EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – With just 11 days remaining until UTEP opens the 2022 season vs. North Texas on Aug. 27, the Miners are still awaiting word from the NCAA on linebacker Breon Hayward.

UTEP applied for a waiver from the governing body of collegiate sports to allow Hayward a sixth year of eligibility earlier in the offseason.

If he is granted an extra year of eligibility, Hayward would obviously be a huge boost to the Miners. He led the team with 108 tackles in 2021, as he teamed with Tyrice Knight (102 tackles) in the middle of UTEP’s 4-2-5 defense.

Knight is back for his junior season and his experience from starting a season ago should prove instrumental, with or without Hayward in the lineup.

“He played so well last year, but he got himself in better shape this year, he looks leaner but he’s still around 235, 240 pounds,” said UTEP head coach Dana Dimel. “Tyrice is definitely the leader at that position and a really physical player.”

The silver lining of Hayward’s situation has been the Miners getting the chance to fill out their linebacker depth before the season. Returners James Neal, Gary Theard and Jerome Wilson have all factored into UTEP’s rotation at linebacker in recent seasons and could be integral parts of the defense in 2022.

Dimel has said throughout fall camp that the linebacking corps has depth at its disposal and that unit is ready to be unleashed.

“I do feel good about the athletes and that’s a position where we need the athletes to really step up and start making plays,” Dimel said. “That’ll be important for our football team. It’s been their time in waiting and now it’s like how are these guys developing and how will they help our football team?”

The majority of the players in the room have been on the team for a couple of seasons now and in year two under defensive coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto, that comfortability is important.

“All of us in the room have been here since Coach Peveto got here, so the depth is good and everyone knows what they’re doing,” said Knight. “We have a solid linebacker group around us.”

If Knight’s words are true, UTEP will be fine at linebacker, with or without Hayward. Of course, their preference is to have him on hand for the Aug. 27 opener vs. North Texas.

UTEP is off Wednesday, will practice normally on Thursday, then have a big game plan installation day on Friday, followed by a mock game inside the Sun Bowl on Saturday, one week before the season officially kicks off.