Ten Takeaways from UTEP Football 2020 National Signing Day
National Signing Day usually features a ton of hype, buzz and promise for the UTEP football program.
This year, the recruiting noise was a bit quiet, leaving outsiders uncertain on what to expect from.
Head coach Dana Dimel, who enters his third offseason at the helm of the program, addressed the media Wednesday afternoon to discuss this year's recruiting class. After hearing Dimel talk about the recruits and the strategy behind their evaluations, we learned a lot more about the direction of this program in their four-year rebuild.
Here are 10 takeaways from National Signing Day:
1. No big-name splashes; Miners try to capitalize on diamonds in the rough
One of the reasons there wasn't a lot of buzz around the 2020 signing class could be the fact that the Miners did not have a "prized" recruit that made news on a broad scale. In Dimel's first year, they grabbed Kai Locksley, a previous 4-star recruit. Last year, they got Deion Hankins, one of the most prized recruits from El Paso to date.
They picked up their share of 3-star recruits—Willie Eldridge (RB, Houston Cy Ranch HS), Tyrice Knight (LB, Independence CC) and Dresden McIver (DT, San Antonio Veteran's Memorial HS)—but the coaching staff hopes to benefit from their under-the-radar recruits.
Some of the players Dimel mentioned that could make an immediate impact include Sione Tonga'uiha (DL, Tempe HS), Connor Helsius (LB, California Mt. San Antonio College) and Christian Willis (WR, City College of San Francisco), among others.
2. Defense will look completely re-done in 2020
Over the offseason, Dimel announced that the Miners will be switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defensive scheme this year. And through recruiting, it was obvious that UTEP wants the defense to have a completely new feel.
The Miners recruited a total of seven defensive linemen, nine linebackers and a pair of defensive backs. Dimel claims that several defensive linemen will challenge for starting jobs while they will rely on defensive backs on their current roster that they will get back from injuries, like Broderick Harrell, Robert Corner and Justin Prince.
Defensive coordinator Mike Cox will now be tasked with improving a defensive unit that is coming off an underwhelming 2019 season.
3. UTEP continues to bank on mid-year additions
One of the biggest positives about having the early signing period is that the Miners can welcome some of their JUCO newcomers as mid-year transfers, getting them on campus in the spring and allowing them to develop with the team over the offseason.
Dimel suggests that all of the newcomers on campus have made an impact in offseason workouts. He says defensive back Dennis Barnes (Fort Scott CC) has a chance to sub in at the corner position this year. Dimel labled linebacker Tyrice Knight as a "smooth" linebacker and liked how defensive tackle Kelton Moss (Kilgore College) has progressed thus far. He also beamed about the additions of defensive linemen Keenan Stewart (Iowa Western CC) and Jadrian Taylor (Kilgore College), along with defensive back Verenzo Holmes (NW Mississippi CC).
4. Linebackers, linebackers and more linebackers
The Miners focused on bolstering their linebacker group this recruiting class and with nine linebackers coming in, this coaching staff feels confident in their linebacker talent.
Aside from the linebackers previously mentioned, the Miners also will bring on Gary Theard, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker that is also a mid-year transfer.
With the news that linebacker Sione Tupou would be leaving the program, the Miners need all the athleticism and experience they can get at the linebacker spot.
5. Aside to scholarship players, Miners continue to include grey/blue shirts
Dimel said that of this signing class, the Miners will have 14 scholarship players, four grey shirts and one blue shirt.
A grey shirt is an incoming college freshman who postpones his enrollment in classes until the second term of his freshman year. This means they don't take classes until the winter term. A blue shirt is a player who arrived on campus as a "preferred" or "recruited" walk-on, who goes on to earn a football scholarship.
These blue/grey shirts allow the Miners to have some flexibility and allow the coaches to strategize how many recruits they can bring in.
6. Grad transfer market could prove to be big
Once again, UTEP plans to capitalize on the grad transfer market that only continues to grow, per Dimel. We've seen so much recent success in graduate transfers at UTEP—from A.J. Hotchkins in Dimel's first season to getting receiver Devaughn Cooper, safety Ykili Ross and tight end Jess Trussell in the second year.
This year, Dimel hinted at a potential dual-threat quarterback that the Miners could add this offseason as a grad transfer. UTEP saw Kai Locksley complete his senior season in the fall while Gavin Hardison and TJ Goodwin were expected to battle out in the spring for the starting job.
Dimel says that he will have "three to four" scholarships in his back pocket for any potential graduate transfers that he sees that could fit on this team.
7. Texas & California are an emphasis but don't sleep on Arizona
UTEP recruited their main staple states hard again this year. They received 12 recruits from Texas and signed five from California on Wednesday. Dimel continued to sing the praises of Texas high school football coaches and the relationships they have built. He also talked about how California has treated the Miners well over the years.
