Head coach Sean Kugler
Feb. 1, 2017

UTEP Football Signing Day Quotes

“During the season, you get caught up in so many things that you really don’t get a chance to stop and thank some people.  The recruiting process is not something that happens overnight.  It is not something that is thrown together over a weekend.  It is a year-long process and the coaches put so much work into it, so much travel, their families withstand that, being away from home for extended periods of time.  But there are a lot of people that I want to thank starting with our secretaries, Mona, Norma and Donna.   They put a lot of work in getting the travel set up, getting the itineraries set up.

“The guys that probably put in the most work are the graduate assistants.  These guys are putting countless hours in, watching film, helping coaches while they’re on the road, keeping the communication lines open when everybody is on the road.  Really, they do all the work on the recruiting weekends driving parents around, picking up players at the airport and their job is tireless throughout that whole process.  I want to thank them.

“And most importantly, the coaches.  The coaches put in long hours, but the whole process is done collectively as a group.  Every one of these players that I am going to announce in a few minutes, we went through a painstaking process of number one, making sure that these are young men that have a burning desire to get a degree, that these are young men that are going to fit well into our program, we call them our kind of guys, guys that we feel will flourish here in El Paso and flourish here in this program.  And then before we ever do that, we want to find out about their character.  We want to make sure these young men are going to be here at UTEP and represent our program the proper way on and off the field.  Until that point, we don’t even turn on the film.  Once we’ve identified that, we can turn on the film and we are looking for football players that are productive.  I know that everybody in this day and age gets caught up in the star system and recruiting services and recruiting rankings.  We don’t put a lot of stock in that, if any.     



“I always find it very interesting, I want to read a few stats here.  This year in the Super Bowl that’s about to be played on Sunday between Atlanta and New England, 37 percent of the Super Bowl starters that are going to line up on that field, which is the highest level of football, weren’t even in their top 1,000 in the recruiting classes that they participated in.  I am going to throw a couple of names at you.  Malcolm Butler, MVP two Super Bowls ago, was not even rated, did not get a star.  Alex Mack who is a Pro Bowl center for Atlanta, he was a two-star.  Chris Hogan who just got MVP of the AFC Championship Game for New England, zero stars.  Shea McClellin who was a first round draft pick that starts at linebacker for New England, 0 stars.  Patrick Chung, first round draft pick, two stars.  Stephen Gostkowski, probably the best kicker in the game right now, zero stars.  Robert Alford, starting corner and Jonathan Babineaux, starting defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons, two stars.  It doesn’t really make sense putting stock into that. 

“We’ve got to make sense out of what we see on film and we have to do a lot of projecting here.  We may have to take a kid who’s undersized, like a Nick Usher four year ago who was zero stars and weighed 195 pounds.  Well, Nick Usher just played the NFL PA game and had 10 tackles and a fumble recovery.  He is 245 pounds and the projection was right.  Here is a zero star guy that now is going to get an opportunity to play in the NFL.  Matt Ryan the quarterback, who is probably going to be the league MVP, when he came out he was the 34th-ranked quarterback.  The top 3 were Kyle Wright, Chris Leak and Tom Grady.  Not Tom Brady.  Have you ever heard of those names?  Probably not, because none of those guys ever completed a pass in the NFL.  That was the top three quarterbacks.  So when I say I don’t put a whole lot of stock in that, that’s what I’m talking about.

