Andres Acosta /El Paso Herald-Post
The UTEP football team will conclude spring drills on Saturday at noon in the Sun Bowl.
Fans are invited to come see the Miners put the finishing touches on their spring workouts. Gates will open to the public starting at 11 a.m. Admission and parking is free.
Fans should enter and exit through the north gate of the Sun Bowl and park in GR2 lot. All other gates will be closed.
The Miners’ 2019 home slate includes the renewal of the series versus former WAC rival Nevada (September 21) and match-ups with C-USA in-state foes UTSA (October 5) and Rice (November 30). UTEP will also face Charlotte for the first time ever in the Sun Bowl on November 9.
UTEP returns 49 letter winners and a total of 12 starters, including seven on offense, four on defense and one on special teams. The Miner offense welcomes back quarterback Kai Locksley, running back Quardraiz Wadley, wide receiver Keynan Foster and four offensive linemen (Markos Lujan, Bobby DeHaro, Ruben Guerra and Zuri Henry).
Seniors Denzel Chukwukelu and Chris Richardson are back to anchor the defensive line, while Sione Tupou will lead the linebackers and Michael Lewis the safeties. Punter Mitchell Crawford returns for his second season with the Miners.
Last year, the Miners suffered multiple season-ending injuries early on that hindered the offensive line. Seniors Derron Gatewood and Greg Long both missed the entire 2018 season due to injury. UTEP enters 2019 with more strength, returning eight players who have combined for 84 starts.
Gatewood brings the most experience to the line, having made 22 starts. Also adding depth at the line are seniors Ruben Guerra, Long, Markos Lujan and Bijan Hosseini. Guerra has made 15 collegiate starts and has seen action at center, right guard and right tackle. Long missed last year but saw action in nine games and started in four as a true freshman. Lujan started in 11 games last season, making nine starts at center. Hosseini played in 10 games and made six total starts in 2018.
Sophomore Bobby DeHaro was relied on the most last season, starting in all 12 games. The El Paso native was the most consistent part of the offensive line, starting at left guard in 11 games. The Miners also turned to true freshman Zuri Henry to step in at the left tackle position last season.
Henry made his first career start against Northern Arizona and made eight starts. Freshman Elijah Klein also took to the field during the 2018 campaign. The true freshman started in four games before redshirting the remainder of the season.
Locksley’s the Key
Kai Locksley entered the 2018 season in a quarterback battle but became the front-runner, after showing versatility and explosiveness in his UTEP debut against Northern Arizona. The senior played in nine contests and made eight starts under center last season. He led the team in passing yards (937) and completions (83). He also gained 340 yards rushing and had six touchdowns on the ground, while tossing three more scores.
In 2018, Locksley became the first UTEP quarterback to rush for 100 yards twice in a season (at UNLV, at UTSA) in 35 years. He rushed for a career-high 119 yards on 20 attempts and two scores against the Rebels.
Wadley’s Final Season
Quardraiz Wadley made a comeback last year after suffering a season-ending injury in 2017. The running back enters his senior year at UTEP having rushed for 1,072 yards and eight touchdowns in a Miner uniform.
Wadley led UTEP in rushing (627 yards), rushing touchdowns (seven), total touchdowns (eight) and rushing attempts (123) in 2018. He rushed for a season-high 111 yards versus rival NM State. Wadley also gained 99 yards on 15 carries (6.6 avg.) and rushed for two touchdowns against Middle Tennessee.
UTEP head coach Dana Dimel added depth to the Miners’ 2019 roster on national signing day. Dimel inked 32 signees with 15 offensive players, 14 defensive players and three specialists.
The Miners signed eight three-star recruits according to 247sports.com. It marks the most three-star signees for UTEP since 2010 (13), and the third-most since 2000. The Miners already have eight mid-year enrollees, including defensive back Miles Banks, tight end Rashad Beecham, defensive back Robert Corner III, quarterback TJ Goodwin, safety Ty’reke James, tight end Luke Laufenberg, defensive back Duron Lowe and linebacker Joe Jay Smith.
Veteran Presence at the Line
UTEP improved from 107th nationally in total defense in 2017 to 68th in 2018. The unit will depend on the veteran presence of the defensive line to provide pressure on the quarterback. Denzel Chukwukelu brings three years of experience to the unit, having played in 30 games and making 16 starts.
Chukwukelu led all UTEP defensive linemen with 42 tackles in 2018. He added 6.5 tackles for loss (21 yards) and 2.0 sacks (13 yards). He led defense with seven quarterback hurries, while chipping in with a breakup, fumble forced/recovery and blocked two kicks. Also returning for his senior season is two-year letter winner Chris Richardson. The nose tackle started all 12 games last season and has played in a total of 24 games.
Richardson notched 31 tackles, while tallying 2.0 tackles for loss, two breakups and a pair of quarterback hurries during the 2018 campaign.
Returning to the lineup is redshirt-sophomore Dedrick Simpson. The defensive lineman sat out the 2018 due to a season-ending injury. As a true freshman, he played in all 12 games and made four starts. Simpson registered 14 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one sack and a quarterback hurry in 2017.