UTEP opens its 101st football season – and launches the coach Dana Dimel era – against Northern Arizona in the Sun Bowl on Saturday.
The Miners are 43-52-5 in season openers, including 33-20-3 at home; while 17-12-1 in season openers in the Sun Bowl. The Miners are seeking their first victory since a 52-24 rout of North Texas in the 2016 season finale.
It didn’t take long for the Miners to get back in the victory column when following up the previous three winless seasons in school history. The 1917 squad finished 0-0-1 and, after taking off the 1918 season due to World War I, opened the 1919 campaign with a 32-0 rout of Motor Transport.
The 1965 Miners throttled North Texas in the season opener, 61-15, after finishing 0-8-2 the year before. The 1974 Miners stamped out a 13-game losing skid (0-11 in 1973) with a 34-7 triumph over Utah in week two.
THE DIMEL ERA BEGINS
Dana Dimel takes over as the 26th head coach in UTEP football history against Northern Arizona. Dimel has posted a 30-39 record as a collegiate head coach with stints at Wyoming (1997-99) and Houston (2000-02). In his last head coaching appearance on Nov. 30, 2002, Dimel’s Houston Cougars knocked off Conference USA champion Louisville, 27-10, at John O’Quinn Field at Robertson Stadium.
Dimel most recently served as the offensive coordinator, running backs coach and tight ends coach at his alma mater, Kansas State, from 2009-17. Dimel compiled the most wins of any offensive coordinator in college football from 2011-17 (61), and was a part of eight straight bowl appearances.
Overall, he was involved with 12 bowl teams over 19 seasons in three separate tours of duty on the Wildcats staff.
UTEP COACHING DEBUTS
UTEP coaches have posted a combined record of 8-17 in their first game. Coaches who were victorious in their debuts were Tommy Dwyer (1914), George B. Powell (1924), Mack Saxon (1929), Ben Collins (1957), Warren Harper (1963), Bobby Dobbs (1965), Bill Yung (1982) and Bob Stull (1986).
Northern Arizona returns 19 starters and 39 letter winners from 2017 and is rated No. 16 in Street & Smith’s Preseason FCS Top 25. The Lumberjacks were 7-5 last season, including 6-2 in the Big Sky Conference (tied for third place). They fell to San Diego, 41-10, in round one of the FCS Playoffs.
Returning first-team All-Big Sky junior quarterback Case Cookus has 7,703 passing yards and 72 touchdown passes on his collegiate resume entering 2018. Senior Emmanuel Butler has compiled 2,541 yards receiving with 26 TD’s at NAU and is back after missing all but two games last season due to injury. He needs just 49 receptions, 501 yards and two touchdowns to set the Lumberjack career records.
An experienced NAU secondary, headlined by cornerbacks Maurice Davison and Khalil Dorsey and safeties Wes Sutton and Kam’ron Johnson, held opponents to 174.3 yards passing per game in 2017.
This is the first meeting between the Miners and the Lumberjacks since 1947. UTEP is unbeaten (5-0-1) in six previous matchups with NAU. The lone tie came during the 1936 season, a scoreless draw in Flagstaff.
The Miners’ average margin of victory in the five meetings since has been 24.8 points. One of the more impressive individual performances in school history came against NAU in 1937 as Ken Heineman racked up 407 yards of offense, including 338 passing, while scoring 21 points in a 53-13 rout. He completed 14-of-17 pass attempts (.824) versus the Lumberjacks, the third-best percentage in school history, and added 115 punt return yards, tied for the fourth-top total in school annals.
NAU has served as the Miners’ season-opening opponent once previously, in 1940 (28-7 victory in Flagstaff). UTEP’s Dana Dimel is coaching against Northern Arizona for the first time.
THE LAST MEETING
Coach Jack Curtice made use of every man on the Miner bench as Texas Mines thumped the Flagstaff Lumberjacks, 40-0, on Oct. 4, 1947, at Kidd Field. The second stringers took complete control of the game after the regulars put the Miners safely in the lead early in the second quarter.
The Miners piled up 279 yards rushing with 13 players carrying the ball at least once. Star back Fred Wendt touched the ball only six times for 11 yards. Harvey Gabrel reached the end zone twice to lead Texas Mines’ offensive attack. The Miner defense yielded just 236 yards, including 66 rushing.
