The top 10 UTEP football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
RB Aaron Jones, Jr.
The Miners are pining for the return of Jones, both from last year’s foot injury and this February’s DWI. The 5-10, 205-pound playmaker is a Big 12-caliber back in a Conference USA uniform. And he’s the one guy that instantly makes UTEP competitive. Jones played in just two games last year. But in 2014, he
accounted for more than 35% of the team’s offense by rushing for 1,321 yards, catching 30 passes and scoring 14 times. Everyone is better when No. 29 is in the Miner huddle.
LB Alvin Jones, Jr.
If only UTEP had a few more in the locker room like Jones, the defensive outlook wouldn’t be so bleak. The Miners’ high-energy weakside linebacker led the team in tackles (93), stops for loss (14.5) and sacks (6.5) and safeties (2), yet only managed to be named honorable mention All-Conference USA. Jones is a 5-10, 220-pound guided missile, whose ability to fly off the edge makes him UTEP’s most consequential pass rusher.
OG Will Hernandez, Jr.
The Miners are harboring more than just an all-star candidate at left guard. Hernandez might be forging a next-level career before he’s through in college. The hulking 6-3, 340-pound Las Vegas native has started all 25 games of his UTEP career. And he was quietly dominant late last year, keeping the pocket clean and burying opponents on running plays. Hernandez will lose some of his anonymity this fall.
SS Devin Cockrell, Jr.
UTEP was in no position to lose a player of Cockrell’s caliber, but that’s what happened in 2015. He didn’t play a down last year, missing it to a knee injury. Cockrell is the prototypical safety in El Paso, versatile and reliable as an open-field tackler. The 5-11, 190-pound veteran started every game of his first two seasons, getting named honorable mention All-Conference USA in 2014 for making 52 tackles, seven stops for loss, two sacks and a pick.
LB Nick Usher, Sr.
Finally healthy for an entire season, Usher showcased his potential as a pass rusher in 2015. The honorable mention All-Conference USA pick stepped up with 46 tackles, a career-high 10 stops for loss and 3.5 sacks. At just 6-3 and 235 pounds, Usher is the classic weakside linebacker, who relies on his speed and quickness off the blocks to beat opposing tackles around the edge. He’s a situational guy who won’t be an enormous factor against the run.
TE Hayden Plinke, Sr.
The well-traveled Plinke has finally settled down in El Paso. After stops at Boise State and Portland State, he emerged as a capable threat in the passing game, finishing second on the team with 37 receptions for 405 yards. The 6-4, 255-pound Plinke serves as a quality weapon in the low-risk UTEP passing game, but also proved to be a solid run blocker as well.
NT Gino Bresolin, Sr.
Bresolin provides the Miners with a steady presence on the interior of the D-line, starting 23 games over the past two seasons. As a junior, he made 28 tackles, while ranking second on the team in defensive snaps. The 6-2, 290-pound Bresolin will never hang up big numbers, but he’s an effective run defender at a school that’s yielded at least 4.8 yards per carry in each of the last eight years.
WR Jaquan White, Sr.
Not starting a single game couldn’t prevent White from being UTEP’s most effective receiver of 2015. He led the Miners out of the slot with 41 receptions for 494 yards and seven touchdowns, despite the turnstile at quarterback. White makes the most of his reps, and at 5-11 and 200 pounds has the thickness to fight through traffic in the middle of the field.
OG Derek Elmendorff, Jr.
Elmendorff is about to enter his third season as a starting guard, provided he can get past massive senior John De La Rosa on the depth chart at right guard. His sophomore year was hampered by injuries that cost him two games and parts of two others. It was the second straight fall that he failed to finish healthy. When at 100%, Elmendorff is physical 6-3, 300-pounder who held his own in pass protection for a Miner unit that allowed only a dozen sacks in 2015.
FB Darrin Laufasa, Sr.
Laufasa is the underrated cog of one of the top rushing attacks in Conference USA. While he doesn’t touch the ball much, just 183 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries a year ago, he’s the 6-1, 250-pound mauler who helps create daylight for the Miners’ quicker backs. Laufasa is a selfless and heady veteran of the backfield, with 32 career starts, including all 25 over the past two seasons.