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UTEP Football: Examining the class of 2017

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Chad Puerling

After chewing on, watching Hudl highlights, and reviewing the class of 2017 in its entirety, here are a few thoughts and observations on Sean Kugler's latest haul.

The Highlights

  • Josh Fields

Kugler needed this signature in a lot of ways. The most important aspect is it shows Kugler's mission of recruiting El Paso is being deeply received by some of the best talent El Paso has to offer. Fields had options to leave the city as a bonafide three-star prospect, but Kugler basically recruited the hell out of Fields since his sophomore year of high school and clearly built an unbreakable bond. Fields has a bit of pressure on him as people will compare him to Aaron Jones, but let's make this clear, they are completely different backs. Fields is a shifty between the tackles runner who may take a couple of seasons to develop breakaway speed akin to Jones, but his vision, quick feet, and toughness can develop Fields into a very reliable and productive workhorse as he was during his days at Americas. Fields ran almost the same offense in terms of running schemes at high school, and will fight for the wide open starting running back spot in the fall. Certainly the crown jewel of this recruiting class, time will tell if Kugler truly struck gold, but on the surface Fields is a straight up stud who will keep the local pipeline flowing.

  • Kahani Smith and Kalaii Griffin

Kugler has hit the jackpot when it comes to recruiting JUCO defensive players like Dante Lovilette, Jameel Erving, Jimmy Musgrave, Sky Logan, and Brendan Royal. That trend will continue with Smith and Griffin. Kugler boldly stated that a safety corps of Michael Lewis, Devin Cockrell, Kolbi McGary, and Kahani Smith might be the best in C-USA. It's not a stretch or a coach hyping up his team, Smith could provide UTEP with elite depth in secondary in terms of C-USA standards. Griffin is a flat out stud, tackle machine, and ball hawk mixed into a hybrid linebacker/safety type. UTEP's class was rated horribly according to the fancy recruiting website, but it doesn't take a certified scout to see both Kahani Smith and Kalaii Griffin fit right into what UTEP was doing last year on defense.

  • The Refugio boys

Apart of the winningest senior class in the tradition rich history of Refugio football, keeping Kobie Herring and Trace Mascorro committed were big recruiting wins in my book. Both played at high levels over the past two seasons, and bring a winning culture with them which includes doing everything right off the field. The development of this productive tandem is something interesting to watch as both have the ability to help out next year if needed.

  • Alex Fernandes

Fernandes was a huge get for UTEP plucking him out of Central Texas. He committed early, and stuck with his commitment while playing and showing out in one of the toughest high school districts in the nation, and right in the middle of the Texas recruiting hotbed areas. Sean Kugler compared Fernandes to Ryan Metz, and based on film that’s pretty accurate. I think Fernandes is the quarterback of the future for UTEP, and it's kind of dumb he dropped down from a 3-star to a 2-star once he committed to UTEP. Regardless of the rankings, he fits into what Brent Pease is trying to do with his quarterbacks and has a frame that could fill out to 220 pounds.

Biggest Surprises

  • David Lucero

Lucero was a surprise, but not so much in terms of how UTEP targeted him since Kugler said they offered before he committed to Boise State a few years ago. His athletic fluidity is the main surprise when you watch his film coming from a 6'5, 230 pound frame. I've been wondering if UTEP failed by not targeting a impact wide receiver, although it seems Lucero might become part of the full equation in helping Ryan Metz and the pass game next season with at least 8-10 wideouts set to return for UTEP.

  • Jalen Spady

When I found that UTEP was recruiting the son of former Miner great and Kugler teammate James Spady, then saw his film, I smiled. It's easy to say any kid is a steal, but a 6'3, 340 pound lineman in SEC country who can move, and finish blocks and signs with UTEP is steal. Kugler is all about keeping it in the family, and has been criticized for doing so on the message boards in some situations, but this one makes perfect sense in a lot of way. Spady could become something special with his size, and the development of his ability over the next few years before he is ready to compete for a depth chart spot.

