EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Gavin Hardison’s last on-field memory at UTEP isn’t one that he wants to remember.

His fumble in the fourth quarter of the New Mexico Bowl ended UTEP’s chance of beating Fresno State last December, but as the Miners gear up for their Aug. 27 opener vs. North Texas, it’s been the driving force behind his work in the offseason.

“Taking care of the football and making better decisions not as many turnovers and stuff like that, I think as far as my whole game goes I think I’ve improved in almost every way,” said Hardison. “It’s an extremely motivating scene what happened the last time we played and we’re excited to get out there for week zero.”

He threw for over 3,200 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2021, en route to being named an All-Conference USA Honorable Mention selection.

Now, the Hobbs, N.M., native is entering his third season as UTEP’s starter; frequently, year three is when a signal caller takes a big step and Hardison seems on track to do so.

“He’s really getting good at checking the plays at the line of scrimmage and seeing the defense and getting us into the right plays,” said Miners head coach Dana Dimel.

His improved play has been noticeable to his receivers, too.

“Even from last year to now, he’s improved a lot. He’s the guy,” said sophomore wide receiver Tyrin Smith. “We have trust in him and he’ll be really good this year for us.”

Hardison mastered the art of the big play a year ago, averaging 16.3 yards per completion. However, his 16 total turnovers (13 interceptions, three lost fumbles) hurt UTEP, sometimes in the biggest moments.

Additionally, he completed only 55 percent of his passes, a mark that needs to improve if he’s going to take the next step as a quarterback. Hardison has said that a main focus of his this offseason has been to improve in both areas and he believes he’s done that.

“There’s always room to improve. I think I’ve done a good job of taking care of the ball but there’s always room to improve,” he said.

Miners offensive coordinator Dave Warner wants Hardison to master the short, safety valve plays, the way he did the big downfield play in 2021. In turn, that will help his completion percentage, which Warner wants to be above 60% this fall.

“It’s on him when it comes down to decision making and turnovers, but if he does well there, we do well there, and that’s the most important thing,” said Warner.

Hardison is comfortable with the added pressure and leadership role. He’ll wear the number two in honor of Luke Laufenberg this year and doesn’t shy away from the high expectations.

“We want the conference championship really bad,” said Hardison. “We’ll take things one game at a time and if we do that, things will work themselves out.”

UTEP has the pieces on its roster to compete; Hardison is the guy that can bring it all together, if he makes the leap that everyone in the Miners’ program believes he’s capable of making.

“That’s the most important guy on the field,” said Dimel. “He’s the guy that has to deliver the message for the whole offense.”