EL PASO, TEXAS (KTSM) – He burst on to the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2020, and now UTEP running back Deion Hankins is back for more, and could be in for a breakout campaign.

In his second redshirt freshman season this fall (due to NCAA COVID-19 regulations, the 2020 season didn’t count against player eligibility), Hankins has set high goals for himself and the Miners. He wants to rush for over 1,000 yards after gaining a team-best 592 yards with nine touchdowns a year ago.

Those numbers set UTEP freshman records and got him on to the Conference USA All-Freshman team. Hankins has spent the offseason working to back up and improve on what he did in 2020.

“I’m hoping to build on that by just being me, doing what I know how to do and being an all-around leader for my team,” Hankins told KTSM earlier this week. “Just doing the little things, focusing on the defenses and their schemes and knowing my part. I’m being patient as a runner and just executing.”

Under new offensive coordinator Dave Warner, Hankins will have an even bigger role, not only in the run game, but potentially in the passing game as well. He said he’s adjusting well to the new offensive system.

The former Parkland High School star, who is El Paso’s all-time leading rusher at the high school level, earned the nickname “Deion Tankins” early in the 2020 season, after several bulldozing runs that de-cleated prospective tacklers.

Expect more of that in 2021. Hankins is noticeably more muscular, but hasn’t lost any of the speed and quickness that helped him average nearly 85 yards per game on the ground last season. He’s squatting over 600 pounds in the weight room, and has always possessed an affinity for contact. Miners head coach Dana Dimel says Hankins is becoming a better all-around back, too.

“After a year of starting, he really understands the position and how important it is to be good at all aspects of being a running back,” said Dimel. “You’re seeing that in his practices, he’s gotten stronger and more powerful. He can be a really hard player to tackle and he enjoys physicality. You wouldn’t know it from his personality, but he really likes the physicality of football.”

Both Dimel and Hankins said that the Miners’ bruising tailback realized early last season that he could be one of the top backs in Conference USA. He played like it for much of the season; now, it’s about consistency in his second year as a starter, and Hankins says he’s ready.

“The most important thing I learned last year was mental toughness,” Hankins said. “There were weeks we didn’t play (due to COVID-19) and we had to be locked in, so during this camp I’m mentally locked in and ready to go give it my all.”

UTEP says it felt slighted by being picked to finish last in Conference USA’s West Division. A bowl game is on the minds of the Miners this fall, and along with rushing for 1,000 yards, Hankins has a conference championship on his mind.

“I just want to be conference champions,” he said. “Just take it one game at a time, get these wins under our belt. At the end of the day the only people that believe in us is us, so we just have to stick together and execute.”

Hankins will look to showcase himself as one of the top running backs in C-USA when the Miners open the season on the road at New Mexico State on August 28. Kickoff for the Battle of I-10 season opener is set for 7:30 p.m.