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Leftwich secures starting spot at quaterback

After a long and drawn out battle, UTEP football head coach Sean Kugler named sophomore Mack Leftwich the starting quarterback for the Miners.

Throughout the spring and summer the quarterback battle was wide open. Four different players competed for the starting job; Leftwich, junior Garrett Simpson, redshirt freshman Ryan Metz and true freshman Kavika Johnson.

In the Miners’ last scrimmage before leaving their camp in Ruidoso, the battle seemed to have comedown to Leftwich and Simpson. Kavika Johnson turned heads with his stellar play out of the Miners’ wildcat package, while Metz was used at wide receiver briefly.

Leftwich briefly played his freshman year in 2013, replacing Jameill Showers as the starting quarterback after Showers went down with a season-ending shoulder injury. Leftwich started the last four games of the season, completing 58 percent of his 75 passes [44-of-75] for 458 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Miners were 1-3 with Leftwich under center.

Simpson played briefly in the 2013 and 2014 seasons, but never started. Nevertheless, Leftwich was named the starting quarterback “fair and square,” according to Kugler.

“Mack Leftwich will be the starting quarterback,” Kugler said at weekly UTEP football media luncheon this past Monday. “He won that quarterback competition fair and square.  This was monitored all the way since the end of last season, from the offseason conditioning workouts through spring football, through the summer conditioning workouts and through the fall camp.”

Steadfast in his conviction, Kugler did add that this past quarterback battle was as close as it gets.

“I will say this, I have never been a part of a quarterback competition that statistically was as close,” Kugler said. “As far as the completion percentage, Mack was only one percentage better than Garrett (Simpson). Their touchdowns were equal. Their dropped passes were equal.  The thing that stood out to me were interceptions, which tilted heavily in favor of Mack.”

Not turning the ball over was crucial for the Miners last season. Playing a slow-paced/run-oriented offense; the Miners do not throw the ball frequently, opting to run the ball heavily. The Miners have been slow and methodical since the departure of former head coach Mike Price’s spread offense and the arrival of Kugler’s ground and pound game.

According to Kugler, Leftwich fits the template of his offense to a tee.

“I think he’s got a great quarterback demeanor,” Kugler said. “Handling formations, handling the clock. In the style of offense that we run those are very important things.  Jameill did a great job with those things last year.  Not turning the ball over, those are all great qualities that Jameill did outstanding for us last year, (Mack) has those.”

Leftwich is the starter for now, but the backup spot is still up in the air. Although Simpson will likely play behind Leftwich in the near future, the junior is still suffering a high ankle sprain injury that occurred in the Miners’ last scrimmage.

Kugler said Simpson’s status for the Arkansas game this Saturday (Sept. 5) is still unknown, while Ryan Metz might be the Miners’ number two come this weekend.

“Ryan Metz is an outstanding athlete,” Kugler said. “We would package certain things if he was in there. He might be the number two quarterback this week based on Garrett’s injury.”

Whether it’s Leftwich this weekend, Simpson the next or Metz by the end of the season, Kugler is happy about his situation at quarterback.

“I feel confident about our entire quarterback group,” Kugler said. “At some point throughout the year, you’ll see all four of those quarterbacks out on the field representing UTEP.”

Javier Cortez may be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Javier Cortez, Staff Reporter
Javier Cortez is a staff reporter for The Prospector. He is a senior multimedia journalism major, with a minor in English Rhetoric. Javier was born and raised in El Paso, TX and before coming to UTEP in the summer of 2012, he graduated from Irvin High School, where he was a four-year varsity tennis player, a member of student council and a class officer for his graduating class. He has also worked for the El Paso Diablos as a sports information intern on their media relations team. In his spare time, Javier loves to write columns for the perspectives section in the school newspaper—whether it is sports, pop culture, religion, and society he loves to write about it. To go along with writing, Javier loves reading anything about sports, religion, and non-fiction.
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    Anthony HuffSep 2, 2015 at 11:44 AM

    I know there has been an uproar in the Miner nation for naming Mack Leftwich as the starting QB. This opinion shared by many because of his size over the much taller Simpson. Also it has been suggested (Quite strongly) that this starting position was due to the fact that Mack’s dad is on staff and Mack was offered a scholarship after his dad was hired.
    First of all check out Mack’s highlight video on Hulu. He wasn’t named Pennsylvania player of the year by accident and as Coach Kugler stated Mack was a legend in PA.
    Coach Kugler saw many of Mack’s games while he was on staff with the Steelers. NA (Mack’s high school) played at Heinz field several times during their play off runs.
    Also Mack was offered a scholarship before his dad was hired. The kid has been small his whole football life but has been a winner and a leader at every level.
    This transition will be rough this year make no mistake. There will be growing pains and at times it will be painful to watch, lets have some patience. And show some respect and dignity
    My last point is probably the most important. Winning matters make no mistake. Jobs are on the line and families of these coaches make huge sacrifices. Just ask the Leftwich family (with 3 children in school) how many times they’ve moved during coach Leftwich’s career. They’ve moved at least 3 times during Mack’s high school career. Even during Mack’s senior year in PA his dad was in AZ while the rest of the family was in PA.
    I believe Coach Kugler is is doing a great job and has the program headed in the right direction. Let’s enjoy the ride. It’s going to be fun!

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Leftwich secures starting spot at quaterback