UTEP has four Arizona natives on its roster in senior WR Terry Juniel (Surprise), senior LS Jake Sammut (Mohave Valley), junior K Brady Viles (Fort Mohave) and junior TE Josh Weeks (Show Low). Northern Arizona has one Texas product in senior DL Jalen Goss (Dallas). Juniel and Lumberjack junior WR Joey Gatewood were teammates at Glendale Community College.
Viles was a teammate of NAU junior OLs Joe Hakizimana and Jason Linden at Arizona Western College. UTEP junior WR Alan Busey and NAU junior DL Aaron Andrews played together at Chabot College. Miner junior WR Justin Garrett and Lumberjack junior WR Stacy Chukwumezie were teammates at Cerritos College.
UTEP sophomore DB Justin Prince and NAU junior OL Mitchell Kay spent the 2017 season at Long Beach City College. UTEP junior DL Chris Richardson and NAU sophomore RB Aramis Aldredge were a part of the football program at Oak Hills (Calif.) High School.
FIRST SEASON AT THE HELM
The Dana Dimel era will begin on Sept. 1 against Northern Arizona in the Sun Bowl. Since Bob Stull’s first season as head coach in 1986, UTEP head coaches are a combined 27-43-1 during their first season at the helm. On average, that is 4.5 wins per season.
Gary Nord (2000) and Mike Price (2004) are the last two UTEP head coaches to finish with a winning record in their first seasons – Nord went 8-4 with a Crucial.com Humanitarian Bowl appearance and Price went 8-4 with a trip to the EV1.net Houston Bowl. Stull went 4-8 in 1986, but followed with a 7-4 campaign in 1987.
Sean Kugler finished 2-10 in 2013, but directed the Miners to a 7-6 record the following year with a trip to the New Mexico Bowl.
THE TWO MIKE’S
UTEP football head coach Dana Dimel brought in Mike Canales (offensive) and Mike Cox (defensive) as the coordinators. Canales will begin his 33rd season of coaching after serving as the quarterbacks coach at the University of Tennessee.
Previously, Canales headed a successful North Texas offense for six seasons, while Cox served as linebackers coach at Kansas State for five seasons. Cox tutored five linebackers that earned All-Big 12 status.
2018 SCHEDULE BREAKDOWN
The 2018 UTEP football schedule will include six home games – Northern Arizona (Sept. 1), NM State (Sept. 22), North Texas (Oct. 6), UAB (Oct. 27), Middle Tennessee (Nov. 10) and Southern Miss (Nov. 24).
The Miners will open against Northern Arizona as the two teams will meet for the first time since 1947. The Orange and Blue will travel to UNLV on Sept. 8 to take on the Rebels for the first time since 1993, while Tennessee and UTEP will play each other for the third time ever and initial occasion since 1990.
UTEP will meet NM State for the 96th time on Sept. 22.
UTEP will take on seven teams that advanced to a bowl game during the 2017 season. The Miners will see NM State (New Mexico Bowl), North Texas (R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl), LA Tech (DXL Frisco Bowl), UAB (Bahamas Bowl), Middle Tennessee (Raycom Media Camellia Bowl), WKU (AutoNation Cure Bowl) and Southern Miss (Walk-On’s Independence Bowl).
NM State, LA Tech and MT each claimed victory in their respective bowls.
UTEP returns 48 lettermen (22 offensive, 23 defensive and three special teams) from the 2017 team. The Miners have 15 starters (seven offensive, five defensive and three special teams) coming back. The secondary returns three starters (Nik Needham, Kahani Smith and Kalon Beverly).
Needham is the top defensive returner with 59 tackles (28 solo), eight pass break-ups, one sack, one interception and one fumble recovery. The defense also returns 2017 All-Conference USA Freshman Team honoree Trace Mascorro. He started in 11 games as a freshman at nose guard.
On offense, the Miners will rely on offensive lineman Derron Gatewood. The center has started in 27 games during his collegiate career and is a three-year letter winner. Also adding depth on offensive line is Ruben Guerra. The junior made eight starts at the right tackle position last season.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
There are nine programs in the FBS, including UTEP, that has sons playing for their fathers. UTEP first-year head coach Dana Dimel announced during the summer that his son, Winston, will play fullback for the Miners in 2018.
