(Courtesy: UTEP Football)
EL PASO, Texas - Up and down the UTEP wide receiver room, there are talented players that can line up anywhere on the field ready to cause severe headaches for opposing defenses in the 2023 season.
The alpha of the pack is 5’7, 170-pound senior Tyrin Smith, who should not be underestimated because of his size. He torched the opposition for 1,039 yards in 2022, making him one of three receivers in Conference USA to surpass 1,000 receiving yards while becoming just the eighth player in program history to top that figure. He led UTEP in that category, along with receptions (71) and TD catches (seven).
UTEP offensive coordinator/ quarterbacks/wide receivers coach Scotty Ohara is thankful to have a top-tier receiver like Smith given the complexity of the Miners’ system.
“In this offense we do a lot of different things with receivers and it’s a system that does take time to learn,” Ohara said. “Having a guy coming back that has a ton of banked reps in practice and has also executed on game day at a high level is someone you definitely want in the room. He’s a dependable and proven guy in this offense.”
Miner receivers without as much experience in the offense pay close attention to Smith.
“We have a lot of guys that are doing good things, but the biggest thing is they have not done it (consistently) in a game,” Ohara said. “That’s where Tyrin’s experience comes into play. He provides them good insight and feedback on how things play out.”
Opposing defensive coordinators also give Smith lots of attention, affording up-and-coming Miner wideouts the chance to shine.
“We have a lot of guys that had really good offseasons,” Ohara said. “They’ve really progressed through this fall camp, and it’s what we need. We need multiple playmakers, not just one. Kelly (Akharaiyi) had a really good spring and fall camp (so far), and I’m really looking for him to take that next step forward in his second year. He knows the offense so much better, and his confidence level is up.
“Jeremiah (Ballard) is another one. We’ve been waiting for him to break out, and he probably had the best offseson of the entire group. He’s really doing good things in fall camp, and it’s not surprising to me because of his focus level. Marcus (Bellon) is just so much more comfortable with the offense this year. He’s shown in camp that he can be a playmaker. Emari (White) has done some good things and so has Jostein Clarke. So, we’re looking to see who will be that second, third, fourth playmaker for us.”
Smith can etch his name into the Miner record book in 2023, with the opportunity to become the first player at the school to produce back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. That’d be a nice feather in his cap, yet the ever-humble Smith has more team-oriented goals in place.
“It would mean a lot (to be the first) but winning a conference championship would mean a lot more to me” Smith said. “We want to get a win and keep getting them like this team deserves. That’s the key for me. We also want to go back to a bowl game like we did in 2021.”
One extra piece of motivation is to wipe away any residual feelings from last year’s campaign.
“We have a chip on our shoulder,” Smith said. “We’ve got to go out and prove ourselves, that’s how you have to do it every year. Last year is in the past, so this is a whole new year that we can build off of and keep gaining off of it.”
Wide receivers are akin to a Lamborghini, a flashy piece of the offense that draw a lot of attention. Smith isn’t opposed to having all eyes on the group, but he knows it can dissipate in a flash without proper execution.
“It’s a good feeling (to have everyone looking at you), but everybody’s got to go out there and do their job,” Smith said. “We all need to know our assignments and go out there and execute like we know we can.”
Smith often stays after practice with other wide receivers to hone their practice, looking for any edge he can get.
“I’m really just trying to improve from last year,” Smith said. “In every aspect, catches, receiving yards, yards after catch, all of that, I want to be better.”
One thing that cannot be taught, but only accumulated through intentional effort and time, is chemistry. Smith and quarterback Gavin Hardison have that area covered with multiple years of big plays between the duo.
“Chemistry is very important between the quarterback and receiver,” Smith said. “It’s important both on and off the field. Gavin and I are always going to have that chemistry and that connection.”
Nowhere is that chemistry more evident than on gameday.
“The energy level on gameday atmosphere is different,” Ohara said. “Everything is done by feel and reaction and so for those two guys to be on the same page can only come from spending the hours and hours they do off and on the field. (Being on the same page) is the most critical thing. If all 11 guys aren’t on the same page, that’s an issue even if it’s just one guy. You can only execute how you want to when everybody is on the same page.”
There’s a lot of mouths to feed among the Orange and Blue receivers with only one football to go around, but Smith doesn’t envision that being a problem given the approach by the receivers.
“Everybody is going out there and being a team guy,” Smith said. “That’s what it is in our position room. We are all team players. Two (Hardison), or whoever the quarterback is, is always going to find us. That’s how we stay happy.”
Having a veteran signal caller like Hardison, who has piled up more than 7,000 passing yards during his career, gives a cool and collected group that much more assurance going into 2023.
“It gives us a lot of confidence, especially me personally going into my third season with him” Smith said. “It brings in a lot of confidence knowing you have that veteran quarterback behind you.”
Smith is also quick to appreciate that while attacking through the air can gain big chunks at a time, a consistent running game is vital.
“That’s really important to us as a receiver group,” Smith said. “Honestly, from the defensive standpoint, it can open up the receivers a lot more. It can open up the offense a lot more, and the coaching staff can pretty much call anything they want.”
As the offensive coordinator, in addition to WR/QBs coach, Ohara knows that a consistent ground game can work wonders.
“This whole offense starts with running the ball,” Ohara said. “If we can be effective there, our receivers know it will help get them single coverage without safety help. When we run the ball well, they have to dedicate an extra player to stop the run so it’s very important.”
With a proven secondary lining up every day on the other side of the ball, there are some intense battles between the receivers and defensive backs. Those can escalate at times, but the benefits are immense.
“Honestly it helps a lot with a lot of competition and competitiveness out there between the guys,” Smith said. “Anytime we go back into the locker room, though, there’s always love between us. At the end of the day, we are all family, so it (competition) is going to help us in the long room.”