By UTEP Zay (@UTEPZay)

With just a few days before UTEP football will take the field at the Sun Bowl in their season opener against North Texas, I wanted to dig into the most exciting newcomers on this team. Dana Dimel utilizes the JUCO route when recruiting, which in turn gives polished veterans joining the team year after year. Just last year, we saw the explosive speed of former Cisco College receiver Tyrin Smith help him rack in almost 600 yards and four touchdowns for the Miners. Year after year UTEP has newcomers that will make immediate impacts.

HB Torrance Burgess Jr. 

When UTEP announced the signing of Torrance Burgess Jr. almost 5 months after National Signing Day, I knew that Torrance Burgess was someone that the coaching staff simply couldn’t miss out on. At only 5’7 160 pounds, Burgess is a quick and shifty RB who played a hybrid HB/WR role during his lone season at Tyler JC. He had carried the ball 62 times for 494 yards, which is 8.0 yards per attempt. In addition to that, he racked up 42 receptions for 494 yards. He totaled 6 touchdowns in his 12 games at Tyler JC. Those are crazy numbers.

His size may be a concern to some fans, however, I do believe that he will be just fine. The way Dana Dimel uses his offense, Burgess will be fine. I think he will excel in the screen game especially. His ability to make people miss in space is unmatched. And just because he is 5’7, don’t be surprised if he breaks a tackle or two. Even though he will be behind Ronald Awatt and Deion Hankins, Dimel will find a way to get him on the field. He is far too explosive not to. He will surprise a lot of people and with how fun he is to watch on the football field, he will become a fan favorite in no time. 

WR Kelly Akharaiyi  

Yet another Tyler JC transfer, Kelly Akharaiyi is tasked with trying to replace possibly the best WR1 and WR2 in UTEP History. Akharaiyi led Tyler JC in yards (681) and was second in receptions (52). According to his HUDL, he runs a 4.44 40-yard dash and is listed at 6-1, 195-pounds. He can make those crazy, back-turned, ESPN-worthy catches that Justin Garrett made, but can explode off the line and beat his man as Jacob Cowing could. He will make his impact immediately, and he is projected as one of the starting WRs with Tyrin Smith and Rey Flores. Akharaiyi has already shown out at camp, and don’t be surprised if he turns into the established No. 1 target towards the end of the season. His ability to make contested catches and nice speed will be key for UTEP’s offensive success.  

WR Marcus Bellon  

Yet another pass-catching JUCO transfer, the 5’9 Marcus Bellon makes the list because of his electric returning ability. Last year, Justin Garrett was put in a rough situation when he had to return punts. With almost no experience returning punts, Garrett, and the whole special teams unit struggled. Garrett averaged 5.4 yards per punt return, which was 3rd worst in FBS Football.

Bellon will help solve that problem, as in his lone season at Santa Barbara City, he averaged over 20 yards per punt return and had 4 PR TDs. His quickness to make defenders miss is unlike anyone I've seen. He can track the ball and then immediately, make a man miss, which, is one of the most impressive things I have seen from a returner at UTEP. His HUDL tape is so fun to watch. He can do so much with the ball in his hands, and his valuable experience in the return game will do so much for the Miners this season. He will be one of the most exciting newcomers to UTEP Football.  

DE Maurice Westmoreland  

The 6’2, 250-pound defensive end in Maurice "Mo" Westmoreland is another JUCO transfer from Kilgore College. Sound familiar? That’s because UTEP star pass rusher Jadrian Taylor was also a 6’1, 240-pound defensive end from Kilgore College. UTEP reached into their Kilgore pipeline and recruited their sack leader, Maurice Westmoreland. The First Team All-American racked up 5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles last year and was described as an “athletic freak”. Expect him to get some early playing time as coaches have been raving about him all camp. He will provide depth on an already stacked defensive line. He can get to the quarterback fast if he beats his defender. His closing speed is absurd. He can also drop back into coverage if need be, just like Taylor did last year in certain packages. Expect Westmoreland to make a big difference this year as a player who won’t start but will get a lot of snaps. 

S Kobe Hylton  

The rare transfer portal add, Kobe Hylton was a JUCO standout when he committed to Louisiana-Lafayette. After he didn't see any playing time and once head coach Billy Napier departed for Florida, Hylton elected to enter the transfer portal, where he ended up at UTEP.

The safety, who originally hails from Snellville, Georgia, came in as longtime starter Dy’vonne Inyang graduated and left the program. He has competed all spring and fall for the other starting safety spot next to Justin Prince against returnee Tyson Wilson. At 6’1, 205 pounds, he likes to play physically and can hit. He is athletic and can go from one end of the field to the other. Despite not being amazing in man coverage, his recovery speed will help him with that. He has some nice ball skills and is amazing in the run game. He can be a leader in a young secondary that will need it. He, Justin Prince, and Dennis Barnes can be leaders of the back end. Last we heard, it looks like Hylton will win the safety spot and start against The Mean Green. 

Honorable mentions: OL Aluma Nkele and Sedrick Luke  

Simply because to most, the offensive line isn’t the most exciting position, neither player was included in the main list. However, this doesn’t mean these guys aren’t talented. As a matter of fact, Sedrick Luke will provide some much-needed depth. He started 22 games at American River College and was named 2021 National Nor-Cal League MVP. In his whole 22-game career, he only missed ONE snap, simply because his helmet came off the play prior. Luke has flexibility inside and will play a big role in UTEP’s O-Line depth and maybe can shoot for a starting spot soon.

As for Aluma Nkele, he is on this list because of his freakish 6’8, 390-pound stature. He is huge, and his playing ability reflects that. He can surprisingly move well in space considering his size, and despite some technical cleanup needed, he will be someone to watch for this year. 

Closing remarks 

UTEP has built its JUCO pipeline up over the years, and it has paid off. Justin Garrett, Gavin Hardison, Josh Caldwell, and so much more were once newcomers looking to make a difference. All of these guys on this list are JUCO products. They have talent and are veterans with college football experience already. These guys will make bug impacts and have been here since spring ball (except Burgess Jr.). Dana Dimel knows what he is doing, and all of these guys will make explosive plays this year. 


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