The other eight programs include UAB (head coach Bill Clark and son, Jacob), Colorado (head coach Mike Macintyre and son, Jay), Tulsa (head coach Philip Montgomery and son, Cannon), Navy (head coach Ken Niumatalolo and son, Ali’i), TCU (head coach Gary Patterson and son, Blake), Middle Tennessee (head coach Rick Stockstill and son, Brent), Clemson (head coach Dabo Swinney and son, Will) and Old Dominion (head coach Bobby Wilder and son, Derek).
Winston previously played at Kansas State (2015-17) while his father, Dana, was the offensive coordinator.
Back in the Rotation
Last season, junior Quardraiz Wadley suffered a season-ending injuries early in the year. He hurt his shoulder during 2017 spring ball and was expected to miss the season.
The Kennedale, Texas, native made a speedy recovery and made a comeback during the NM State game, where he rushed for 77 yards. He went on to produce a breakout game at Army, making his first collegiate start and rushing for a career-high 156 yards on a personal-best 28 carries (5.6 avg.). The running back scored his first career touchdown and registered his first career reception (15 yards). Wadley would once again be plagued by injuries, suffering a knee injury (WKU) and a collarbone injury (Middle Tennessee) and was forced to miss the remainder of the season. He is expected to compete for a starting spot in 2018.
Kai Locksley is expected to add competition at the quarterback spot. The Iowa Western transfer was named the 2017 Spalding NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year and earned first-team All-America honors following a stellar sophomore season. He guided the Reivers to an 11-1 overall record and a victory in The Graphic Edge Bowl.
The Fort Washington, Md., native accounted for 40 total touchdowns in 2017. He threw for 2,238 yards on 176-of-265 passing (66.4 percent) with 20 passing scores and only six interceptions. The quarterback rushed for 705 yards on 112 attempts (6.3 avg.) and a team-best 20 rushing scores.
Wide receiver Justin Garrett played in 10 games at Cerritos College in 2017. He led the Falcons in receptions (38), receiving yards (592) and receiving touchdowns (five). Garrett capped the year with a season-high 153 yards on six receptions (25.5 avg.) with a campaign-best three receiving scores and a season-long 80-yard touchdown reception versus Ventura.
Gamaliel Barboza comes to UTEP from Tyler Junior College. The sophomore played in eight games and helped Tyler account for 30.3 points per game and 375.4 yards of total offense per game. On defense, CJ Reese is expected to contribute early. The senior transfer from Kansas State played three seasons for the Wildcats and saw action in eight games.
Defensive back Justin Prince led Long Beach City College with 66 tackles (22 solo) as a freshman. He added 2.5 tackles for loss, one fumble recovery, one interception and two pass break-ups.
WATCHING GATEWOOD BLOCK
Senior starting center Derron Gatewood was named to the Rimington Trophy Spring Watch List as announced by the selection committee on May 30. The Rimington Trophy is presented annually to the most outstanding center in NCAA Division I college football. Gatewood will be in the spotlight on the offensive line in 2018 after starting 10 games at the center position last season.
The Odessa, Texas, native also garnered All-Conference USA honorable-mention recognition last season. Gatewood made his big splash in 2016 when he started all 12 games, playing both center and right guard. The winning center will be recognized at the Rimington Trophy Presentation at the Rococo Theater in Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday, January 12, 2019.
There are six quarterbacks listed on the 2018 roster, led by senior Ryan Metz. Junior transfer Kai Locksley – the 2017 Spalding NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year at Iowa Western – brings great size (6’4, 200 pounds) to the position and sophomore Mark Torrez brings experience as he played in seven contests in 2017.
Freshmen Calvin Brownholtz and Alex Fernandes will provide depth at the position, along with junior transfer Brandon Jones from Bakersfield College.
MORE ON METZ
Ryan Metz will enter his senior campaign ranked No. 10 on the program’s all-time completion list with 275. Metz is 23 completions away from the No. 9 spot. Metz has also tossed 23 scores during his career, needing one to crack the program’s top 10 list. Metz has also been responsible for 26 touchdowns, needing eight to crack the school’s top 10 list.
