EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Perhaps the best recruit that UTEP got in the offseason was a guy they already had in the fold in 2022.
After transferring to Texas A&M briefly in January, leading wide receiver Tyrin Smith had second thoughts and returned to UTEP in June, looking to build on his 2022 season in which he went over 1,000 yards receiving. Smith was the second Miners wideout to go over the 1,000-yard mark in as many years, joining Jacob Cowing.
Smith is UTEP’s known commodity after back-to-back years of solid production at the receiver position alongside veteran quarterback Gavin Hardison. Now, it’s time for UTEP to give that duo some help.
The Miners have an experienced crop of receivers they think can do it. Kelly Akharaiyi, Jeremiah Ballard and Marcus Bellon all return after up-and-down 2022 seasons and figure to start next to Smith.
“We’ve got depth, so if you think you’re going to come in and just focus on Smitty, that’s not really going to happen,” said Akharaiyi. “If you do that, JB might go off, Marcus might go off, I might go off. We have people that can come in and just rotate and play, so you can’t really hone in on one.”
Akharaiyi is the player UTEP really hopes makes a leap, after he struggled in his first season at the Division I level in 2022 moving up from the junior college ranks. He struggled with the playbook as well as with drops, finishing with just 21 receptions for 275 yards.
However, 99 of those yards, plus his only touchdown came in the second-to-last game of the season vs. FIU and Akharaiyi says he’s miles ahead of where he was a season ago, as did Ballard and Bellon. He has the ability to blow the top off a defense as a deep threat in a way that few players on the Miners roster do.
“Everyone is flying around and knows all of their assignments. We’ve got a lot of talented guys at wide receiver and I’m excited to play with them this year,” said Hardison.
Sixth-year head coach Dana Dimel expects a lot of his receivers at UTEP when it comes to learning the playbook. Ballard told KTSM last week that they’re required to learn the ins-and-outs of every position on the offense, including the offensive line.
That can take time, even for talented players like Smith; Dimel said his progression took almost a full year of being in El Paso, before he had a real handle on everything.
“It’s just the schemes, there’s so many different passing schemes that we have,” said Dimel. “There’s so many things to learn about it. Some offense only run four or five routes, but we have a ton of different routes that we run.”
Akharaiyi expanded on Dimel’s point.
The difference between this system and most systems I’ve been at is that as a receiver you just look at one thing, or you’ve got one coach telling you what to do specifically and then you just run that. In this system, you have to know everyone’s job because you could be anywhere at any time,” said Akharaiyi.
Offensive system, hopefully, finally ironed out, the Miners will look to exceed external expectations in 2023. UTEP will open the season on Aug. 26 on the road at Jacksonville State at 3:30 p.m. MT on the CBS Sports Network.