“Now I’m going to read you a couple of guys from our team.  Aaron Jones, two stars, probably the best player that ever played at UTEP.  He just got a combine invite yesterday, he’s going to get his opportunity to play in the NFL.  His brother Alvin Jones, who is probably the best linebacker in Conference USA, zero stars.  Darrin Laufasa, zero stars, he will get his opportunity to play in the NFL.  As I mentioned, Nick Usher was a two-star athlete.  Hayden Plinke who also got a combine invite and played in the NFL PA game, two stars.  Will Hernandez, who will be the best guard in the country, who I have no doubt is probably the best lineman in the country, zero stars coming out.  Devin Cockrell, probably one of the hardest hitting safeties in our conference, two stars.  And Jerrod Brooks, who will be a future NFL offensive lineman and is in the process of doing that right now, zero stars.  So when you look at that list, it’s not going to be star power.  And you’re looking at it and saying this doesn’t rank really high in the recruiting services.  I really don’t care.  These are future UTEP Miners and they’re going to be productive on the field, they’re going to be productive in the classroom and they’re going to be productive citizens here in El Paso. 

“Speaking of that, I just want to thank the ladies from the MAAC, Heather, Denise and Lucero.  We just came off our best semester ever as a UTEP team.  We had our highest GPA collectively as a group.  We had 48 players over a 3.0 and we just came off a year with a 1,000 APR score.  What that means is progress towards a degree, which means every single player in our program is on point and on progress to get their degree on time.  All of these young men that I’m going to read to you, when I went in the home with the coaches, we made absolutely no promises.  We didn’t promise that you’re going to wear jersey #22.  We didn’t promise that you’re going to be a starter as a freshman or you’re going to go to the NFL.  Those are false promises.  But we did promise every single one of their parents and every single one of these players that they’re going to get their degree and as the head coach of the UTEP Miners, that’s my number one obligation.

“UTEP has changed quite a bit [over the years] and all of the thanks for that goes to Dr. Natalicio for the amazing job she has done with this university, and Bob Stull for the amazing job he has done with the facilities here.  This is special place to coach, and I don’t take it for granted.

“Many of these guys, no stars, two stars, three stars.  But what you’re looking at, and I don’t know who they’re going to be yet, but some of these guys are going to be future All-Conference players for UTEP, future leaders or captains that lead our team to a bowl game or a championship.  Some of these young men will have opportunities to go play in the NFL.  And I don’t know who they are.  It’s going to be up to them and what they put into it. 

Alex Fernandes
“6-3, 200 pounds.  He is from Austin, Texas.  He is a three-star athlete. In 2016 he threw for 11 touchdowns, 1,500 yards.  He also rushed for 299 yards.  You’ll see on the tape he is very athletic as well.  This is a young man that you have to project.  Right now he is 200 pounds.  This is going to be a young man with a frame that’s going to be a 225-pound, 6-3, prototype quarterback.  He registered career highs in passing yards and touchdown throws.  He threw six touchdowns in one game against Vista Ridge.  All in all in his career he threw for 53 touchdowns and 4,814 yards, and rushed for 410 yards and six scores.  Very productive high school career.  He reminds me a lot of Ryan Metz, our own quarterback.  Except Ryan Metz when he came out of high school weighed 170 pounds.  This kid weighs 200 pounds and is also going to get bigger.  He can make all the throws.

“Before I talk about this next quarterback, I want to tell you why we signed two quarterbacks this year.  Mack Leftwich, who was our starting quarterback in 2015, his career has ended as a quarterback.  He had significant head injury, shoulder injury, sternum injury that he really couldn’t overcome.  It’s unfortunate for him but just like all the young men in our program, he’s set up for success.  He has got his degree, he has already been offered a coaching position and a math teacher position at Parkland High School.  He is going to be starting off full-time in May.  Our guys, even if football doesn’t work out for them on the field, they’re set up for life.” 

Calvin Brownholtz
“He is from the Sacramento area, Carmichael Calif. Jesuit High School.  6-1, 200 pounds.  In 2016 he threw for 2,300 yards, connected on 26 touchdowns.  He averaged 17.4 yards per completion.  He was in a run-oriented defense.  So he hasn’t really gotten a chance to shine yet in a pro-style offense.  He was named MaxPreps All-Norcal team.  This young man is a competitor.  His uncle, coach Volek from Fresno City College, his son Billy Volek played 12 years in the NFL.  His first offer was my first year as an assistant coach, a long, long time ago.  He ended up going to Fresno State and had a productive career.  But his uncle was there, came on a visit and remembered that UTEP was his first offer.” 

