A new era of UTEP football is upon us

New+head+football+coach+Dana+Dimel+prepares+his+team+for+the+season+opener+on+Saturday+Sept.+2+against+Northern+Arizona+at+the+Sun+Bowl%0A

Priscilla Gomez

New head football coach Dana Dimel prepares his team for the season opener on Saturday Sept. 2 against Northern Arizona at the Sun Bowl

Adrian Broaddus, Web Editor

UTEP went winless, 0-12 in 2017—something no other team did last year in the FBS.

It hangs over the team like a forgotten friend, familiar to the team. The feeling creeps into the player’s thoughts and as much as they want to set it aside, it happened. And, it will be the main focus this Saturday against Northern Arizona.

Amidst a coaching resignation in Sean Kugler and an athletic director change from Bob Stull to Jim Senter, came a gentle, yet eager coach from Manhattan, Kansas. Dana Dimel, who was previously the offensive coordinator of Kansas State under Bill Synder for almost a decade (2009-2017), chose to take a new direction in his life, challenging himself; inheriting a winless UTEP team .

“I like the challenge. My whole career has involved rebuilding,” Dimel said last December upon his hiring. “This is a challenge I know I can handle. I want the gratification of turning this thing around. I see the great potential here. Every player is going to represent the university the right way. My recruiting starts with player’s character.”

Almost nine months into his regime as head coach and Dimel continues to work with his adopted players and newcomers to rectify the team come game day. He knows what it’s like to bring back a program from deep pits. During his time at Wyoming and Houston in the late ‘90s, early 2000s, Dimel took over traditionally poor football programs and brought them to commendable statures. He then joined forces with Synder at Kansas State and coached the Big 12 affiliate to seven bowl games in nine seasons.

This is nothing new for Dimel, but the preparation leading into game one still tests his nerves.

“Very anxious time right now getting ready,” Dimel said. “We had our Thursday gameplan and we get ready with all the mechanics that go along with that, so hopefully when we go out, we can be more crisp and polished.”

But in the eyes of the players, fans and the El Paso community, UTEP is in a desperate spot going against Northern Arizona on Saturday. Their 12 losses is the longest active losing streak in the FBS.

“I don’t expect anything else than for people to doubt us and downplay us still,” said senior defensive back Nik Needham. “I don’t pay attention to what they’re saying. There was one podcast that said ‘I doubt they win a game this year,’ and I thought, wow, this guy hasn’t even come to a practice or seen how we look this year. That’s the only thing that’s annoying. If you don’t know, you shouldn’t be talking.”

Preseason polls, like CBS Sports and Athlon Sports, have the Miners dead last this  season. The little respect given by preseason prognosticators or lack thereof is exactly what Dimel wants his player to ignore.

“You gotta keep them focused,” Dimel said. “Obviously one of the hardest things as a coach is to tell them to not pay attention to anything in the media because that’s not what football players should do. They should be focused on how to get better and be the best you can be.”

Against Northern Arizona, the Miners will debut a brand new offense and defense. The offense is predicated off shotgun formations and constant misdirection. Like his offense at Kansas State, the team likes to run the ball, to go along with spreading the offense out in different packages.

Their defense has switched from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5, which requires physical defenders that play man on most receivers. The defense is bringing in a significantly strong secondary, with Needham, Kalon Beverly, Justin Rogers and Kahani Smith leading the way for the returning Miners.

The month of September will tell a lot for the Miners. After they kick off their season against NAU, the Miners travel on back-to-back road games to UNLV (Sept. 8) and Tennessee (Sept. 15). They will return home briefly to take on NMSU (Sept. 22) and begin C-USA play on the road against UTSA (Sept. 29).

September will indicate if the Miners can turn around their team magically for a bowl berth fantasy.  Or it could mean continued struggles, as they try to snap their double-digit losing streak.

However, one thing is certain: the team cannot get worse than 0-12.

Adrian Broaddus may be reached at [email protected]