Sports

Winston Dimel becoming UTEP's coach on the field

RUIDOSO, NEW MEXICO (KTSM) - Look on the bright side: there’s nowhere to go but up for UTEP.

2017 was the worst season in program history; the most atrocious offense in college football lead to the resignation of head coach Sean Kugler after just five games, and things snowballed from there, as the Miners finished the season an abysmal 0-12.

UTEP has slammed the book on last year, and a new hope worthy of a George Lucas film has descended upon the Borderland. The Miners hired Dana Dimel away from Kansas State in December, with the expectation that his 20 years as an assistant under Bill Snyder (in addition to six mostly-successful years as a head coach) will begin to steer UTEP in the right direction.

“The best fit for us is a turn-around program,” Dimel said. “We want to instill a system in a program that has struggled and bring it to a top level. My resume is a perfect fit for this position.”

Under Dimel’s direction, the Miners should be much more competitive in 2018. He brings a winner’s mentality from Manhattan, to go along with seven straight bowl trips from 2011-2017. He also made immediate recruiting strides, getting a pair of important graduate transfers to join him in El Paso.  

Linebacker AJ Hotchkins was a late-July addition to the roster, transferring in from Oregon, where he played important minutes for the Ducks for two years. However, the big prize was Dimel’s own son, Winston, an all-Big 12 fullback three straight years at Kansas State. Dimel scored 22 touchdowns in three years as a goal line threat, and the Miners will use him in a similar fashion.

“What he brings to the table is just the diversity of having to stop a multi-threat athlete that can play tight end, fullback and also be a running back,” Dimel said.

It’s important to note that even one win would be an improvement in 2018, but Dimel and his staff haven’t shied away from high expectations.

“It’s all about improvement. Many seasons at K-State we didn’t start off great, but just kept getting better and better,” Dimel said. “We have expectations to come out and play extremely well, but the key is to just keep improving because the system is going to get better.”

A strong start would go a long way for UTEP; the Miners open with Northern Arizona, before going on the road the next two weeks to UNLV and Tennessee. UTEP gets the Battle of I-10 at the Sun Bowl this year, as New Mexico State comes to town Sept. 22.

Offense

Dimel oversaw one of the most consistent offensive attacks in college football from 2009-2017 at Kansas State, even guiding the Wildcats to the Fiesta Bowl in 2012. That’s good, because the Miners’ offense a season ago was laughable. UTEP never scored more than 21 points in a game last year, averaging just 11.8 points per contest. The Miners managed a meager 19 touchdowns all season, and just three field goals.

For a third consecutive season, there will be a battle to decide the starting quarterback. Ryan Metz is the incumbent; the senior out of Andress high school started off and on for UTEP the last two years, but he struggled a season ago. He figures to get pushed mightily by junior college transfer Kai Locksley, who began his career at Texas. Locksley threw for over 2,200 yards and ran for over 700 a year ago.

For Dimel’s system to work best, he needs a mobile quarterback. Locksley seems to fit that bill better than Metz, so he’s the likely favorite to win the job out of fall camp.

The Miners have a few of options at the running back position. Fullback Winston Dimel will get a lot of looks in goal line settings and in the passing game, much like he did at K-State. UTEP also returns its top two rushers from a year ago in junior Quardraiz Wadley and sophomore Joshua Fields. That duo combined for over 600 yards last year.

The UTEP receiving corps was wildly inconsistent a year ago, but the good news is that seven of the top eight receivers from 2017 return this year. The Miners also get playmaker Alan Busey back from injury and add prized freshman Andrew Nwachukwu to the mix as well. With more talent in the backfield and under center, this unit should improve in 2018.

Along the offensive line, the Miners lost three starters, including Will Hernandez, a second round pick of the New York Giants. Even with allthat talent and experience, the Miners had their worst rushing output since 2006, so like much of the roster, there’s only room for improvement with this unit.

Defense

The numbers don’t show it, but UTEP was actually decent in 2017. The Miners held foes to 14 points or less in the first half six times, but wore down after halftime because the offense couldn’t stay on the field. They’ll be switching to a 4-2-5 scheme this year under defensive coordinator Mike Cox and return six starters.

The strength of this unit is in the secondary. Dimel said he would put cornerbacks Nik Needham and Kalon Beverly up against any defensive backs in the country and both could have professional careers. Safeties Michael Lewis and Kahani Smith both have starting experience, automatically making this a fearsome unit for CUSA quarterbacks.

The linebacking corps lost all three starters, including star Alvin Jones to the NFL, but added Oregon transfer AJ Hotchkins to take his place. Jayson Vanhook returns and should get a look at the other starting spot. This could be the thinnest part of the defense, and Dimel has acknowledged as much.

On the defensive line, there’s some talent and experience. Chris Richardson returns after missing all of 2017. All-CUSA Freshman team selection Trace Mascorro and Denzel Chukwukelu return as well, and Dimel brought CJ Reese with him from Kansas State as a graduate transfer. The Miners will be transitioning from three down linemen a year ago to four this year.

Special Teams

A big area of weakness for UTEP in 2017 will be an area of emphasis for Dimel. Terry Juniel is back after returning punts and kicks a season ago, and freshman Gavin Baechle figures to get a shot at place kicker. Australian Mitchell Crawford will take over punting duties; the 5-star recruit was originally committed to Vanderbilt, but most impressively, he was the leading goal kicker for Newcastle City Blues in the Black Diamond Australian Football League in 2016.

Outlook
Coming off of a 0-12 season, even a single win would be an improvement for Dimel and his staff in year one. Odds makers have set the over/under for UTEP wins at 2.5 for 2018; I’ll take the over, but not by much. I foresee a 3-9 season for the Miners, with a potential fourth win available if Dimel and his staff can tie up a lot of loose ends. Make no mistake, though; things are beginning to turn around in the shadows of the Franklin Mountains. 


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