Sun Bowl Stadium - El Paso, TX
In 2008, Eloy Atkinson arrived at UTEP with hopes of reaching even bigger heights than he had already seen in his football career. And that wouldn't be easy. As a high school senior at Los Fresnos (TX), he was the All Metro Co-MVP, and the district 32-5A Co-Offensive Lineman of the Year.
He joined a Miners' squad that was two years removed from their GMAC bowl appearance, but seemed to have things headed back in the right direction. Atkinson redshirted in 2008, and saw his team miss out on a bowl appearance by just one win, after losing the last two contests of the year.In 2009, as a redshirt freshman, Atkinson established himself as a solid reserve lineman. After playing guard throughout his high school career, he made the move to center, and was quickly considered one of the top freshman lineman in the conference.
As a sophomore, Atkinson made his way into the starting rotation. And, although he was hampered by a nagging ankle injury, he helped his team make it back to a bowl game for the first time since the 2005 season. But, after skidding to the finish, mostly due to injuries, the Miners ended the season at 6-7 after a 52-24 loss to BYU in the New Mexico Bowl.
2011 was a year much like Eloy's first in El Paso. There weren't many expectations for the team, but again, with two games to play the Miners only needed one win to reach bowl eligibility. As we all know, it wasn't meant to be. The Miners lost both games, and finished again with a disappointing 5-7 mark.
Individually though, things went a little better for Atkinson. After staying relatively healthy for the entire season, he was able to start every game for the Miners, and was also an All Conference USA honorable mention. But, of course, the junior's expectations were set much higher than that.
Now, heading into his fifth year in El Paso, its time for Eloy Atkinson to achieve all the goals that he had in mind when he started this journey. And, while the season is yet to kick off, things are already on the right track. The Miners are healthy and confident, and Eloy has already been named to the Rimington Award (Given to the nation's best center) watch list.
When asked about being considered for the award, Atkinson said:
"Its a great honor to be even considered for such a prestigious award. To be considered by the voting committee with some of the best centers in the nation is a great feeling."
But, this is not all about personal accomplishments. While Atkinson is on a mission to be a First Team All-Conference player, the real goal for this season is a bowl game and conference championship. And, considering the team features solid playmakers at QB, RB, and WR, and a veteran offensive line and defense, those goals may not be out of reach.
"As a team our goal and expectation is to win Conference USA. We believe we can, and we expect it of ourselves. Anything less than that is not acceptable."
Once again, we are seeing just exactly what this team feels that they are capable of. A few weeks ago we heard it from senior QB Nick Lamaison, and now we are hearing it from our starting center. While some outsiders may be quick to write these Miners off, its clear that inside the program, the feelings are a bit different.
As of today, that September 1st kickoff against Oklahoma is only 32 days away. Preparation time is quickly dwindling. And, while this year will present many tough tasks, there's no question where this team's sights are set. This season isn't just about making a bowl game. The objective is winning the conference crown. And nothing less.