Football to announce 2017 signings during luncheon

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Football to announce 2017 signings during luncheon

File photo The Prospector

File photo The Prospector

File photo The Prospector

Jason Green, Sports Editor

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The UTEP football team will hold a signing day luncheon on Wednesday, Feb. 1, where members of the Miner Athletic Club and other members of the public and media will hear head coach Sean Kugler talk about the players who have committed that day to play for the Miners for the next few years.

The players who will put pen to paper on Wednesday have already given a verbal commitment to Kugler and his staff, but could still back out up until the papers are faxed into the athletic department. This year’s class is not flashy by any stretch of the word, but definitely fills the needs and could surprise—as Kugler’s recruiting classes have been known to do—a few years down the road.

Last year’s recruiting class was ranked eighth in Conference-USA by Rivals.com, the highest ranking for a Kugler recruiting class during his tenure at UTEP. The results may not have shown in the win column, but there was some impressive play from members of the recruiting class, including running back Quadraiz Wadley and receiver Walter Dawn.

Wadley could be the replacement for all-world running back Aaron Jones, who is leaving for the NFL, and Dawn had the second-longest single play of the UTEP season with a 74-yard receiving touchdown.

This year’s class appears it will not reach the sheer enormity of the 2016 24-member recruiting class, but this year’s projected 11-member class features some likely stars.

Defensive tackle Trace Mascorro and linebacker Kobie Herring brought a 2A State Championship to the tiny town of Refugio, Texas, and will head to El Paso from southeast of San Antonio together for the 2017 football season. Both players were Associated Press 2A Defensive Players of the Year for the state of Texas, and Herring was the Class 2A Defensive MVP for 2016. For the season, the two combined for a ridiculous 353 tackles for the Refugio Bobcats.

An area of major need for the Miners is in the kicking game. Kicker Jay Mattox is gone and so are his 40 career field goals and 257 career points. UTEP would have been without a kicker this season, until the team locked-in on kicker Jake Friant from Alpharetta, Georgia. Known for his powerful leg, Friant should continue the trend of UTEP opponents having no opportunity to return kickoffs, which Mattox began during his time as a Miner.

Another area of great need for the Miners, especially in Kugler’s system and in the absence of Aaron Jones, is the fullback position. Darrin Laufasa has graduated and will test the NFL waters as well and leaves a large hole in the UTEP backfield. Only two weeks ago, Forest McKee, a linebacker from Onate High in Las Cruces appears to have stepped in to fill that hole.

Although McKee is the sixth-ranked inside linebacker in New Mexico, according to 24/7 Sports, he has already told Rivals.com that he will move to fullback full-time at UTEP. McKee runs a 4.6, 40-yard dash and compiled 864 yards and nine touchdowns for Onate. McKee could continue the UTEP trend of having freshmen start early in their career as a Miner.

Quarterback problems continued to plague the Miners last season as Boise State transfer Zach Greenlee began the season under center and lost the job following an injury to Ryan Metz. The same thing happened the previous season when Mack Leftwich’s season ended due to injury and Metz took over. This season, Metz may just go into spring camp as the presumptive starter, were it not for the Miners bringing in yet another quarterback.

In 2015, it was Kavika Johnson, in 2016 it was Eastwood’s Mark Torrez, and this season—if things go as planned—the Miners will sign their highest-rated quarterback of the Kugler era.

Alex Fernandes from Austin’s Vandegrift High School is a three-star rated passer by 24/7 Sports, who had offers from Holy Cross and Princeton as well as receiving interest from Kansas, Kansas State, SMU and Southern Miss. Based on 24/7 Sport’s rankings, Fernandes would rank as the highest recruit in the class of 2017 for the Miners.

The 6-foot-4, 195-pound pro-style quarterback threw for 1,559 yards and 11 touchdowns during the 2016 season. Fernandes committed all the way back in mid-2016 and has remained committed to the Miners throughout the 2016 football season.

Sometimes surprises pop-up on signing day and players who were initially committed to other schools can change their commitment at the last minute. During Kugler’s time at UTEP, the team has avoided being the team being abandoned at the last minute for the most part.

A surprise or two could go a long way toward helping the Miners’ standing in the recruiting class rankings. As it stands, the class is ranked 14th, last in C-USA by 24/7 Sports, heading into Wednesday’s signing day.