UTEP Miner Football is back after a 7-6 season in 2014, and third-year for head coach Sean Kugler said faith in his players is key this season.
Competition for the starting quarterback job has been something to keep an eye on. Kugler’s said it’s been the best he’s been a part of and on Monday named sophomore Mack Leftwhich the team’s starter.
“It’s good to know that the coaches believe in me,” Leftwhich said. “It doesn’t really change much about how I go about it. I still have to prepare like I was the starter even before I was named the starter.”
Leftwhich was battling Garrett Simpson, Ryan Metz, and Kavika Johnson for the starting role.Kugler said that despite Simpson’s leg injury, Leftwhich won the competition based on performance.
“He won that quarterback competition fair and square. This was monitored all the way since the end of last season,” Kugler said. “I’ve never been a part of a quarterback competition that statistically was as close. Their touchdowns and dropped passes were equal. The thing that stood out to me were the interceptions. In this style of offense, handling the football and not turning it over to other teams is very critical.”
Although competition was close, Kugler is giving Leftwhich the reigns with a vote of confidence.
“I don’t believe in short leashes on quarterbacks. If he has a bad series or has a bad game, I’m not going to be the guy that yanks him,” Kugler said. “You have to show faith in your players. I have to show trust as a head coach to my players and it all starts with the quarterback position.”
The Miners’ season opener set for September 5th, won’t be a cupcake run, as they travel to Fayetteville, Arkansas take on the 18th ranked Razorbacks.
The Razorbacks present a challenge the Miners have been familiar with, when playing schools from bigger conferences, but it remains a task the Miners have yet to conquer.
“We just have to continue and get better. I’m not going to BS anybody,” Kugler said. “We’re probably outmatched across the board against Arkansas on both sides of the ball. I live with realistic results, so they have to go out there and compete every snap.”
The Miners last faced the Razorbacks in 2010, a game Arkansas won by a score of 58-21. Playing against a team like Arkansas doesn’t seem to faze the Miners and they expect to compete the entire game.
Running back Aaron Jones, who rushed for 1,321 in 2014, is looking forward to playing a physical team like the Razorbacks.
“It’s exciting…we have to come out fast, tackle on defense and get after it,” Jones said. “They’re just like us. We practice against that everyday, so we feel like we have the formula for success.”
Kickoff is set for Sept. 5 at 1:30 p.m. MTD in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The game will also air on ESPNU.