New blood. One of the great things about college football is that we have a constant flow of talented young athletes to follow. First, we celebrate the day each player commits to the UTEP Miners. On signing day, we assess the quality of our class and hope that there's a Johnny Lee Higgins, Donald Buckram, or Braxton Amy somewhere in the group. Every 3 or 4 years we have a completely different squad and while we wish some players could have 5-6 years of eligibility (a la Braxton Amy); we enjoy getting to follow the new crew.
The 2010 Miners are a veteran squad, but like with any college team, some new players will contribute immediately. Here are my picks for the Top 5 Newcomers to this team. These are the guys that I think will make a splash in either their first season on the squad, or in their first season seeing significant playing time. We have a veteran offense, with returning starters seemingly across the board, so unsurprisingly defenders make up most of this list.
Honorable Mention: Adam Ayala (RS FR., Defensive End)
I wanted to keep this to a Top 5, not a Top 6, but I wanted to mention Adam Ayala who I think could be an immediate contributor to the defense.
The redshirt from Huntsville has flown up the depth chart and is listed as veteran Robert Soleyjacks backup at defensive end. Ayala has a well publicized work ethic, as highlighted by this article in the the Huntsville Item, detailing his summer work regimen. Coming out of high school, Rivals rated the 3 Star Prospect the 83rd best defensive tackle prospect in the nation. The 6'5", 260 pound Ayala should see significant playing time in 2010. Ayala is also a good student, as he was named to the C-USA Commissioner's Honor Roll (GPA over 3.0).
#5: Ruben Munoz (Sophomore, Defensive Tackle)
A graduate of El Paso's Eastwood High School, the sophomore defensive tackle had a stellar spring and emerged as #2 on the teams depth chart at at nose tackle At 6'0, 265, Munoz, may be a bit undersized compared to most D-1 NT's, but he has a strong motor and the quickness to beat offensive linemen off the ball. After seeing him in person, I was impressed with his athleticism and ability to always be around the ball. As he gets bigger, he's only going to get better.
Eastwood Alum Ruben Munoz was a force at defensive tackle. Running with the first team, Munoz was all over the field and disrupted the Miners offense several times. Munoz's best play may have been when he sniffed out a reverse ran to receiver Evan Davis. Munoz broke through the line and brought Davis down for a huge loss.
#4: Jamie Fehoko (Jr., DT)
Munoz is #2 on the depth chart right behind 6'2", 290 lb. Jamie Fehoko. Fehoko is a transfer out of the College of San Mateo who redshirted with UTEP in 2009. Now, he's listed as the teams starting defensive nose tackle. Fehoko and Munoz both saw significant playing time in spring ball but Fehoko entered camp #1 on the depth chart. Also a bit undersized, Fehoko will have to rely on his speed and agility to be successful. He played some defensive end at San Mateo, so he should be solid at rushing the passer, but the Miners defense will need him to also be able to play gap control up front.
#3: Dakota Warren (SO., Kicker, Punter, Kick-Off Duties)
Mr. Everything? It's unusual for college kickers to perform more than one duty. Usually, a team has a punter, kicker, and a specialist who handles kickoffs. UTEP has Dakota Warren managing all three responsibilities. There's no need to explain the value a good kicker can bring to a team; we've been lucky in that we've consistently had above average kickers. Ricky Bishop, Reagan Schneider, and Jose Martinez were all stellar and all became crowd favorites. None of those three, however, were forced to carry three job titles.
Warren's ability to prepare for three postions that require very different skill sets will be key to UTEP's success in 2010. Backup Mike Scott, out of Franklin High School, showed that he had an accurate leg, albeit one without an elite deep range. In C-USA games known for high scores, UTEP's offense will need Dakota Warren to keep pace with the other elite league offenses and the defense will need him to help them with field position. UTEP will very much be a bend but don't break offense in the fall, and if Warren can pin opposing offenses in their own 20 on punts, he might be the teams defensive MVP.
Kicker highlights? Why not?
#2: Germard Reed (RS FR, Defensive Tackle)
At Lufkin High, the 6'1" 270 lb. defensive tackle was an absolute stud. His accomplishments included:
- District 14 5A 1st team All District 07-08, 08-09.
-14 5A Defensive MVP 08-09.
-Lufkin’s Defensive End award 07-08.
-Lufkin’s MVP award winner in 2008-09.
Reed also played three years of varsity basketball at Lufkin, so you know he has good feet. He redshirted in 2009 and enters fall camp #1 on the Depth Chart at DT alongside Jamie Fehoko. Is it a coincidence that 3 of my Top 5 newcomers are defensive tackles? The Miners are young and inexperienced along the front and two years of recruiting for the 3-3-5 didn't help. A side effect of this youth and inexperience is that we will be able to see right away whether or not Munoz, Fehoko, and Reed, have what it takes to play at this level. Reed, with his combination of size, strength, and speed, could be an impact player along the line for the next four seasons.
#1: Travaun Nixon (JR., Cornerback)
I know, I know. He's already been suspended for crying out loud, right? Regardless of his suspension from the Miners opening game against Arkansas Pine-Bluff, the Ventura Junior College transfer blew away the coaching staff in spring ball and should have a huge impact on UTEP's defense in the pass happy C-USA West. Nixon is the Miners best cover cornerback and also shows a willingness to aggressively defend against the run.
The Miners will need Nixon to learn from whatever he did to warrant the suspension and come to play in Week 2 against the Houston Cougars who have three, yes I said three, returning wide receivers who had 1,000 yard seasons last year. Last season, UTEP finished 98th in the country against the pass. With Case Keenum, G.J. Kinne, and Kyle Padron tossing 40 passes a game, the Miners defense will need their best cornerback to have a stellar season. He'll have plenty of opportunities to make plays.UTEP Miners stats