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Here's what to know about UTEP's three new junior college football transfers

Bret Bloomquist
El Paso Times

A year after UTEP transformed its football fortunes and kickstarted a rebuild with junior college transfers, the Miners are going back to that well again.

It was a boon last season and there was even more motivation in the summer of 2021. The emergence of the transfer portal pulled many teams' eyes away from the junior college route as the NJCAA moved its season to spring which made it even more hidden. Thanks to the free year those players can transfer in as sophomores, or in some cases, freshmen.

UTEP sophomore cornerback Torey Richardson (right) prepares to defend against Davis Burns Monday at Glory Field

What that meant is that in June, four months after signing day and a month before the start of camp, UTEP added six new bodies who have all earned praise in the early weeks of fall practice.

While NJCAA All-Americans, safety Trejon Hugue and linebacker James Neal had the flashiest resumes, defensive lineman Tavita Tafuna, cornerback Torey Richardson, receiver Jostein Clarke and offensive lineman Otis Pitts are all already getting work with the second team.

Here is a look at three of them making a quick impact.

Torey Richardson

The transfer from Blinn College has emerged as the No. 3 cornerback behind starters Josh Caldwell and Walter Neil, Jr., easing the move of Dennis Barnes from cornerback to safety and wide receiver.

Richardson cited the relationship he built with new corners coach Tevin Wade as his motivation for coming to El Paso and he's already turned heads.

"It's been going really smoothly, I've been picking up on it quickly," he said. "My teammates have been a lot of help with the plays and coverages, all that. I've been having a good time out here making plays with my teammates."

UTEP coach Dana Dimel said Richardson has lived up to the billing.

"He's good enough to start for us and he's pushing to be a starter," Dimel said. "We feel good about our starters now, but Torey can get in the game and do some good things for us. I'm pleased with his strength and length and what he's brought to the table at that corner position."

Like all the junior college transfers, this is an unusual time for Richardson, who was playing in games three months ago and made a quick turnaround just to get to El Paso.

"It's really weird," he said. "Our last game was in May and I had to be here in June to get ready for workouts. It was hard, but it's been fun. Two football seasons in one, I'm not complaining."

Freshman receiver Jostein Clarke makes a cut on a route Monday at Glory Field

Jostein Clarke

The same goes for Clarke, who comes in as a freshman. An El Paso native born at Fort Bliss, he was in the Dallas area (Prosper) by junior high school, then redshirted at Abilene Christian in 2019. He transferred to Tyler Junior College, and at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, he brings size UTEP covets.

More:Here is how the UTEP Miners are expecting to build depth at the receiver position in 2021

"We need that length at receiver," Dimel said. "He's got speed, a really smooth route runner. We think he's got huge upside for us and he's got four years eligibility-wise. We're bringing in experienced guys but they have a lot of time in the program as well."

Clarke has enjoyed his short time in El Paso.

"It's coming well," he said. "I just got here, it's difficult getting the plays down. But the other guys in the room, and great coaches, helping me out getting the plays down so I can get on the field and be able to play fast. It's a great environment here."

He also loves getting two seasons back-to-back.

"I love football, so it's not really a big deal for me," he said. "I'm more excited to be here, part of the UTEP family. They brought me in pretty quickly. I've adjusted, so it's getting plays down, that kind of stuff. It's definitely a quick turnaround."

UTEP sophomore tackle Tavita Tafuna competes in a drill Monday at Glory Field

Tavita Tafuna

The player who has earned the biggest praise from Dimel since his arrival is Tafuna, a 6-1, 265-pound defensive tackle from San Mateo College.

Junior college linemen were UTEP's path to a more successful 2020 and Tafuna fits into that mold. He also comes in as a freshman.

More:'We have a winning mentality': UTEP football defense building around a talented defensive line

"At the start is was difficult trying to adapt to this different environment in El Paso, coming from Cali," he said. "But it's fun. I feel like there is a strong brotherhood coming into this season. I still don't know a lot of these guys here, or El Paso, but it's good to get to know new people.

"There's a lot of work to do, it's only the start of the season. Down in the trenches I've been working every day, day-in, day-out."

Said Dimel: "Tavita was a guy we found late and we felt like, 'Boy, this guy does some nice things on film.' Then he got here and he works with an incredible work ethic and he's really tough, physical, strong player. ... He's got a lot of football ahead of him."

That's true of junior college players following the year of COVID and UTEP is taking full advantage.

Bret Bloomquist can be reached at 915-546-6359;; @Bretbloomquist on Twitter.