DO NOT sleep on

  • Forest McKee

I'm forever in debt to Forest McKee for giving us one hell of a podcast interview, but the kid has a chip on his shoulder, and UTEP's running backs may benefit from that. Every great running back needs a nasty fullback, and McKee could become that and do it as soon as next season. Physically there is no doubt he can bang at the FBS level next year. Transitioning from linebacker to fullback is the hurdle the eager freshman will have to jump over. After having a scholarship pulled by rival NMSU for undisclosed reasons, and left thinking he may never play at this level there's no doubt McKee is going to bring his lunch pail every day making him a certified "Kugler Guy."

  • Josh Wells

I've seen Josh Wells play about six or seven games from his junior year to senior year, and one thing really stands out in terms of his potential at UTEP. His ability to block kicks on special teams. Stay with me on this, but part of the process in determining whether an underrated or under recruited kid is a legit FBS prospect is watching what they do on special teams or things outside their said position. Wells is a legit steal who is explosive in closing in on a sack or regular ball carrier, but certainly needs work on his pad level, technique, and toning up his upper body. Those traits are kinks that can be worked out with good coaching, and his possible gray shirt year is going to pay major dividends down the road. He played defensive end most of his high school career, so he gives you more versatility as a pass rusher either standing up or with his hand in the ground.

  • Jamar Smith

The JUCO transfer flew under the Miner Rush recruiting tracker radar, but had a productive career and could help out UTEP right away. The only issue according to Sean Kugler is him being eligible academic wise at the end of the current semester, but a productive JUCO linebacker will always be welcoming to UTEP. Especially when UTEP needed to shore up their depth at linebacker, Smith can provide starter or package depth right away.

  • Brent Ugochukwu

UTEP went down to the Houston area and plucked an athletic linebacker who recorded an interception in a 5A state championship game this past December. His versatility stands out, and is another perfect fit in UTEP's 3-4 defense. He chose UTEP over Army, Air Force, Navy, and Yale boasting strong academics, but his athletic ability could become an on-field asset for UTEP down the road.

Conclusion

People shit all over UTEP's football recruiting under Sean Kugler since UTEP has been historically last in both the national and conference rankings.

We all know UTEP has to ‘get it how they live’ when it comes to football recruiting so UTEP's classes should be judged in the right now looking at did the Miners fill their needs numbers wise?

Check them all.

UTEP signed linebackers, locked down two quarterbacks, signed a highly rated running back, and cherry picked the best El Paso kids who need a year to develop before they are ready for chances at cracking a depth chart. Plus have room to add two grad transfers in the summer.

Overall I'd give UTEP a C+ in this class right now.

Filled needs, nabbed a feature quarterback, and running back for the future, and will have a full linebacker deck to play with in the second year of the 3-4 defense. Lots of projects as usual, but it’s a typical Sean Kugler class with potential, but it will be up the strength, and coaching staff in turning these kids into recruiting hits.

I also like the versatility of almost every defender signed. Seems like their all ‘tweeners’ in terms of their high school position, and possible projection here at UTEP going back to why Kugler switched to a 3-4 scheme.

Kugler has built a roster foundation since 2014 in where after this 2017 class the needs going forward should be equal, thus making it easier to fill and replace spots by either guys waiting in the wings, or going to the JUCO route to fill immediate holes.

He also keeps the continuous gray shirt process which has worked well with for UTEP under Kugler with a projected six or maybe seven high school signees gray shirting in this class by my opinionated estimate.

At the end of the day when looking at UTEP football recruiting, it’s all on Kugler and his staff to ‘coach em up’ in order to prove his recruiting style can keep UTEP competitive in C-USA.

National Signing Day quote of the day

"I talk about it probably too much, but I really don't put any stock into it. Some of these services it's all about money. And all it takes is a phone call from a coach 'hey could you bump this guy up to a three-star guy it will really help our recruiting ratings'. I mean, are you kidding me? We go off of film, and we go off of production. You can sit here and tell me Will Hernandez was zero-star guy, or Aaron Jones was a two-star guy coming out of high school? Come on."

----Sean Kugler on the recruiting rankings system