ROV Tim Woodard

2002 Statistics

Coach: Gary Nord
12-23, 3 years
2002 Record: 2-10
at Kentucky LOST 17-77
at Oklahoma LOST 0-68
at San Jose State LOST 24-58
at New Mexico State LOST 14-49
RICE WON 38-35
at Tulsa LOST 0-20
at Nevada LOST 17-23
SMU LOST 35-42
at Louisiana Tech LOST 24-38

2002 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2003 Outlook

These ten words tell you all you need to know about UTEP football the last two seasons: "It was like we were fielding a JV football team." Spoken by head coach Gary Nord, they are the fruits of his labor of when he took over the program in 2000 season.

Having seen the quick-fix system of many junior college players recruited by previous UTEP coaches work to varying degrees of success, Nord decided to have UTEP again recruit high school players. Playing redshirt freshmen and sophomores against other teams' juniors and seniors is never a good idea. It's an even worse idea when many of the better players are sidelined by injury, as often happened in 2002's 2-10 campaign.

But, the plan is beginning to show results. Three Miners were named to WAC all-freshman team last season: running back Matt Austin, the linebacker Howard and defensive tackle Chris Mineo.

In the past, the Miners would pop up once in a while, have a good season, then sink back to mediocrity, or often worse when UTEP's coach would be lured elsewhere. Miner fans thought they had something special when Nord's first team won a share of the WAC title and earned a Humanitarian Bowl berth. And they still might. Or they might not. The back-to-back two-win seasons since then are all too familiar. The Miners have not won on the road, a span of 15 games, since that 2000 title season.

The question for Nord and his first class of recruits, which will be juniors this season, is this: Have the horrible and consistent losses the last two years done too much psychological damage? It's one thing to have talent, which Nord believes he is slowly beginning to accumulate. It's another thing entirely to turn around a program that has endured constant losing and teach said 18-22 year old talent how to win.

By next year, the Miners might learn to do that. More than likely, it will be another long season. In another few years, if Nord is able of winning enough to stick around, maybe UTEP will be more than a blip on the radar every now and again. Not this time, though. The 2003 season looks like another learning experience for a still-young team. Flashes of unanticipated quality play will arise enough, though, to increase the light at their tunnel's end (something real "Miners" always appreciate).

Projected 2003 record: 2-10
QB - 1.5 DL - 1.5
RB - 2 LB - 1
WR - 2 DB - 1.5
OL - 1.5 ..

Passing: Omar Duarte, 161-79-4, 1000 yds., 6 TD

Rushing: Howard Jackson, 173 att., 844 yds., 7 TD

Receiving: Chris Francies, 27 rec., 347 yds., 1 TD

Scoring: Keith Robinson, 8-12 FG, 28-28 PAT, 52 pts.

Punting: Bryce Benekos, 70 punts, 40.8 avg.

Kicking: Keith Robinson, 8-12 FG, 28-28 PAT, 52 pts.

Tackles: Tim Woodard, 108 tot., 70 solo

Sacks: Tim Woodard, 4.5 sacks

Interceptions: Jahmal Fenner, 3 for 24 yds.

Kickoff returns: Howard Jackson, 23 ret., 22.0 avg.

Punt returns: Jahmal Fenner, 25 ret., 8.9 avg.


DT Dan Kerr
OFFENSE: Sherman Austin-RB, Curtis Castle-OG, Aaron Egbele-WR, Ariel Famaligi-OT, Terrance Minor-WR
DEFENSE: Weldon Cooks-CB, Rick Fette-DE, Mike Hanna-DT, Kamul High-DE, Camar Jackson-WLB, Alex Ross-CB, Paul Smith-SS, D.J. Walker-FS, Gabe Williams-DL, Bubba Wiseman-MLB
Four different quarterbacks have a chance to win the starting job prior to opening the season at - gulp - Arizona. Not knowing the starter at the most important position 21 days before arguably the season's toughest opponent is kind of like invading a foreign country without knowing whom the general is.

The Miners employed four different 2002 quarterbacks, and to say the results were mixed is being kind. The offense went nowhere fast, with the kind of numbers that would make any coach cringe - 54th nationally in rushing offense, 86th in passing offense, 98th in total offense and, most alarming of all - 110th in scoring offense. Scoring only 18 points a game in the WAC is akin to scoring two runs a game in major league baseball - you might win every once in awhile, but it's gonna take a superior effort by the rest of the team and a bit of luck. Of the four possibilities at QB, the most intriguing didn't even play in 2002 - Jordan Palmer, a redshirt freshman, is the younger brother of reigning Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 draft pick, Carson Palmer. The more likely choice will come from among sophomore Orlando Cruz, junior Jon Schaper and junior Omar Duarte. Palmer should get reps in an attempt to slowly season his abilities, but 2003 won't be a Cinderella start for Palmer except a few possible mop-up duties.