The El Paso native fought off injuries during his junior campaign, but showed the ability to lead as he put up nice numbers his sophomore campaign – he threw for 14 touchdowns and only four interceptions on 130-of-201 passing for 1,375 yards. Metz’s 64.7 completion percentage in 2016 ranked second on UTEP’s single-season list.
RUNNING THE BALL
The 2018 roster will feature five capable tailbacks who can grind out yards. Junior Quardraiz Wadley played in four games in 2017, while starting in a trio of contests. Wadley missed most of the season due to injury, but did lead the team at 69.2 yards per game. Wadley gained 277 yards on 58 carries (4.8 avg.) with a score.
The Kennedale, Texas, native gained 77 yards on 19 attempts at NM State in his first action of 2017 and followed with a career-high 156 yards at Army along with his first collegiate touchdown, and also hauled in a 15-yard reception that set up a touchdown on the next play. Sophomore Joshua Fields led the team in rushing as a true freshman.
The El Paso native gained 362 yards on 89 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns. Fields’s first score came against UTSA, while he gained 44 yards. He also gained 87 yards at Middle Tennessee and another 45 against North Texas, but followed with a career-best 137 yards on 23 carries against LA Tech in the Sun Bowl.
Junior TK Powell rushed for 124 yards on 16 attempts (7.8 avg.) against LA Tech during the 2015 season. Junior Treyvon Hughes, who returned to running back from linebacker, will provide size (6’1, 237 pounds), while sophomore Ronald Awatt also provides a bruising frame (5’11, 205 pounds).
Hughes to Running Back
Treyvon Hughes enters his third season as a UTEP Miner. The junior came to UTEP in 2015 as a running back and played in nine games as a true freshman. Hughes registered a season high in carries (six) and yards (36) at Old Dominion.
In 2016, he missed the season due to injury. Hughes was switched to linebacker during the 2017 fall camp. Hughes played in all 12 games and made six starts at linebacker. He recorded 40 tackles, two quarterback hurries and 0.5 tackle for loss. Hughes returned to running back this spring.
Eddie Sinegal will start his third season with his hometown team in 2018. The graduate of Andress High School has 46 receptions for 482 yards in his career. Sinegal, though, has produced the Miners’ only 100-yard receiving game the last two years after tallying 102 yards on six receptions at LA Tech in 2016.
Erik Brown joined the UTEP football program before the midway point of last season, making four starts in nine games played. Brown recorded 151 yards on 12 receptions with a long catch of 38 yards. Brown recorded a season-high 52 yards on a trio of catches against UTSA, and registered 34 yards on two receptions at Southern Miss.
In the Nik of Time
Senior Nik Needham looks to lead the way for the Miner defense. The corner has recorded 24 pass break-ups during his career and ranks tied for second with five other players on the program’s all-time list. Needham only needs two pass break-ups to be the overall leader in UTEP history.
Last season, he registered a career-high 59 tackles (28 solo), eight pass break-ups, 4.5 tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery. Needham garnered 2017 All-Conference USA honorable-mention recognition. In 2016, the Buena Park, Calif., native racked up a total of 11 pass break-ups, which marked the most in program history since 2010.
The Miner secondary brings depth to the two-deep. Corners Kalon Beverly and Nik Needham have produced a total of 57 combined starts. Beverly started in 10 games and recorded a career-high 44 tackles (24 solo), 2.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble in 2017.
Last season, Needham ranked second amongst defensive backs with 59 stops. Both corners notched a total of eight pass break-ups. Kahani Smith made his debut, starting in seven games last season for the Orange and Blue. The safety led UTEP’s defense with two touchdowns – a 52-yard pick-six and a 45-yard scoop-and-score.
The senior tallied 46 stops (30 solo) and three passes defended. Juniors Michael Lewis and Justin Rogers have combined for 21 starts. Lewis notched 47 tackles, while Rogers recorded 39 stops, one forced fumble, two interceptions, one quarterback hurry and two pass break-ups last season.
Rogers earned 2016 C-USA All-Freshman honors after posting 17 tackles (10 solo) and ranking second on the team with seven break-ups.
