Quardraiz Wadley Out For 2020, But UTEP Has Depth at Running Back
2020 was supposed to be the successful return for Quardraiz Wadley. The senior missed all of last season as he was recovering from a toe injury he suffered during summer conditioning. After a lengthy rehab program, the Kennedale, Texas native tried to work himself back into game shape and handle the starting role this season. All of that changed during UTEP's season opener against Stephen F. Austin. Wadley carried just three times for a total of eight yards and he sat out the second half as the Miners came back from a 14-3 deficit to win the game 24-14. After not traveling with the team to Austin last week, UTEP head coach Dana Dimel confirmed that his 2018 rushing leader would miss the rest of this season due to lingering effects from the injury.
"Quardraiz has been a great leader for our program and was voted a captain by his teammates, but he just wasn’t able to bounce back from that toe injury and get into the kind of playing shape we’re all accustomed to for the start of this season," Coach Dimel said in the official school release. "He will be out for this season, but he will have the opportunity to come back for his senior season in 2021."
On the surface, losing your most experienced running back and senior captain would be a major blow to the UTEP offense. However, the Miners have more depth at running back than any other position, and they should be able to provide a good mix of strength and speed at the position to keep their ground game productive in 2020. Redshirt freshman Deion Hankins and senior Josh Fields provide a terrific 1-2 punch for the Miners in the backfield. Hankins is the power back, with the ability to run over opposing defenses, while Fields is more of the traditional speed back. The Miners also have redshirt junior Ronald Awatt, who returned from an injury that caused him to miss all of 2019. Redshirt junior Rey Flores has been productive when given the limited opportunities to carry the ball and true freshman Willie Eldridge was a highly touted recruit from Cypress, Texas who chose UTEP over offers from Army, Texas Tech, BYU, New Mexico, Vanderbilt, Utah, and Southern Miss. Awatt, Flores, and Eldridge received some carries during the second half of the Texas game last weekend.
Hankins injured his leg at practice on Tuesday, and although he returned to practice this morning, it will be interesting to see if he plays against Abilene Christian Saturday night. If not, the Miners could go with a three-back rotation and Fields getting the bulk of the work against the Wildcats. In his first two games, Fields has just 25 yards on 14 carries with no touchdowns. He will need to improve on those totals or his volume of carries could start to decrease. Hankins is such a vital piece to the offense that it might make sense to rest him until he 100-percent healthy for the start of conference play. If Hankins does sit for one or more games, then Eldridge could be the beneficiary of the extra workload. On the flip side, UTEP had no success running the ball against Stephen F. Austin until Hankins softened the run defense in the second half with his power running style. So, Coach Dimel has an interesting decision to make.
As for Wadley, a toe injury that requires surgery is not easy to come back from. He is popular in the Miners locker room, and he was voted a captain for this season. If he is able to fully recover from the injury, he would most likely receive a time share in the backfield when he returns in 2021. He could also look for a new landing spot with a greater opportunity to play during his senior campaign. Wadley has always been a class act on and off the field and regardless of the decision he makes for his future, I hope he has an opportunity to continue playing college football at the level that so many Miners fans have enjoyed watching over the last four years.