I thought the best way to kick off our first National Signing Day at Miner Rush would be to express why this day is so important. Obviously, if you get top notch players you will have a better team, right? Everybody knows that. What some people don't know, however, is how important every single class is. One bad class can set a program back years.
UTEP's 2006 recruiting class was fascinating because it showed the best of both worlds. The Miners signed 27 prospects that year. The class would form the backbone of one of the C-USA's best offenses and one of the nation's worst defenses all in one. The Miners defensive woes in the 2009 season and the Miners staggering lack of defensive depth in 2010 can be traced back to the 2006 and 2007 classes. Offensively, the '06 class gave us some Miner legends and several multi-year starters. Defensively, the 2006 class was average at best. The 2007 class was simply a defensive disaster.
The Good: UTEP's 17 Offensive Signees in 2006
The Stars: Trevor Vittatoe, Kris Adams, Donald Buckram, Alex Solot, Rod Huntley, Tanner Cullumber, Jonny Moore, Elijah Goldtrap, Anthony McNac
The class included several multiple year starters, leaders, and a few guys who will have a chance to cash professional paychecks next season. This offensive class is simply as good as it gets for any non-BCS school.
Trevor Vittatoe, a 2 star Rivals recruit, owns just about every UTEP passing record imaginable. While Trevor never led UTEP to a winning season or a bowl win in his four starting years, he was highly productive and gained some fan favor by playing through nagging injuries.
Donald Buckram was a member of the '06 class. While Buckram's senior season was marred by a lingering knee injury, he will always be known as a Miner legend for his junior campaign where he rushed for 1,600 yards. Donald, if healthy, should get a look by an NFL team in camp this summer. Kris Adams was a dangerous deep threat at wide receiver for UTEP. My guess is that he's all but a free agent contract guarantee after the NFL draft this April.
Besides the star skill players, the class also consisted of veteran offensive line starters Tanner Cullumber, Rod Huntley, Anthony McNac Will Osolinsky (LT) and Alex Solot (RT). So, all five starting linemen from the 2010 team were members of that class. Huntley was a first team all C-USA selection. Osolinsky and Solot were bookend tackles. Cullumber was a team leader who excelled at center and guard. He played wherever he was needed and was always effective.
Starting tight end Jonny Moore was also in the 2006 class as was UTEP's other tight end Elijah Goldtrap. While Moore never became a receiving weapon, he was an excellent blocker. Goldtrap played early and often for UTEP and was a significant contributor in goal line and short yardage situations as a blocker.
Good, Solid Careers: Evan Davis, Pierce Hunter, Jason Williams, and James Thomas II
UTEP's coaches also found receivers Evan Davis and Pierce Hunter in that class. Both were good players for UTEP and contributed on the field. Davis had 292 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns this season. Hunter had 280 yards and 2 touchdowns. James Thomas II, was UTEP's "Wildcat QB" and a good receiver in his own right. Thomas II never developed as a viable passing threat though and UTEP was one dimensional when he was in at quarterback. Williams was a short yardage back who had a good 2009 season. In 2010, though, he lost his carries to Joseph Banyard. He still scored 6 touchdowns in his career. These role players all had key moments for the Miners during their careers.
The Misses: Brandon Jordan, Jon Wiley, Kyle Darden
Jordan, a wide receiver, never played with UTEP due to an injury. Wiley and Darden both vanished off of UTEP rosters and I'm not sure why they left the team. Even so, the fact that UTEP found a QB, RB, #1 WR, 5 offensive starters on the line, and two starter-caliber tight ends is incredible.
The Not-So-Good: UTEP's 10 Defensive Signees in 2006
Brown was an excellent CB for UTEP and is now playing for the Indianapolis Colts. Stephenson was a starter for UTEP in the secondary. Royzell Smith started 10 games this season at OLB. Soleyjacks was a multi-year starter on the defensive line. He started all 13 games this season and had 3 sacks.
Good, Solid Careers: Anthony Morrow
Morrow contributed on defense. He was a backup, but due to injuries, started 5 games in 2010 and had 67 tackles.
The Misses: Eric Reynolds, Aaron Sims, Michael Mitchell, Robert Williams, George Randall
If you're asking "Who?" You're not alone. None of these 5 defensive signees were on UTEP's roster before the 2010 season. When you sign 10 defensive players and half of them leave the team, you have the makings of a disaster on your hands. The most disappointing was Robert Williams who was a stud 3 star DE prospect out of Dallas Kimball. He chose UTEP over Iowa, Arizona State, Arizona, and Minnesota. I can't find a record of him ever playing for UTEP.
The Bad: UTEP's 11 Defensive Signees in 2007
UTEP's 11 defensive signees in the 2007 class was simply a trainwreck. When you look at what UTEP brought in defensively in '07, you'll see why UTEP struggled so much in 2009 and had no veteran reserves at key positions in 2010. Even UTEP's need to sign seven (or more) junior college starters this season can be linked to the failures of this class on the defensive side of the ball. Take a look at the class by position.
UTEP signed three defensive ends in 2007: Greg Watkins, Jason Boyce, and Jason Garrett. Greg Watkins has potential and played in all 13 games this season (3 sacks). He has the body and measurables to be a star in the C-USA . The problem is that Greg Watkins is all that remains of UTEP's defensive line recruits from that year. Jason Boyce and Jason Garrett? No longer with the team. UTEP signed only one defensive tackle; Charles Ofili. Of those four players only Watkins is still with the team.
The Miners signed six linebackers in 2007 and Greg Holleman was signed as an "athlete." Isaiah Carter, Chris Dowell, Torrey Huckaby, Jaboy Leomiti, Nuuese Punimata, and Brandon Thigpen were the linebackers. Carter was a starter last season and performed well. He was fourth on the team in tackles this season with 75 (27 solo). The five others were not with the team in what should have been their junior or redshirt sophomore seasons. Greg Holleman was a member of this class but signed as an athlete. He played in six games this season and had 5 tackles.
Amazingly, UTEP didn't sign a single defensive back in the 2007 class even thought the Miners were about to transition in the secondary heavy 3-3-5 defensive scheme in the 2008 season.
UTEP's 2007 defensive class was simply as bad as they get. So far, the class has yielded one starter out of 11 signees. Three of four defensive linemen are no longer with the team as are five of seven linebackers. UTEP didn't sign a DB.
When you combine the 2006 and 2007 classes, you have 21 defensive signees. Of those, a staggering 13 players weren't with the team at the start of the 2010 season. Of the eight that remained, UTEP signed five players who were consistent starters. So, that's why UTEP started all those freshman along the defensive line. That's why UTEP had to raid the JUCO ranks to shore up weaknesses in the secondary and in the linebacking corps. When you only sign 21 defensive players in two years and 13 of them don't stay on the team, you'll have issues.
That's why signing day is important. I don't expect UTEP to sign a 5 star running back today or even a first or second round draft choice. But, I do hope that Mike Price can avoid another disaster like what the '07 defensive class has turned out to be. UTEP is starting over on defense right now because of the mistakes his staff made in years past evaluating defensive talent. If Price can have half the success on both sides of the ball that he had with that offensive class in 2006, the Miners can truly proclaim that they are building a foundation for the future and not patching up mistakes of the past.
Note: The UTEP commitment lists referenced in this post were from Rivals.com.