But an area that is becoming a hot-bed for recruiting at UTEP is Arizona. The Miners grabbed three Arizona recruits to add to their team. He talked up the skill-set of Tonga'uiha on the defensive front. Offensive lineman Michael Flood, who was recruited by Mountain West teams, played at the same high school as wideout Jacob Cowing too.
This could continue to be an area for UTEP to attack in recruiting, especially because of proximity to El Paso.
8. No coaching hires announced just yet
There still hasn't been any announcements on new coaching hires for the program. The Miners lost Remington Rebstock (secondaries coach) and Barrick Nealy (recruiting coordinator) this offseason.
There still hasn't been an announcement on when UTEP will announce the new coaching hires and Dimel said he will hold a press conference once he completes the hiring process. UTEP will host an NFL Pro Day on March 11, 2020, though.
9. UTEP will recruit local based on the need, not desire
There were three local high school signees featured in UTEP's 2020 signing class: Davis Burns (ATH, Coronado), Kiante Liggins (LB, Andress) and Xavier Simmons (LB, Parkland). They also grabbed New Mexico graduate transfer Q' Drennan (WR, Americas), who joined the team this spring.
There were other local high school recruits that signed with Division I programs, including Pebble Hills wideout Isaiah Davis and his brother Elijah Davis (UTSA), Andress defensive tackle Gustavo Gallardo (Army), Franklin wideout Michael Haack (Rice) and Montwood running back Chris Ramos (NMSU).
"We feel like we do our due diligence with the city and we're going to take the guys that fit what we're looking for," Dimel said. "Some of them do and some of them don't."
10. Four-year plan still intact
This isn't a recruiting class that is going to propel UTEP from a one-win season to a bowl contending team. This is a recruiting class that focuses on athleticism, "good character guys" and one that is defense-oriented.
Dimel is still headstrong on a four-year rebuild for this program and believes in building this program for the long-haul.
This might test the patience of fans but according to Dimel's views, this team is laying the foundation for the years to come.
Here is the full signing class:
|Kelton Moss||DT||6-2||295||Jonesboro, La.||Kilgore College||6:42 a.m. MT|
|Jadrian Taylor||DE||6-1||235||Lufkin, Texas||Kilgore College||6:42 a.m. MT|
|Ian James||OL||6-5||275||Aubrey, Texas||Aubrey HS||7:00 a.m. MT|
|Keenan Stewart||DT||6-2||300||Cedar Rapids, Iowa||Iowa Western CC||7:05 a.m. MT|
|Tyrice Knight||LB||6-1||235||Lakeland, Fla.||Independence CC||7:13 a.m. MT|
|Willie Eldridge||RB||5-11||195||Cypress, Texas||Cy Ranch HS||7:20 a.m. MT|
|Verenzo Holmes||DB||5-11||190||Grovetown, Ga.||NW Mississippi CC||7:33 a.m. MT|
|Khalil Warfield||ATH||6-2||205||San Antonio, Texas||Antonian College Prep||7:36 a.m. MT|
|Deylon Williams||DL||6-2||255||Smyrna, Tenn.||Independence CC||7:57 a.m. MT|
|Dennis Barnes||DB||5-11||170||Jefferson City, Mo.||Jefferson City HS||9:34 a.m. MT|
|Dresden McIver||DT||6-0||278||San Antonio, Texas||Veterans Memorial HS||11:09 a.m. MT|
|Ammon Fifita||TE||6-2||240||Salem Hills, Utah||Snow College|
|Michael Flood||OL||6-6||305||Maricopa, Ariz.||Maricopa HS|
|Zach Fryar||TE||6-3||245||Venice, Fla.||NMMI|
|Azizi Henry||OL||6-5||285||Wylie, Texas||Wylie HS|
|Michael Ike||DL||6-3||270||Pflugerville, Texas||Hendrickson HS|
|Jacob Moi||LB||6-3||220||Redlands, Calif.||Citrus Valley HS|
|Elijah Robinson||LB||6-2||225||Perris, Calif.||Citrus Hill HS|
|Xavier Simmons||LB||6-1||210||El Paso, Texas||Parkland HS|
|Luke Soto||TE||6-6||255||Bakersfield, Calif.||Bakersfield College|
|Osaiasi Taueli||LB||6-2||225||Mesa, Ariz.||Mesa HS|
|Angelo Tejada||LS||5-10||200||Converse, Texas||Judson HS|
|Sione Tonga'uiha||DL||6-1||285||Tempe, Ariz.||Tempe HS|
|Connor Villalpando||LS||6-0||185||Roswell, N.M.||Goddard HS|
|Christian Willis||WR||6-2||195||Sandy Spring, Md.||City College of San Francisco|
|Tucker Dunbar||OL||6-4||290||Folsom, Calif.|
|Q' Drennan||WR||6-2||190||El Paso, Texas||New Mexico|