2020 UTEP Football Forecast: Running Back Depth Chart Outlook
Editor's note: Sports are constantly evolving on a daily basis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making a lot of the 2020 season still uncertain. This story is part three of an offseason series preview for the Miners' upcoming season with the idea that the season takes place as scheduled.
UTEP head coach Dana Dimel joined SportsTalk on Tuesday for the first part of what will be a two-week series previewing the football team, evaluating position by position. Dimel will have the luxury of choosing which position group he wants to talk about each day at 5 o'clock and for Tuesday, he chose what he believes as the best group on the squad: the running backs.
It's true too. The tailbacks are the deepest group by far on the depth chart for the Miners. They bring a solid mix of experience, potential and newcomers to the table. Let's take a look at each player for the Miners.
The Kennedale, Texas native has been getting ready for the 2020 season ever since he suffered a season-ending toe injury in fall camp before the start of last season. Wadley will be the No. 1 back for the Miners this fall, bringing the most experience to the table as a proven commodity at tailback. His best year came in 2018, where he finished with 627 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns. Also, on Wednesday he was named to the Doak Walker Award Watch List, which awards the nation's top college running back.
"I thought Q did a really nice job for us two years ago," Dimel said. "I think he has a big 'it' factor for what he does. He's kind of a slashing runner. A neat sidebar on him is that he's taken over Luke Laufenberg's number and we've done that tribute to the one that depicts the most characteristics of Luke Laufenberg and what he brought to the team. So Quardraiz is going to change from No. 4 to No. 2 this year. That shows a lot about what we think about him and he wanted to do it too."
El Pasoans saw just a small sample size of the city's all-time leading high school rusher out of Parkland last year. But word from the program is that Deion Hankins continues to improve on himself during the offseason and has put on significant muscle mass. Hankins appeared in four games for the Miners last year, taking carries against Southern Miss and UAB, totaling for 41 rushing yards before being sidelined with a concussion. The ceiling is particularly high for Hankins through his college career.
"All El Paso is so excited about Deion Hankins. He's a wonderful image for UTEP football off the field. He's up to 218 pounds and doesn't have any fat on his body. When you take the combination of 218 pounds and all muscle, it sounds like a freight train runs by you. He's so strong and powerful and I think it'll be a hard time for people to tackle him," Dimel said.
With a loaded running back depth chart, one might wonder how a tailback like Joshua Fields fits in the mix. First off, the local product from Americas High School brings in the second-most experience to the Miners. His best year came during his freshman campaign (359 rushing yards, four touchdowns) but his junior year (312 rushing yards) was notable too.
Dimel suggested on SportsTalk that since Fields hasn't taken a redshirt year, he could possibly use it this year. That would allow the team to remain deep in the running back corp next year as well.
"Josh has had some 150-yard rushing games during his time at UTEP and he continues to get bigger and stronger every day. I'm looking forward to watching Josh each year. He's a slasher and a quick-footed runner.
"Josh has a redshirt year," Dimel added. "As a head coach, you always using that and you have that as well. If that's something he decides to do or if he gets hurt, he's got that in his toolshed to use."
Here's a tailback that coaches consider to be an explosive runner out of the backfield. However, Ronald Awatt had a different path than any other running back on the roster. After his freshman season playing tailback, the Lubbock native converted to defensive back for UTEP. He switched back to tailback last year but was sidelined all of 2019 with an injury.
"[Awatt] now has a chance to do some really neat things at the running back position this year. He's a great athlete," Dimel said.
From a walk-on to a scholarship athlete, Reynaldo Flores out of Ysleta High School has proven over time that he's deserving of being a Division I running back. Last year, he was used both in the run and pass game, rushing for 44 yards and totaling 63 receiving yards. Throw him in the slot, motion him out or toss him a screen, Flores will be productive in the offense.
"[Flores] walked on our program and earned a scholarship. He helps us in so many ways on special teams but he's a good ball catcher, route runner and very effective with the football in his hands. Very well rounded," Dimel said.
Although the Andress High grad didn't see much action in 2019, Dimel believes that Jalen Joseph can contribute to this program throughout his tenure moving forward. He saw some action in special teams last year but the coaches raved about him at the high school ranks. With some opportunities in the next few seasons, Joseph can grow into a stable runner for the Miners.
"Jalen's another guy from the area that walked on for us. We watched him play at Andress and thought he has a chance to be a Division I running back. He redshirted last year too," Dimel said.
Willie Eldridge highlighted the recruiting class of 2020 for UTEP this past year. The Cy Ranch grad was rated a 3-star recruit by both 247sports.com and Rivals, earning offers from Army, Texas Tech, BYU, New Mexico, Vanderbilt, Utah, Southern Miss and others. He rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and 27 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons.
"To add to the arsenal, Willie Eldridge is one of the recruits we're most excited about out of Houston. Really good athlete, powerful, explosive and Willie's going to be a bright star in our future as well," Dimel added.