EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – UTEP Athletics announced the next group of greats to forever go down in Miners’ history on Monday.
The 2022 UTEP Athletics Hall of Fame Class features four Miner greats from two different sports and a pair of historic teams.
Fred DeBernardi (track and field), John Furman (football), Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. (football), Jennifer Smit (track and field), the 1974-75 women’s basketball team and the 1974 volleyball team make up the 19th induction class into the UTEP Athletics Hall of Fame.
This year’s class will be honored at the Miners’ football game versus Boise State on Sept. 23, and in an induction ceremony on Sept. 24.
DeBernardi and Furman will both be inducted posthumously.
(Courtesy: UTEP Athletics)
DeBernardi, who competed for the Miners from 1970-72, was champion in the shot put and the discus at the 1972 NCAA Outdoor Meet. He never finished lower than third place in either event at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, taking second in the discus in 1970 and 1971, and third in the shot put in 1971. DeBernardi also won the silver medal in the shot put at the 1972 NCAA Indoor Meet. He was a six-time All-American. He was a five-time WAC champion in the shot put (four times) and discus (once). The one-time national collegiate indoor record-holder in the shot put was a member of the 1972 USA Track and Field Team. DeBernardi was chosen by the Baltimore Colts in the 1972 NFL Draft as a defensive end prospect. He is a member of the UTEP Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Furman played quarterback at Texas Western from 1958-61, before the passing game was in style. Still, he threw for 3,607 yards and 24 touchdowns. As a senior in 1961, he ranked sixth in the NCAA in passing and total offense. He led the team in passing for four straight years, and punting in 1961. Furman was named Most Valuable Player of the Border Conference as a sophomore in 1959 and was three-time All-League from 1959-61. Selected in the third round of the NFL Draft, he played four years in the league with Cleveland. He served the U.S. Army with the 32nd Air Defense Command, earning the National Defense Service Medal, the Ranger Tab, and the Army Commendation Medal. After a 35-year career in hospital administration, he retired as Executive Vice President of the Oakwood-Beaumont Healthcare System of Michigan where he received the National Labor Relations Board “Award for Excellence.” In 2020, he was awarded the NFL Legacy Gold Medal in celebration of his life and service.
Higgins, Jr. played at UTEP from 2003-06. He capped a spectacular career in 2006 by making two All-America teams (AFCA, Associated Press). He ranked second nationally in receiving as a senior, averaging 109.9 yards per game. He was also chosen the Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Year by setting a league record for punt return average (23.4). He established school records for receiving yards (3,218) and touchdown catches (32), and ranks second in receptions (190), third in 100-yard games (11) and sixth in points (210). Higgins is also second in career punt return average (15.0), third in all-purpose yards (4,745), tied for third in punt return touchdowns (two) and tied for seventh in punt return yards (451). He was chosen by Oakland in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft and played 60 games in the league with the Raiders, racking up 779 yards receiving, 842 yards on kickoff returns and 973 yards on punt returns.
Smit was a member of the Miner track and field squad from 1978-82 and was the first Miner on the women’s team to claim a national title. She won back-to-back NCAA titles in the indoor (14.83m) and outdoor (15.79m) shot put in 1978. She earned six All-American honors in the shot put from 1978-82. She was runner up in the shot put at the 1979 NCAA Indoor Championships, followed by a third-place finish in 1980. She was fourth in the shot put at the 1980 NCAA Outdoor Championships and fifth in the shot put at the 1982 NCAA Outdoor Championships. Smit is ranked second in program history in the indoor and outdoor shot put with tosses of 15.85m and 15.91m, respectively. She was a member of the only UTEP women’s team to win a national championship (1980 indoor AIAW). She is a member of the UTEP Track and Field Hall of Fame.
The 1974-75 women’s basketball team and the 1974 volleyball team – the first women’s teams in UTEP Athletics history — are being inducted on the 50th Anniversary of the passing of Title IX, which enabled girls and women to have the same opportunities in sports as boys and men. The Miner basketball team finished 11-5 in its inaugural campaign under coach Carol Ammerman. The volleyball team posted a 9-7 record in its initial season under coach Kevin Sherlin. Both squads were groundbreakers, paving the way for countless opportunities for UTEP female student-athletes in the years to come.
Further details for UTEP Hall of Fame Weekend will be announced this summer.