UTEP Football fans that set foot on Glory Field to watch spring drills may notice the return of a familiar face.
It’s Quardraiz Wadley, version 2.0.
Remember him? He rushed for 1,072 yards and eight touchdowns for the Miners over three seasons from 2016-18. In 2018, he put together a career year, gaining 627 yards on 123 carries with seven scores.
This is a man who once rushed for 156 yards at Army and 111 yards versus I-10 rival NM State.
Then, his senior season, originally scheduled to take place in 2019, was washed away due to a toe injury that he suffered in offseason workouts last July.
“It was a really freak accident,” he said. “I was doing a normal drill that I had done plenty of times before. My toe just snapped out of place, and when it snapped I tore the ligaments that connect my toe to my foot. So I had to get all of that repaired. We thought it was going to be a short six weeks, and I’d be back.”
It all sounded so harmless, but it turned out to be a huge deal for a guy whose game is predicated on speed.
“It turned into a six month [recovery],” he said. “I had to fly out to L.A. to get the surgery, because we couldn’t find anyone to do it here. But we got it taken care of. It’s getting a lot better and I should be ready to go full contact here pretty soon, in two or three weeks.”
So Wadley’s life in the fall and winter consisted of a bunch of rehab and treatments from the training staff.
This week, he was on the practice field with his teammates once again. And considering he missed 2019 spring ball with an ankle injury, it has been quite the early-awaited comeback.
“It’s been really hard [sitting out], but my teammates have been lifting me up,” he said. “They wanted me to mentor the younger guys. So I found something to replace playing.
“I’m really excited,” he added. “It feels good to be back with my teammates. It feels good to actually be out here doing stuff instead of watching. And I’m just ready to make a difference.”
Wadley isn’t all the way back. He has been limited to no-contact drills thus far, and his toe still feels stiff. But he’s getting there.
“It’s everything but contact until I can get the soreness to go away. And then we’ll hit it harder,” he said. “Over time, the stiffness will go away with running activities. And I’m working on strengthening the muscles around my foot from being in the cast for so long. That’s my main focus right now.”
Wadley has changed numbers this spring. He used to be in the #4 jersey, and now he’s wearing #2. But this isn’t about Quardraiz Wadley 2.0. It’s something far more significant.
“I just felt like it was time for a new identity,” he said. “I was #2 in high school. And then I told Luke I would wear #2 if he wasn’t able to play again.”
Luke Laufenberg was a sophomore tight end on the Miners’ 2019 spring roster that passed away last August after battling cancer. He was 21 years old.
Wadley was one of many Miners that were touched by the courage and fight of Luke.
“He was such a good soul,” he said. “He tried to make people smile. Nothing negative ever came out of his mouth. He was a hard worker and a guy who just wanted to play football. We knew his story, but he didn’t want people to feel sorry for him. He just showed us that he was a fighter, and that was the persona that he lived with.
“I do feel a sense of responsibility [wearing his number],” he added. “Last year we were pretty close and I made a promise to him that I would wear it if he could never play again, and play through him.”
With Laufenberg serving as an inspirational force, Wadley is hoping to close out his career in style this fall. He believes the Miners have the makings of a solid offensive football team with a more athletic line and a deep backfield that consists not only of himself, but native El Pasoans Josh Fields and Deion Hankins.
“I’m excited about the offensive line,” he said. “We’ve got some young guys who I think are going to be able to step in and help us right away. And our running back position runs really deep. We all complement each other. I’m excited for what’s in store for us this upcoming season.”
Wadley is also excited about working in tandem with his new position coach, Barrick Nealy.
“He’s really good,” he said. “He’s a former quarterback, so we get a different perspective from him. We’re just learning from each other. He brings some good tips to the table because he has been in our shoes playing before. It’s a good fit for us.”
Fans can renew their UTEP Football Season Tickets, or request new season tickets for the 2020 season now.
Renewals will be accepted online until April 10 here, by calling (915) 747-6150, or by visiting the UTEP Athletics Season Ticket Office, located in Room 109 of the Brumbelow Building next to the Don Haskins Center, Monday thru Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, click here.