EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — As the UTEP football team departs for the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, more and more will be on their plates, both on the field and off, relatively and figuratively speaking.
The Miners (7-5) will hop on a bus for the Duke City at 7:30 a.m. MT on Wednesday morning. They will practice in the afternoon before the festivities that typically come with a bowl game begin, including team dinners, a pep rally, visits to local schools and hospitals, media obligations and fan fare.
While it’s pretty standard procedure for college football teams across the country this time of the year, it’s not something UTEP is used to. The Miners are playing in their first bowl game since 2014, and they haven’t won a bowl game since 1967. It will require a balancing act of enjoying the bowl game experience — something this team fully deserves — while also preparing for Saturday’s football game against a very good Fresno State (9-3) team.
“The practices bring them to home base,” said UTEP head football coach Dana Dimel. “The practices are where they get grounded, the meetings are where they get grounded and we’ll have a good, physical practice there tomorrow.”
For the seniors, it will be their first and only trip to a bowl game. In the eyes of fullback Forest McKee, the two — enjoying bowl festivities and winning a football game — go hand-in-hand.
“I think the best way to describe it is that this football stuff is supposed to be fun,” said McKee. “It’s a childhood game. We are still a bunch of kids playing football, so I don’t think there is a balance. Everything we do out there is going to be new territory for all of us. I think all of it will be fun, and we’re going to soak up and relish this moment.”
The Miners deserve to do just that… enjoy the moment. Some of these seniors, who participated in their last football practice in El Paso on Tuesday morning, were around for that 0-12 season in 2017. The majority of them were here for back-to-back 1-11 seasons when Dimel first took over the program. Four years later, UTEP is set to take the national stage with a chance to prove a lot of the doubters wrong.
“This bowl game has just been really special,” said Dimel. “It has helped us become a tight group. I was at practice today, thinking about how much we are going to miss this group of seniors. It has been a great ride with them, and they’ve done so many things to help get this program to where it is right now. I’m just really, really proud of them.”
UTEP is currently an 11.5-point underdog with kickoff set for 12:15 p.m. on Saturday at University Stadium. The game will be broadcasted nationally on ESPN.