Josh Fields
“We’re very excited about this young man.  I really feel he’s the best player in El Paso.  He’s probably the most qualified player that we have recruited to take over an offense since Aaron Jones, and that is Josh Fields from Americas High School in El Paso.  Josh rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons.  He was named District football MVP, he was named Class 6A All-State first team offense and the El Paso Times MVP.  He is a and three-star athlete.  He has run for over 400 yards in two games.  That’s a season for most guys.  He finished his career with 5,151 yards, 820 carries, 6.3 average and 50 touchdowns.  Those are Aaron Jones type numbers.  As I recall watching these guys on film, his running style is very similar but I look back, Aaron Jones was a 165-pound player coming out of high school.  Josh Fields is a 195-pound athlete and he’s only going to continue to get bigger as he’s a worker in the weight room.  He caught 40 passes for 501 yards and seven scores so he’s also a dual threat that we can utilize out of the backfield.  This is one of the best players to come out of El Paso in a very long time.  We are extremely excited for him to be a part of our program.  They didn’t have to sell me, his film did the trick but when I went in that home, I have to say this, and no offense to any other parents, this was the best home cooked meal I have ever had.  You can only go visit once a week but I almost wanted to test that policy.  His brother Jack was a great player and played at Boise State.  He was a big part of the recruiting process along with his parents.  He chose to stay here and play his ball here in town.  Another thing I didn’t mention about him, the Ford Built Tough award, where they bring the top 100 players in the country to Dallas, that’s this weekend.  He was actually invited to that and is going to be a part of that along with all the top players in the country.  It’s quite the honor for Josh Fields.” 

Forest McKee
“The next young man is a tough character.  He is from the El Paso area, Onate High School in Las Cruces.  This guy is going to play fullback for us but he was also the state player of the year linebacker which kind of displays his toughness.  He is a 240-pound athlete, 6-1, his name is Forest McKee.  He reminds me a lot of Darrin Laufasa.  In fact, I think he’s miles ahead of where Darrin was coming out of high school as a blocker and as a runner.  This guy could possibly play early for us.  He is one tough character.  His father is a high school coach and he comes from a great character family.  In 33 games at linebacker and fullback, how about this for production.  He notched a total of 289 tackles in his career, five sacks, three interceptions and as a fullback, 141 carries for 864 yards and nine scores.  He was All-State first team and named the NMPreps Linebacker of the Year.  Very physical, tough young athlete.” 

David Lucero
“He is currently here on campus.  He was a junior college signee.  His name is David Lucero.  David Lucero, we had a lot of history with.  We actually offered him two years ago, he went to Boise State out of high school and actually played for them as a true freshman.  This guy would fill a need for us with Hayden Plinke graduating.  Athletically, he is very similar to Hayden Plinke.  Probably not as much of an online blocker as Hayden was, but as a receiver he can be a very productive tight end for us.  He is 6-5, 230 pounds.  He comes from Arizona Western College.  As a freshman at Boise State he played in 11, games, averaged 15.8 yards per reception.  He was named All-San Diego.  He was a three-star athlete by Scout and coming out of high school.  He was the 27th-rated tight end in the nation coming out of high school.  I think this guy is really going to be a very productive player for us.  Very smooth athlete.” 

Cutter Leftwich
“He’s a center, all district three times, he started all four years at Franklin High School, he was the Texas Coaches Association All-State Football Academic Team and if this guy can overcome the coaching he’s going to get from his father, he’s a finisher, he’s going to be a pretty good player. He’s a physical player, he’s a finisher, very smart young man.” 