UTEP’s Kahani Smith was one of four Conference USA players to score a pair of defensive touchdowns in 2017. The effort tied for the league lead, while Smith became the first Miner since 2007 (Quintin Demps) to produce two defensive scores.
Smith took back a pick-six 52 yards at Army, and scooped up a fumble and dashed 45 yards to paydirt at North Texas. Smith was one of two defensive players to score on an interception and a fumble recovery. Marshall’s Chris Jackson returned a fumble 15 yards for a score and returned an interception 72 yards for a touchdown.
LA Tech’s Darryl Lewis and Southern Miss’ Kelsey Douglas each returned a pair of interceptions for scores in 2017.
SOLID RETURNEES ON THE D-LINE
Trace Mascorro (11 starts), Denzel Chukwukelu (eight starts), Dedrick Simpson (four starts) and Sani Buckingham (three starts) each played significant time on the defensive line last season, combining for 26 starts. Mascorro was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team after scoring a touchdown on a fumble return at NM State, tallying 29 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss and registering two quarterback hurries.
Chukwukelu, who is listed at 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, took up space and recorded 20 tackles with 2.0 tackles for loss in 11 games played. Simpson registered 14 stops with 1.5 tackles for loss and a quarterback sack, and Buckingham tallied nine tackles and a pair of hurries.
JUNIEL’S SPECIAL EFFORT
Senior return specialist Terry Juniel was recognized in the most-recent issue of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine. The publication listed Juniel as second team All-Texas as a special teams player. Juniel finished 2017 ranked third in Conference USA with a 25.4 kickoff return average (533 yards on 21 returns), with a long return of 59 yards at Southern Miss.
He finished with 75 yards on a pair of returns against the Golden Eagles. Juniel also showed the ability to catch the ball as he led the team in receptions (23) for 224 yards (ranked second on team). Juniel added a career-best five catches at USM and recorded a career-high 82 yards on four receptions against Arizona. The Surprise, Ariz., native also paced the Miners in all-purpose yards (812) and average per game (67.7).
Juniel also returned 13 punts, with a long punt return of 35 yards against WKU.
FOSTER, A KEY RETURNEE
Junior Keynan Foster, who saw success returning kickoffs over the first four games in 2017, unfortunately missed the remainder of the season due to injury. Foster provided more speed and depth at the kickoff return position, while also making one start at the slot receiver position against Arizona. Foster returned nine kickoffs for 205 yards (22.8 avg.) and hauled in three passes for 23 yards, while also rushing for 19 yards on a pair of attempts (9.5 avg.).
After seeing time on the scout team for a pair of seasons, senior Jason Filley finally saw game action in 2017. The El Paso native and Coronado High School graduate went 2-for-3 on field goals and connected on a perfect 7-for-7 on PATs. Filley scored his first collegiate points in front of his hometown fans as he made both PAT attempts against UTSA.
VILES’S FIRST SEASON
Brady Viles led UTEP with 14 points in 2017. Viles connected on 11-of-12 PATs, while his first career field goal kick was a successful 53-yard attempt against Arizona. His 53-yard boot is the longest first made attempt in UTEP history during the modern era. Viles connected on a career-high 3-of-3 PATs. Viles was primarily used on kickoffs (32 KO for 1,922 yards [60.1 avg.] with 21 touchbacks).
FROM RUGBY TO FOOTBALL
Mitchell Crawford will compete for the starting punter position heading into the 2018 season. The native of Australia was the leading goal kicker in the Black Diamond AFL (Australian Football League) while a member of the Newcastle City Blues in 2016.
OPPONENT KICKOFF RETURNS
UTEP ranked first in Conference USA and seventh in the FBS in opponent kickoff return average (16.9) in 2017. UTEP ranked fourth (20.3) in 2016 and seventh (21.7) in 2015.
UTEP will have its first road test in 2018 when it plays at UNLV of the Mountain West on Sept. 7. In their last meeting, the Miners defeated the Rebels 41-24 on Sept. 11, 1993. UTEP is also making its first road trip to Las Vegas, Nev., since the 1992 season. Saturday’s kickoff is set for 7 p.m. MT/6 PT at Sam Boyd Stadium. The contest will be televised on AT&T SportsNet.