EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – UTEP’s Dana Dimel hasn’t always spent much time in player position meetings; head coaches have a lot of responsibilities during the day. But heading into his sixth year with the Miners in 2023, Dimel decided to do something different.

For the first time since he’s been at UTEP, Dimel has been in the majority of the Miners’ quarterback meetings leading up to UTEP’s Aug. 26 season opener at Jacksonville State on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. MT on CBS Sports Network.

With a first-time offensive coordinator Scotty Ohara leading the offense, plus sixth-year starting quarterback Gavin Hardison looking for his best season as a Miner, Dimel thought this was the year to get involved more, especially as UTEP’s primary play-caller.

Dimel raved about the opportunity he’s had to do so, getting to know Hardison and the rest of the signal-callers better.

“The one thing I’ve found out the more I’ve spent time around Gavin Hardison is that he’s super intelligent. His intelligence is one of his strongest attributes,” said Dimel.

Hardison’s arm talent has had NFL scouts checking in quite often; Dimel said on Monday that a scout from the New York Giants told him that Hardison’s arm was as strong as any quarterback in the league.

However, his decision making and trouble with turnovers has held UTEP back at times over the years – look no further than a seven-turnover loss at New Mexico last season that kept UTEP from bowl eligibility.

With Dimel’s help, though, Hardison had his best fall camp yet in 2023 and hopes to finally harness the immense talent he possesses and be more consistent.

“It helps me in a big way as far as experience goes and how to handle myself and how to deal with certain situations. I’ve learned from the past in being here and how to improve,” Hardison said.

UTEP brings back over 300 total collegiate starts across its two-deep this fall. Hardison has 30 of them in his career alone, having started almost every UTEP game since the 2020 season.

“The way he understands the offense allows us to do more in the system. I think he’s gotten to another level on taking things that are there for you that are gifts,” said Dimel.

Their collective experience has the Miners expecting a bowl game this fall, but Hardison can raise their ceiling beyond that, to potential Conference USA championship contenders. With that in mind, the Hobbs, N.M., native enters his sixth and final season calm, cool and collected.

“This is the most prepared I’ve been since I’ve been here and we’re clicking on all cylinders as far as the whole team and in all 3 phases,” Hardison said. “We’re not pressing on too many plays, we’re just having fun.”

Nationally, the outside expectations for the Miners aren’t what they were last year; UTEP was picked to finish sixth in the nine-team Conference USA. Internally, tho, that bevy of experience gives the Miners a ton of confidence.

This season is what Dimel has spent six years building towards; UTEP’s talent and athleticism is at an all-time high under him and UTEP is ready to prove the rest of the league wrong.

“We’ve changed how UTEP football is looked upon. When we got here, it was an 0-12 program that was really struggling and now it’s a program that in the football world is very well-respected,” Dimel said. “They understand what kind of program and talent we’ve been able to recruit. For me, I’m very excited about where the program stands now. Now, it’s about going out and doing those things I talked about each and every Saturday to help us get wins.”

UTEP’s season to do everything Dimel hopes they can do begins Saturday at Jax State. The Gamecocks are coached by former Arizona/Michigan/West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez and run a run-heavy spread offense, led by veteran quarterback Zion Webb.

The Miners enter the season opener on the road as one-point favorites.