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UTEP Football manage high expectations on day one of fall camp

EL PASO, Texas -- UTEP Football officially began fall camp Thursday, 30 days ahead of their home opener against conference opponent North Texas.

For most guys on the team it's a preseason different to what they've ever experienced. For the first time there is a lot of expectation and hype around what they could do this upcoming season after coming off their best season since 2014 - going 7-6 and nearly winning a bowl game for the first time since 1976.

"Our job and our goal is really the same, it hasn't changed," Quarterback Gavin Hardison said. "Expectations don't really change but we do. We are still working and still trying to get better, last year was obviously a step in the right direction but we're still trying to get better and we have a lot to improve on."

"Each person, if they work on getting individually better and helping their teammates around them get better it's going to help the team," Head Coach Dana Dimel said.

In a lot of areas this UTEP Miners team will look quite similar to their winning season team from last year. But there are still some questions surrounding a couple of areas, including the wide receiver group.

UTEP lost their top two receivers from last season in Justin Garrett (graduated) who caught for 685 yards and four touchdown catches and Jacob Cowing (transferred to the University of Arizona) who caught for 1,354 yards and seven touchdown catches.

Without the stellar duo making plays in the passing game, many wonder if the team will be as lethal in that area this season.

"We have the depth there at the receiver position to fill in for what we lost," Hardison said. "We have a lot of playmakers in that position."

"We have a lot of numbers there we just need to really figure out who our top six are going to be," Dimel said. "But that's probably two weeks down the road now."

Early favorites for the position look to be UTEPs third best receiver last season in sophomore Tyrin Smith who caught for 570 yards and had four touchdown catches. There's also Tyler Junior College Trasnfer Kelly Akharaiyi.

"Akharaiyi has been a guy that has stepped up and done some really good things in the spring," Dimel said.

"We don't try to put pressure on ourselves because we know how good we can be," Akharaiyi said. "Me personally I just want to make the team that I'm part of great.

At Tyler, Akharaiyi ranked first in receiving yards with 681, he also had 52 receptions and six touchdown receptions and considering the fast friendship he's built with Hardison, expect to see some similar numbers.

"We're really close, we hang out everyday, we're always texting, we throw everyday too" Akharaiyi said. "In the summer I'd text him and he was probably getting annoyed with me. I'd text him and be like lets go to the field lets go do this, we have a tight relationship." 

As Dimel and Hardison mentioned there is a lot of depth in the group, both new guys coming in and returners.

These are the other wide receivers Dimel mentioned by name to ABC-7 Thursday - redshirt freshman Jeremiah Ballard, redshirt sophomore Jostein Clark, Ysleta high grad and redshirt freshman Lucas Flores, redshirt junior Josh Farr and Sierra College transfer Emari White.

We could also see returner Reynaldo Flores get some action at the receiving role when he's not playing RB - last season the dual player rushed 32 times for 130 yards and caught 13 passes for 204 yards.

Another player we could see get some time at both WR and RB is Tyler JC transfer Torrance Burgess who has 42 receptions for 493 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also rushed for 494 yards and 4 touchdowns.

"I'm proud of our wide receiver group," Akharaiyi said. "You cant really hone in on one of us and if you try to lock one of us up we've got two, three guys ready to go next up to make plays."

Considering Thursday was UTEPs first day of fall camp there is still plenty of time for Dimel and Offensive Coordinator Dave Warner to decide who gets that starting spot. These next couple of weeks will be telling though.

UTEP begins their 2022-23 campaign at home against conference opponent North Texas on Aug. 27th.

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Rachel Phillips


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