, most have him as the top Guard prospect just behind Quenton Nelson of Notre Dame. Hernandez is a monster standing at 6’3″ and 330 lbs. His power and strength overshine the competition. Will is on all 32 teams draft boards according to NFL draft insiders, but the team that has been making the most noise, and who Hernandez recently spoke with is the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have an opening coming up in 2018 at left guard with Jonathan Cooper headed for free agency. Will was asked what it would mean to play for the Cowboys in a recent interview after a Senior Bowl practice, his response:
“I’d love to. I’d be 100 percent in, loyal to the bone. It’d mean everything to me. It’d be a complete honor. I look up to those guys [on the Cowboys’ offensive line]. Those guys are awesome to watch. I know I’d learn so much from them and become a better player just by playing next to them.”
UTEP has had some of there graduates have some success at the NFL level, most recently RB Aaron Jones, who got a chance as a starter after the injuries to the Packers starting RB. One of his most memorable start for him was against his home state team, the Dallas Cowboys were he ran for 125 yards and 1 TD. The most exciting TD for him came in week 13 against Tampa Bay which was a game winning 20 yard touchdown. Aaron Jones can make his case to be the started in 2018 with a strong off-season and a hot preseason start
There are good things happening at UTEP, recent years of losing records won’t show that on paper, but the people of El Paso, Texas are excited for the 2018 season, rooting for the hometown boys is a tradition, but with attendance down the last recent years, let’s see if they can pack a Sun Bowl stadium that seats 50,000 plus. Conference USA, look out for the Miners.