EL PASO, TEXAS (KTSM) – The strength of UTEP’s entire team in 2020 may have been its defensive line.
Anchored by players like Kelton Moss and Keenan Stewart, the Miners recorded 13 sacks and 47 tackles for loss in 2020’s 3-5 campaign. But one player stood out above the rest a season ago: redshirt sophomore Praise Amaewhule.
Blessed with an 82-inch wingspan, Amaewhule used it to his full advantage throughout the season, racking up seven sacks (second in Conference USA). Perhaps most impressive, he ranked third among all players in the league in pass breakups with nine of them as a defensive lineman.
His play earned him a spot on the All-Conference USA 2nd team, and he will begin 2021 on the Bednarik Award watch list, given to the nation’s best defensive player. He’s eying an even more productive season this fall.
“I want to be more disruptive,” he said. “I want to get more sacks, more quarterback hurries. I want to make the guys behind me better, make the linebacker’s jobs easier with my run fits. The biggest thing I learned last year was perseverance, so I need to do that this year.”
A native of Nigeria who played high school football in the Houston area at Katy Taylor, Amaewhule could get a boost in productivity thanks to the defensive scheme being implemented by new defensive coordinator, Bradley Dale Peveto.
A veteran college football coach who has coached at LSU and Texas A&M and spent time with Miners head coach Dana Dimel at Houston, Peveto has changed the Miners’ defensive line to a four-man front. With an extra down lineman in the mix, that should open up lanes for Amaewhule to cause more chaos.
“Having more guys there to rush the quarterback has him always guessing,” said Amaewhule. “Keeping the quarterback on his toes and making him think about where we’re at, just being able to get into his mind before the game and pre-snap, taunting him a bit, get him scared, that’s what we want to do.”
He won’t be alone on the line; Moss, Stewart and Jadrian Taylor, as well as a bevy of others will see time on Saturdays this fall beside Amaewhule on the defensive line. The collective talent UTEP possesses at that position is impressive, and is as deep as any team in C-USA.
UTEP harbors hopes of making a bowl game in 2021, and if they are to do so, the defensive line will need to play up to its full capabilities. Amaewhule will be a big part of a potential bowl game push by the Miners.
“He’s a good player,” said Peveto. “We started him at the drop, but then moved him to defensive end. He’s more natural with his hand in the ground and has had a really good camp so far.”
He’s starting to get some buzz as a potential NFL Draft selection, but Amaewhule is focused solely on the 2021 season for now, and trying to lead UTEP back to a bowl game for the first time since 2014.
Amaewhule will be unleashed once again on Aug. 28, when the Miners open the season on the road at rival New Mexico State in the Battle of I-10. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.