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'It means a little more': El Paso products proud to be UTEP Miner football players

Bret Bloomquist
El Paso Times

From the time he was 2-years-old, Ray Flores had a dream shared by a few other boys in El Paso.

He wanted to play football for the UTEP Miners.

"Being a hometown kid it means a little more to me," he explained.

The Ysleta alum, now a wide receiver fighting into the depth chart, is one of 24 El Pasoans living that dream. Four — Flores, Montwood's Bobby DeHaro and Josh Ortega and Parkland's Deion Hankins — are rotation players who will see significant time when UTEP opens Aug. 28 against New Mexico State.

UTEP guard Bobby DeHaro (73) talks with teammates early in Tuesday's practice at Glory Field

"It's so important to our program, it's so important to the people of El Paso and to UTEP to have some of our local flavor," coach Dana Dimel said. "High school football is just gigantic here in El Paso. To have those guys, to have Ray and Josh and Bobby, and they're all such really good football players who can contribute very heavily to our team this year.

"They are good students, they do everything the way you want it done. I'm very proud of those guys."

Bobby DeHaro could be record-setter

As DeHaro enters his fifth year in the program and his fourth as a starter, he's still listed as a junior because of the free year of 2020.

That means when he lines up as the starting left guard against New Mexico State, he will be making his 33rd start. He could eventually run that number to 56 games or more, something that would not be possible for any previous UTEP class in program history.

Those games have gone well, too. He's a three-time honorable mention All-Conference USA selection, meaning there is an opportunity to get all-conference mention five times.

"It's amazing, this is my fourth year and I'm really happy to be here," he said. "I love this team, I love everything we're doing right now. I'm excited for this season."

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Every offensive starter from last season is back, so that means he's part of an offensive line that is supremely familiar with each other. That's made adjustments easier this season under new offensive coordinator Dave Warner, who at any rate hasn't revamped the schemes.

"Great, that's going great," DeHaro said. "All the calls we have to do, everything is in sync. Right tackle Jeremiah Byers is an athletic tackle, Elijah Klein as a right guard is technique sound. We have everything on the o-line and we're excited."

UTEP defensive lineman Josh Ortega hits a sled Tuesday at Glory Field

Josh Ortega gets another senior year

Ortega, a high school teammate and one year ahead of DeHaro at Montwood, only played in three games in 2020, all starts, before  being sidelined by an injury. He didn't have to apply for a fifth season of eligibility since it was automatically granted.

Ortega is part of the revamped move to a 4-2-5 defense from three-man fronts, something that fits UTEP's great depth on the defensive line Ortega is a part of.

"I feel really proud to be here, I love El Paso so much," Ortega said. "Now that we have some guys from Montwood on the team, and different schools in El Paso, we're getting real close together. I'm making good friendships. Bobby DeHaro and I are showing them the way things go around here."

What's changed is the scheme and Ortega said he likes that change.

"The new defense is a really good defense," he said. "If people come out here and watch us practice, they'll see we're getting after the o-line, after the quarterback. We're a really tight-knit group, we've had a lot of production this upcoming camp and we're ready to play NMSU."

UTEP receiver Ray Flores runs a route Tuesday at Glory Field

Ray Flores makes position change

Though he's been productive in limited opportunities, averaging 4.8 yards on 15 carries over his UTEP career, the fifth-year junior will now go mostly full-time at something he does quite well: catching the ball.

After moving over to receiver, Flores will be in the rotation as UTEP builds its receiver depth. Flores also plays extensively on special teams.

"It's been really smooth," Flores said of the switch to receiver. "Starting in the spring helped a lot, got the nicks and cracks out of there. Now it's a lot smoother, a lot easier now. It feels more natural, I'm not thinking now, just playing."

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What he does think of is how grateful he is to be a UTEP Miner.

"It's a blessing, it always is, it always has been," Flores said. "We want to have a big year this year, and being a hometown kid it means a little more to me. I've loved this team my whole life.

"My whole life, ever since I was a 2-year-old kid I was in the Sun Bowl every weekend, every Saturday in the fall. Always."

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