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August 11, 2010Staff Writer Craig Evans recently traveled up I-25 through the New Mexican higways to get to the UTEP CAMP Socorro. Here are his thoughts on his trip up to Socorro, New Mexico.
Monday morning, I took the top off of my Corvette and took a nice drive up to Socorro, New Mexico. In many ways Socorro is like countless other small towns in New Mexico. But, there is an oasis at the base of the mountains. The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology is a clean, nicely landscaped campus, a pleasant surprise rising from, and in contrast to, the dust and mesquite of the surrounding desert.
The practice field is a lush green carpet of grass. It is large enough to hold three football fields, with plenty of room to spare.
When I arrived, the team was just finishing up with warm-ups. The players were suited up in pads for the first time since Spring Ball, and the excitement at the prospect of getting down to the physicality that makes football unique in the sporting world was evident in the player's energy and enthusiasm.
When I asked about how it feels to get the pads on for practice, tight end Jonny Moore described it this way,
"Love it! Love it! You don't have to worry about keeping people up."
He had explained to me a few days earlier that practice without pads can be troublesome. Players can be going at different speeds, and the difference, the imbalance, when players come together can get players hurt. Much of that imbalance is gone once the pads are on, as players are able to go at full speed.
The players separated into groups, led by position coaches, to work on specific skills. One thing that stood out was the white uniformed defensive players, working in their respective groups, on tackling. These were not drills done simply to say they had worked on tackling. It is obvious that this is an area that Defensive Coordinator, Coach Patterson, is determined to work on and improve upon.
Once the offense and defense started squaring off, deciding which unit was getting the best of it was hard for me to tell. It is a given that the Miners offense can move the ball.
The Miners passing game, under Coach Price, has been able to move the ball consistently, and often in big chunks, and behind the offensive line that has been put together, Buckram has shown that the running game now is no longer just to keep defenses honest.
After practice, both Coach Price, and Coach Patterson, said that the offense got the best of the Miners defense that morning. But many times the quarterbacks, unable to find open receivers, were forced to tuck the football away, and under the pressure of the defensive rush, to try and pick up what yards they could with their feet.
Kris Adams looks like he is focused, and ready to return to the form that made him such a threat in his sophomore season.
Buckram looks ready to improve upon his performance last season that had him ranked 4th in the nation in total offense. He is stronger, heavier, and comes into the season with the confidence you would expect from a Walter Camp Player of the Year Award nominee. He is the first player in UTEP's history to be nominated for this award.
Asked about his nomination, DBuck responded as those who know him would expect. With Buckram it is never about him. It is always about team. Individual awards and recognition is always secondary to team success. Many players will say the right things. Buckram means it when he says it. He is the most down to earth 'star' you could ever meet. He's the kind of player that simply hands the ball to an official when he scores. Meet his father, Sheriff Buckram, and you quickly understand why.
Trevor Vittitoe looked sharp, rested, healed, and ready. I believe he is focused on making his senior season his best season. Having already broken most, if not all, of the Miners passing records that is saying something.
Julio Lopez continues to grab any pass that comes near him. The tight end corps, so decimated by injuries for Spring Ball, is now back to strength, and Jonny Moore, and Elijah Goldtrap provide a one, two punch at that position, as they were often used to pick up tough yards through the air.
Tuesday's practice was a little different. As I watched, it seemed to me that the energy, and intensity was down from what I had seen on Monday. There were a few players sitting under the trainer's canopy, and trainer Dawn Hearne was visibly unhappy with what she was seeing. Hearn has been with UTEP for many years, and is tough enough that she could probably hold down the middle linebacker spot if she was needed. At one point, Coach Price called the players together. He voiced his displeasure, and then turned the players over to Hearne, who let them have it. Coach Price finished practice with a long series of 100 yard sprints. I would be very surprised if the next practice wasn't a much more lively affair, and a lot less about heat and headaches.
One last item. When I was talking with Coach Robert Rodriguez, he mentioned his fellow linebacker from a few seasons ago, Troy Collavo. Troy Collavo has rejoined the Miners as the Program Coordinator Defense. Welcome home, Troy.
I hope to be able to make it back up to Socorro for Saturday's scrimmage.