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UTEP football: Alex Villarreal poised for big senior season

JUCO prospects will be far and few in the Kugler era, but all will make an impact as a Miner.

Alex Nicolas (SB Nation)

Anytime Sean Kugler dips into the junior college ranks, it's done so to fill an immediate need with a player who has the size, speed, and missing scheme characteristic needed to fill an immediate hole on the depth chart.

When Kugler signed 6'4, 300lbs defensive tackle Alex Villarreal in 2014, Kugler brought in size, experience, and most importantly a legit talent to plug in UTEP's defensive line.

Battling injuries throughout the season, and missing spring practices last year, Villareal played in 10 games, racking up a career high four tackles against North Texas as a package reserve on the defense in his first year as a Miner.

Fast forward to this spring, and Villarreal is poised to have a big senior year with a clean bill of health that has helped him make major strides during spring practices.

"Well we need him to be dominant for us." Sean Kugler said of Villarreal. "Last year he was injured, and he played injured.  This year he's healthy, he's strong, and he's not playing tentative at all, and he's really had an outstanding spring."

Highly regarded out of Hidalgo High School in his hometown of Hidalgo, Texas, Villarreal signed with Oklahoma State after an impressively productive high school career. 

Villarreal notched 12 career sacks in high school, and would end up at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M where he was a two year starter, and piled up 80 tackles in 2012 as a freshman.

A three-star prospect out of high school, and out of the JUCO ranks, Villarreal's increased role in the UTEP defensive scheme this year could open him up to match the gaudy production he has put up over his career.

Showing he is back, healthy, and primed for a productive 2015 season, Villarreal recently dominated in a short yardage drill in practice, stuffing David Hamm on an full steam ahead attempt, and battled tough in a must see trenches match up with freshman offensive lineman stud Chris Misaalefua.

We caught up with Alex after a recent practice to talk about his increased role in 2015.

How does it feel to be healthy and out here competing in the spring?

Last year I wasn't able to practice in the spring because I just had surgery.  And it helps a lot you get more practice, more reps, and it's a big help.

Talk about the increased role you will have this season at defensive tackle?

I have to fill some big shoes from old roommate Maurice Chavis, but I'm working my butt off and hopefully I can do a good job.

Seems like the depth along the defensive line is also improved?

Oh yeah, there are more guys who know what they are doing, so its better for us so everybody can stay fresh.

As a senior is there more of a sense of urgency in spring heading into the summer, and eventually the fall?

I have that feeling no matter what. I just want to win, be the best, and make it to a bowl game again.

What is the main focus in the final week of spring ball, and the spring game?

Everybody getting better, having a good game on Friday, and we're excited for people to come see us.

Talk about how you the Latino culture here in El Paso and how its made your time at UTEP special?

Yeah I love it. My Spanish is a little different because I'm from a different part of Mexico, but yeah I love it, I really love it here. 

Villarreal tidbits

***Reached double figure tackle numbers twice during his freshman JUCO season

***Career JUCO game-high for tackles was 16

***Forced two fumbles his sophomore JUCO season

***Three star prospect by Rivals, and Scout.com

***Projected 2015 starter