The UTEP football team will conclude spring drills this Friday at 6 p.m. with the annual Spring Game in the Sun Bowl.
Gates will open to the public at 5 p.m. and admission is free. Parking will be available north of the P-9 lot and at the lots around the Sun Bowl.
Concession stands will be open for fans, and various food trucks will be parked in the concourse, adding to the variety of snacking options for fans. Additionally, the first 300 students to arrive at the game will receive a free tank top.
As for the game, football fans will get to see a variety of different lineup combinations, a live scrimmage and simulated game situations. Special in-game videos will pit the players against the coaches in a variety of grueling activities.
After the game, the seniors and head coach Sean Kugler will sign complimentary spring game posters. There will also be a free football clinic for youth 13 and under.
UTEP returns 44 lettermen (21 offensive, 21 defensive and two special teams) from the 2016 team. The Miners have 14 starters (five offensive, seven defensive and two special teams) coming back. The offensive line will once again be counted on to provide stability with three starters returning from last season, including All-American Will Hernandez.
On defense, the linebacker core returns three starters (Alvin Jones, Dante Lovilotte and Jayson VanHook). Jones and Lovilotte rated first and second on the team in tackles last season. They combined for 182 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss. UTEP will also have 22 newcomers in the mix, with 17 coming out of high school, three junior-college transfers and two division I transfers.
Depth Cart Breakdown
The Miners’ two-deep roster has a distinct El Paso flavor to it, with 12 projected starters (five offense, five special teams and two defense) hailing from the Sun City. There are also five immediate back-ups (four offense, one special teams) currently featuring El Pasoans. In terms of experience upperclassmen are expected to account for 18 (nine offense, seven defense and two special teams) of the 27 positions listed on the depth chart.
Protecting the Field
The offensive line for the Miners brings experience to the depth chart this season. The unit lost two starters from last season but return Will Hernandez, Tanner Stallings and Derron Gatewood. Leading the way for the squad will be Hernandez, who in 2016 became the first UTEP offensive lineman to garner All-American honors.
The senior has started every game (37) at the left guard position during his three years with the Miners. The Miners also return three linemen that have starting experience.
Adding depth will be 2016 All-Conference USA freshman team recipient Greg Long. Long started a game at right guard before starting three at left tackle. At the opposite side of the line, junior Jerrod Brooks started the first half of the 2016 campaign at right tackle.
Also returning for the unit will be Derek Elmendorff. The senior has combined for 19 starts at right guard and will look to contribute this season.
Offensive lineman Will Hernandez has started every game in his three years with the Miners. Last season, Hernandez was the first offensive lineman at the school to receive AP All-American second team and FOX Sports’ All-American honors. The senior was also first offensive lineman since 2009 to earn All-Conference USA first team recognition.
Hernandez’s national recognition didn’t stop there, garnering Pro Football Focus Pass Protector of the Year. The Miners capped season off with two showings of more than 500 yards of total offense, including a season-best 384 yards rushing in victory over North Texas.
Ryan Metz played in 11 games, starting seven during the 2016 season. Metz completed 64.7 percent of his passes, the second-best completion percentage during a single season in program history. Metz tossed 14 touchdowns, the most passing scores by a Miner since 2010. Metz also led the squad with 1,375 yards on 130-of-201 passing and only four interceptions.
In fact, the El Paso native increased his touchdown passes from 2015 (six touchdowns) and decreased his interceptions from the season prior (seven interceptions). Metz’s 141.14 passing efficiency was the program’s fifth best single-season performance, while it ranked sixth in Conference USA. Metz produced big numbers during a 5OT win at UTSA.
Metz tied his career high with three touchdown strikes against the Roadrunners and threw for 211 yards on 15-of-23 passing. Metz was named one of eight Manning Award Stars of the Week following his performance in San Antonio. Metz produced two more solid outings in front of his hometown fans, throwing three more touchdowns against Houston Baptist and registering two passing scores, including a career-long 72-yard toss against North Texas. Metz also showed fancy feet, as he tallied a career-long 42-yard dash against the Mean Green.
Alvin Jones is returning for his senior season in 2017 at the linebacker position. In 2016, Jones played in 10 contests, making eight starts and missing two games due to injury. The El Paso native earned All-Conference USA second team honors after leading the team in tackles 93 (44 solo) and ranking tied 11th in C-USA in total tackles. Jones also led team with 72 tackles on rushing plays and ranked fourth in C-USA in tackles per game (9.3).
The Burges High School graduate added 6.0 tackles for loss (28 yards), 2.5 sacks (22 yards) and a pass breakup. Jones has 241 career tackles (seventh most at UTEP since the 2000 season), 10.5 career sacks (needs 1.5 to crack the program’s all-time top 10 list), 29.5 career tackles for loss (needs 1.0 to etch name on all-time top 10 list).
Jones opened his junior campaign with a 12-tackle performance, including, a tackle for loss, during a victory against rival NM State. Jones brought his best to the table when he established a caree best with 16 tackles (seven solo) against FIU.
The total tackles against the Panthers were the most by an individual UTEP player since the 2013 season (17 tackles). Five weeks later, Jones amassed 16 more tackles (11 solo) at Rice, while chipping in with a sack against the Owls. His junior season was capped with another 12-tackle outing, while registering a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss during a dominant victory against North Texas.
Making the Change
UTEP head coach Sean Kugler brought in four transfer players to make immediate impacts in 2017. Tight ends David Lucero and Josh Weeks, and a pair of defensive players, LB Kalaii Griffin and DB Kahani Smith, will don the Orange and Blue in 2017.
After Hayden Plinke graduated, Lucero and Weeks will look to fill the tight end gap. Lucero, who is 6’5 and 230 pounds, saw action in all 12 games at Arizona Western College, catching nine passes for 91 yards and a score in 2016.
Weeks, who also possessees great physical attributes (6’4, 255 pounds), played in two games at BYU (three rec., 23 yards) in 2015. Griffin registered 40 tackles (30 solo) in nine games played at Ventura Community College in 2016. Smith was a playmaker at Riverside Community College, seeing action in 11 games at the strong safety position.
Smith notched 36 tackles, four interceptions, 11 pass breakups and three touchdowns (a pick-six and two scoop-and-scores).
UTEP will face eight opponents in 2017 who made a bowl game in 2016. The Miners will open with Oklahoma (Sugar Bowl) on Sept. 2 in Norman,Okla.
After UTEP’s contest at NM State on Sept. 23, the next seven opponents are Army (Heart of Dallas Bowl), WKU (Boca Raton Bowl), Southern Miss (New Orleans Bowl), UTSA (New Mexico Bowl), Middle Tennessee (Hawai’i Bowl), North Texas (Heart of Dallas Bowl) and LA Tech (Armed Forces Bowl). Syracuse and Duke lead the list with 11 bowl opponents each, while South Florida will see 10. Florida and Tulsa will face nine bowl opponents, and East Carolina will take on eight in 2017.