Cruz suffered a torn ACL last season and missed all of spring. Schaper threw only three touchdown passes against eight picks, while completing only 42.4 percent. Duarte had a much higher efficiency, and had more TDs than interceptions (6-4), but still didn't complete more than half his passes (49.1). Duarte is a former walk-on who earned a scholarship with his 2002 play - no small achievement. Schaper had the better spring, yet Cruz is said the have the best arm. Who will start? Don't be surprised to see all four at some point early. But if all struggle, they might as well put Palmer into a heavy rotation so 2004 can clearly have a starter for this position who represents a brighter future.

Junior tailback Howard Jackson is the one constant from 2002's sluggish offense. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry. At only 160 pounds, the 5-foot-10 Jackson isn't going to grind out 30+ carries each week. But his shiftiness is highly valued behind a still developing offensive line. Howard does have a couple of big fullbacks to follow in Rovann Cleveland and Jimmy Smith.

Three starters return on an offensive line that obviously struggled. The threesome provides something lacking on this team - senior leadership (only five other seniors dot the roster). Center Chris Kerr, left tackle Trey Darilek and Robert Clayton form the nucleus of a line that allowed only 27 sacks, yet also made the push for only 3.6 yards per rushing attempt. They'll join junior left guard Ben Graniellon and junior Robert Espinosa.

2002's leading receiver, Terrance Minor, is gone. The Miners have few veterans to take his place. The most likely are Dirk Dillard, a junior, and Chris Francies , a sophomore. They saw limited action, but have speed and promise. More than likely, this unit will have several other contributors. Tight end is another position of worry, with little depth. All in all, the Miners should move the ball better this season. How much is the key question.


OT Trey Darilek


Returning Starters in bold
QB Jon Schaper-Jr Omar Duarte-Jr
FB Rovann Cleveland-Sr Jimmy Smith-Jr
TB Howard Jackson-Jr Matt Austin-So
WR Chris Francies-So Will Smith-Jr
WR Dirk Dillard-Jr Aaron Givens-So
TE Jonas Crafts-Jr Justin Hunt-Sr
OT Jose Garcia-So Robert Espinosa-Jr
OG Ben Graniello-Jr Jordan Tubig-So
C Chris Kerr-Sr Bo Morris-Jr
OG Robert Clayton-Sr Alex DiMatteo-So
OT Trey Darilek-Sr Josh House-So
K Keith Robinson-Jr Bryce Benekos-Jr



While the offense struggled last season, the defense did even worse. The woeful numbers: 99th in rush defense, 99th in pass defense, 104th in total defense and 116th in scoring defense. Only one Division I defense allowed more points per game than UTEP's 42.6. Four teams - Boise State (58), San Jose State (58), Oklahoma (68) and Kentucky (77) scored more in four games against the UTEP defense than the Miners offense scored all season. Want another looming stat? Opponents converted 47 percent of their third-down opportunities.

Want more bad news? Regardless, three of the five leading tacklers are gone, including free safety D.J. Walker (four INTs). It's never easy to replace a three-time All-Conference performer, especially this one considered the quarterback of the defense.

Like with the rest of his team, Nord has to hope his young defenders will mature. Rover Tim Woodard, second in tackles, is one of their rare 2003 seniors, one of only three in the two-deep. But there is some talent here. Sophomore Thomas Howard showed flashes, including a nine-tackle performance against Rice, which included a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

The most experience comes on the defensive line, where seniors Sam Clarke and Dan Kerr anchor a unit that will start sophomores or redshirt freshmen elsewhere. They will need more pressure than the 19 sacks registered in 2002.

The secondary is young with the exception of Woodard. A redshirt freshman, either Aaron Francis or Nate Draughon, will start at one corner.

Nord brought in Mike Roach, most recently of the CFL's Calgary Stampeders, to coordinate the defense after to abysmal seasons. Roach had to know what he was getting into, a program that consistently struggles, yet pops up once in awhile when the stars are properly aligned. UTEP doesn't figure to be star-struck for another season or two on defense. But this side of the ball will arguably set the entire team's expectation levels - if they struggle, the team goes nowhere, regardless of any marginal offensive quality.


CB Jahmal Fenner


Returning Starters in bold
DE Brandon Johnson-So Reggie Miles-Fr
DT Dan Kerr-Sr Brian Givens-Jr
DT Chris Mineo-So Aaron Osborn-Jr
DE Ibok Ibok-Jr Sam Clarke-Sr
SLB Mark Dowdy-Jr Mike Perez-Jr
MLB Godwin Akinduro-Jr Robert Rodriguez-Jr
WLB Thomas Howard-So J.D. Hearn-So
CB Cedric Click-So Nate Draughon-Fr
CB Jahmal Fenner-Jr Aaron Francis-Fr
ROV Tim Woodard-Sr Matt Elwood-Jr
FS Marshall Sanford-So David Wardy-Jr
P Bryce Benekos-Jr ..




The Miners think they have two of college's better kickers in punter Bryce Benekos and place-kicker Keith Robinson. Benekos averaged 40.8 yards per punt and Robinson is the first Miner in 11 seasons to convert two 50-yard field goals in the same year. He was 8-of-12 overall on field goals and perfect on 28 PATs. Jahmal Fenner averaged a decent 8.9 yards per punt return, but opponents outperformed the Miners in every return category. The addition of depth in years four and five of Nord's plan will help turn around such numbers.