EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The UTEP football team opened spring ball on Tuesday at Glory Field, looking to improve on last year’s 1-11 season under head coach Dana Dimel. The Miners were back on the field Wednesday for day two and Dimel likes the sense of urgency through the first two days of practice, even though they have been non-padded practices.
“I was really happy with the energy and the excitement that the guys brought to the table,” said Dimel. “Obviously there are new faces that we’re bringing into the fold, so I thought for the most part, they did a nice job. That’s going to be the big thing, seeing how these new guys develop.”
Another area of focus – and perhaps the only area of focus for the casual observer – is at the quarterback position. Brandon Jones and Kai Locksley both graduated, leaving the Miners with limited experience at the position. Senior Isaiah Bravo, sophomore Calvin Brownholtz, redshirt freshman T.J. Goodwin, and sophomore Gavin Hardison are all part of a four-man derby to determine who will start under center when the Miners take the field for the 2020 opener against Texas Tech on September 5.
Dimel gave all four quarterbacks equal reps the first two days of practice, but that will change when the pads go on on Friday.
“We’ll analyze the first two days on Thursday and start making our rotations,” said Dimel. “We’ll start critiquing them, grading them, and as they grade one through four, the number one will get the most reps and so on.”
The quarterback have a combined 37 pass attempts – all from Hardison, who saw limited action in two games (at UAB, vs. Rice) last season. Brownholtz is next in line in terms of experience. He has appeared in 11 games for UTEP, but has yet to throw the ball. Goodwin was highly recruited out of high school, while Bravo comes to the Miners as a junior college transfer.
“They bring different things to the table,” said Dimel. “We know that Gavin can throw the football. We want to develop his ability to run and process the offense. We want T.J. [Goodwin] to get more experience running the offense and enhance his ability to run the football as well. Isaiah [Bravo] is someone we haven’t talked about a whole lot, but he’s got some ability to throw the ball. He has been a starter at the junior college level and has had success. Calvin [Brownholtz] is a really hard worker, a gym rat who does a lot of positive things. He can be a good runner of the football and we want him to work on that part of his game, but also work on his understanding of the offense.”
In 21 games for Cerritos College, Bravo threw for 3,333 yards and 32 touchdowns with only 13 interceptions. He is enjoying the excitement of a true quarterback competition.
“We’re all really competitive and we know that the best man is going to play, but at the same time we’re all trying to help each other be the best versions of ourselves,” said Bravo. “There’s no stalling each other out. We’re going to go at each other every day.”
Goodwin was a decorated prep player at Cypress Falls High School in Houston, throwing for 3,106 yards and 19 touchdowns his senior year. He feels infinitely more comfortable in year two in Dimel’s system.
“I came in last year at this time and I really didn’t know defensive structures, how to check in and out of defense and where I wanted to go with the ball,” said Goodwin. “Now I feel a lot more confident.”
Hardison made his Miners debut at UAB, throwing for 222 yards and a touchdown against one of Conference USA’s elite defenses. Like Goodwin, he’s much more comfortable in the offense this spring.
“I feel more experienced,” said he Hardison. “But at the same time, you can never be satisfied. I need to keep working, keep learning the offense. You never know enough. The guys in the [NFL], they’re still studying every day. For me, I just need to keep studying and keep acting like I don’t know the offense.”
While Dimel has yet to tip his hand who will be the favorite heading into the fall, the experience favors Hardison.
“It was big for me, just to see what the game speed is like,” said Hardison. “It was fun, but at the same time, we didn’t come out with a win in those two games. For me to know what that feels like, to be in a game and come out with some experience, was huge for me.”
Brownholtz is four years removed from his senior year at Jesuit High School in Carmichael, California where he threw for 2,333 yards and 26 touchdowns. He also brings the built-in advantage of being in Dimel’s system for a third year, but recognizes he still has work to do if he wants to named the starter.
“In terms of my game, it’s about not only reading when to run and throw the football, but when do you keep it and what not,” said Brownholtz. “It’s about picking up on coverages, blitzes and pressure checks, but the biggest thing is probably reading coverages and fronts and knowing the ins and outs of the defense.”
After Jones and Locksley entered last year’s camp as the heavy favorites to earn the starting job, this race feels wide open. Dimel also suggested last month that the Miners were in conversations with a couple Power-5 graduate transfers.