Jalen Spady
“The name will be very familiar to you, he’s an offensive lineman from Huntsville, Ala. His father is a head coach at Alabama A&M University. His father also happens to be the best offensive lineman that ever played in UTEP history, James Spady. He [James] was a center for us on Coach Stull’s 1998 team that won ten games. Maybe one of the most athletic, smart players I’ve ever been around, has translated into his son, a much bigger young man, he’s 6-foot-3, 340 pounds, and he’s not fat. He’s played three seasons on varsity, he earned All-Huntsville Regional Football Team as a senior. His father, James, was inducted recently into the UTEP Centennial Team. For a 340 pound young man, he’s got outstanding feet, just like his dad.”

Trace Mascorro “Trace Mascorro is our kind of guy, smart and tough. Very productive player, started all four years, played on both sides of the ball, productive for a defensive lineman. In the state championship game, he had five tackles, two tackles for loss of yards and a quarterback sack, so when the lights were on, this kid performed.” 

Javaughn Thomas
“We truly have a goal; we want a player from every single team in the El Paso area, and that’s my goal as a head coach to make sure we accomplish that. This young man can go in a bunch of different directions, he was a tight end, on offense he played some wide receiver, he played running back, he played defensive end, he played linebacker. He’s got great size, very athletic, played on offense and defense. This guy is a very productive, athletic player.” 

Kalaii Griffin
“I think you can see from this list that linebacker was the number one priority, we made a switch last year from a 3-4 defense and essentially had to withstand a year of playing with Nick (Usher) a 4-2-5 personnel, a decision made by myself. Sometimes you’ve got to take steps backward to take steps forward. I really felt for the best of the program, for the future of the program, to be able to recruit 3-4 linebackers and run that style of defense, it was the best move for us. We’ve got an outstanding staff on defense, our players were really starting at the end of the year picking up the defense and were playing outstanding, I think that North Texas game was a signature game for them, getting after those guys and we’re only going to improve going into the spring. But we did have to sign a bunch of linebackers. We had to get depth and we had to get quality depth and we had to look for some starters. This next guy could be a starter for us at outside linebacker. This guy is a great space player, very athletic, he’s going to end up being a 235-pound linebacker for us. Very long, athletic guy. To speak on his athleticism, for a 225-pound guy, he was a kick returner, he had 325 yards returning. This guy will be a great space player and a great rusher for us.” 

Brent Ugochuku
“Another very productive player that played on a state championship team. Another young man where, when the lights are on, he was productive.” 

Josh Wells
“The next young man is from here in El Paso, Parkland High School. It’s the second year in a row that we signed a player from Parkland High School; Christian Johnson we signed last year. His name is Josh Wells. He’s linebacker, 6-foot-1, 215 pounds. You talk about production in high school, he finished second in the state of Texas in sacks following his senior year. He produced monster numbers in 2016, posting 25.0 sacks – himself, not the team – for minus 204 yards. He also had 132 tackles, three pass breakups, a pair of fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and blocked four punts. In the NFL that’s called Pro Bowl stats. This guy had a very productive season. He was District MVP following senior season; all total he brings 33.0 overall sacks to UTEP on his resume.” 

James Tupou
“The next young man, if I can describe this guy in one word – it would be violent. This guy likes to hit. He has a brother who’s currently a freshman on our team, he’s Sione Tupou. I love having brothers on the team. When you talk about Alvin and Aaron Jones, or the Laufasa brothers. That’s type of competition and family unity that we’re searching for on our team on a daily basis. These guys go it. Even during dinner, it’s like watching my two sons. They’re pushing each other, shoving each other. They’re only going to help each other, they both played linebacker and they’ll both compete against each other. James Tupou is 5-foot-10, 230 pounds and comes from Allen, Texas. Allen, Texas is one of the most productive high school programs. The last two years they are 28-2; he’s been the starter the last two years. He was named All-District first team and named All-State honorable mention. This guy is a hitter.”

