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UTEP football: Leadership role, high expectations are ahead of Eric Lee in 2015

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UTEP’s man in the middle of the offensive line has some lofty expectations placed on him, but that won’t change his drive to win or his relaxed humor in comparing his star running back to the legend status of Chuck Norris.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like ever since Eric Lee started playing high level football, all he has done is win.

In high school his squads won conference titles in 2009, and 2010.  Then in his lone year at Riverside City College, he helped his team finish with an 11-0 record, and a national ranking of fifth to end the year.

So last year's turnaround in his third year at UTEP was just another winning season in the books for the UTEP senior-to-be.

Starting all 13 games last year at center, Lee was the anchor in a cohesive unit that ranked fourth in C-USA in rushing yards, and tied for 13th nationally in sacks allowed.

Those impressive numbers, along with the stout offensive line play he orchestrated playing center led him to being named to the Rimington Award Watch List in 2015 and a possible legit shot at the NFL once this season is over as well.

Being the eldest veteran along a seasoned offensive, Lee has also embraced his role as a leader, and big brother, with only one main mission for the 2015 season: win football games.

We caught up with Eric after a recent practice, here is what he said about the upcoming season.

How did you think things went up in Ruidoso to open camp?

"I think they went well, I couldn't ask for a better place first of all.  Ruidoso, it's beautiful out here a lot of green grass, it was nice to come out here. As far as football it's been great, the O-line has been putting in the proper time to get where we are right now, the offense in general is looking a lot better than we did in the first scrimmage last year, so I'm excited to see what we're going to bring this year."

What's the feeling like in being recognized on a national level, and having high expectations on yourself for the upcoming season?

"Blessed first of all, I never expected any of this coming here.  I never expected the Rimington or anything.  I just wanted to come here and find a role, be the best football player I can be, and it happened to be starting center last year.  Coming back this year just learning as much as I can about the position.  As far as the Rimington, I can't tell you how I happy I was when I was able to see my name up there, I'm honored and it makes me want to work even harder."

What do you think you specifically do at your position that the average football fan might not notice, but makes the offensive line and the entire offense tick?

"My job is to make sure I know what everybody is doing on the field. So other than the quarterback I'm like the second quarterback.  I'm making sure my left tackle knows what's going on, and I'm like a second pair of eyes out there.  So what the fans won't see is how much communication we have, it's not just me though.  My whole line we communicate, we talk, talk, talk, up until he says hut, so there's constant communication."

What do you think of the all of the quarterbacks' progression so far?

"I think they are doing great.  They all can throw the ball; they all can run the ball so I'm happy with whoever gets back there.  I got faith."

With all the returning depth on the offensive line, talk about the chemistry yall have built that you plan on taking into week one?

"I think we will be okay I'm not worried about Arkansas at all.  My guys are going to be ready.  Last year against New Mexico we all went out there and were looking at each other like deer in the headlights man.  It was like uh....I don't know if we're ready, but man this year we are going to walk in there, we're going to do what we gotta do and get back to El Paso and have some fun."

You were the main guy behind the trending #AJ29 is that an example of the family atmosphere yall have built here over the past couple of years?

"Oh yeah, Aaron Jones first of all he's a running back, we're O-line so we're always right under each other.  We're always talking to each other, that's like my little brother, him, Alvin, all those guys.   But it was more so for fun just to poke fun at him.  He's a golden child; nobody wants to even breathe on him.  He kind of reminds me of Chuck Norris with all the Chuck Norris jokes.  Aaron Jones is on that Chuck Norris level right now so that's kind of where it came from."

If you can tell UTEP fans one thing to expect this year not only from the offense but from the team as a whole what would it be?

"We're gonna win.  This year I know, no doubt in my mind we're going to win, win, win. I expect nothing less than 5-0 in the Sun Bowl, and be road warriors this year. So be ready for a great season."