Kobie Herring
“Again, we’re looking for productive football players and this next young man, his production in high school was unbelievable. Kobie Herring, who was also a teammate of Trace Mascorro at Refugio High School. They were Texas state champs, played all four years on the varsity squad, amassed 200 tackles, 37.0 tackles for loss, four quarterback hurries, 2.0 sacks, two pass breakups and one fumble recovery as a senior. He was Texas 2A State Player of the Year. That marks the second year in a row that we’ve had the Texas Player of the Year. Last year was Quadraiz Wadley in 4A, and this year it’s Kobie Herring in 2A. Strong character family; his father coached there at the high school that won the state championship. He was also named first team defense and defensive MVP for the state of Texas. He was also MVP in the state championship game.” 

Kahani Smith
“This next young man might be a sleeper of the class. He’s here on campus right now. He’s a safety from Riverside, Calif. The last time we had a safety from Riverside, Calif., he propelled us to a bowl game – Jameel Erving. He’s a graduate assistant for us. As you may recall, he’s the one who made the great play against Middle Tennessee where he batted down the pass and made the interception that allowed us to go to the New Mexico Bowl in 2014. This guy is much better than Jameel Erving (laughs from the crowd). He’s a very athletic guy and he’s a playmaker. He had 36 tackles, four interceptions, four pass breakups, three touchdowns on defense in 2016. He was a Unanimous National Division Central League first team defense selection and player of the year. Kahani Smith, 6-foot-1, 185-pound safety. He’ll be paired with Devin Cockrell and Michael Lewis who is now academically eligible. With those three guys, we’ll have the three best safeties in Conference USA.”

Jamar Smith
“The next young man is a linebacker from Lyons, Ga.; played at Holmes Community College. He’ll be here in May. His name is Jamar Smith. This guy is a very compact, physical linebacker. He’s 5-foot-11, 230 pounds – he’ll be an inside linebacker for us. He led their defense in tackles during both seasons at Holmes CC. He averaged a team-best 9.0 tackles a game. He added 2.0 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, four pass breakups and a blocked kick. He’s very productive and he was first team All-State. As a high school wrestler, he was 60-0.” 

Tyson Wilson
“Last young man we’re going to talk about today is a defensive back, who reminds me a lot of Nik Needham (UTEP’s starting cornerback). This young man has to hit the weight room, but he’s got all the necessary skills to be an outstanding corner. His name is Tyson Wilson from McKinney, Texas – an outstanding program. Played action on the both sides of the ball this year. He had 53 tackles, five interceptions with a pick-six, two pass breakups and a pair of blocked field goal attempts. He’s a very productive special teams’ player. He was named All-Collin County second team defense honors. He’s an extremely productive DB; Tyson Wilson will play corner for us.”

“That wraps up our 2017 signing class. We’re doing something a little bit different this year. We’re going to be extremely patient. We have two scholarships available. We’re going to hold on to those scholarships until May and possibly look for a late qualifying high school player. The last one worked out pretty well for us – his name is Will Hernandez. Or a late qualifying (Junior College) linebacker. The last one worked out pretty well for us – his name is Dante Lovilette, who finished second on team in tackles. When we do sign those players, we’ll announce that to Miner faithful. But we’re very excited for the class that we have here. But more importantly, when we first took over this program, we said we were going to recruit El Paso. Currently, we’ve signed 22 players in five years to scholarships from El Paso. Currently on our team right now, we have 35 players form El Paso. That’s a third of our team. This year’s signings reflect that ration as well. That will continue. This is El Paso’s team. These kids love playing in front of the home folks. And I can’t think of anything better. Again, I always refer to the Jones’s boys coming off from making a sack or coming off from scoring a touchdown and hugging their coaches and seeing their parents in the stands. I can’t think of anything better. We’ll continue to recruit the homegrown talent. We’re ultimately looking for football players who care about getting a degree and that they are on the same mission we are on – win a bowl and a conference championship. We’re not going to stop working at it until we achieve it.”

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