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Hankins breaks out in big fashion for UTEP Miners

Bret Bloomquist
El Paso Times

The moment of Deion Hankins' arrival, when fans at UTEP could truly start getting excited about the former Parkland High star tailback, was both sudden and a year coming.

When Hankins arrived last fall as El Paso's all-time leading high school rusher, it was with expectations that now follow this city's tailback prospects, part of a line and legacy Burges' Aaron Jones helped start.

UTEP overcomes early deficit to defeat Stephen F. Austin 24-14 in their season opener at the Sun Bowl Saturday, September, 5, 2020. Running back Deion Hankins led the Miners with two touchdowns on 113 yards rushing.

For various reasons, Hankins didn't have much of a chance in 2019, which was the typical true freshman season at an FBS school: redshirting, practicing, getting bigger and stronger and getting a few carries late in the year.

The breakout, though, was coming, and the moment to circle came with 11:10 left in the third quarter Saturday against Stephen F. Austin on a simple up-the-middle run.

The 16-yarder wasn't Hankins' longest of the night, it wasn't one of his two touchdowns, but by the time he pancaked a third defender, drug two more another five yards and sent the Stephen F. Austin training staff on the field to pick up the pieces, it was the type of play where memories begin.

If Hankins logs another 48 games at UTEP, starting with Saturday's game at Texas, if he starts threatening records, if he leads the Miners out of the wilderness, that thundering run will be the instant where it started.

"I've been in a lot of high-level games that was as good a run as I've seen," said UTEP coach Dana Dimel, who coached 19 seasons in the Big 12. "Absolutely outstanding. He ran as good ... I don't remember seeing more physical running by any back in a game that I've been involved with and obviously that's been a lot of high-level football.

"To say that is saying a lot. He was really, really impressive with the physicality with which he ran."

Said his left guard, Bobby DeHaro: "When that happens it carries over to our offensive line. We end up playing way better.

"You all saw it on Saturday, kid can run. He makes us as an offensive line feel way better knowing if we don't do our job well he can make something happen. You all saw it Saturday, it was wonderful to see. Exciting."

For the modest Hankins, it was what he does.

"That just kind of happens," he said. "At first on that play I saw the hole and I went for it. The one guy came from the side and hit me, I bounced off another guy and I started bouncing off people. I just tried to stay on my feet, that's it."

By the end of the evening, on what won't go as a debut as he played four games in 2019 and had nine carries before suffering a concussion, Hankins rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries.

"It's amazing," Hankins said. "I feel like now that I have a game under my belt I'm able to step on the field and be more confident, know what I can do. Right now I'm focused in on the future, focused in on the Longhorns and leave things in the past.

"Going out there, proving myself, knowing what I could do, what was in me — for people to see that on the field was amazing."

UTEP overcomes early deficit to defeat Stephen F. Austin 24-14 in their season opener at the Sun Bowl Saturday, September, 5, 2020. Running back Deion Hankins led the Miners with two touchdowns on 113 yards rushing.

While Dimel said the physical nature of the performance was as good as he's seen in a game, it didn't surprise him because he's seen it daily at Glory Field. Hankins was a few days late making his practice debut this year because of a contact-tracing precautionary quarantine but Hankins did not test positive for COVID. He has wowed from the first moment he started getting reps. 

"He practiced that way the whole camp," Dimel said. "It was day after day after day after day, and I'm thinking, 'Deion is really starting to come into his own.' That's the way he played.

"He's very consistent with his preparation, he takes care of himself off the field. He knows how to get himself ready to play, he keeps his priorities in line, he has a good idea of what's important in his life. He gets himself focused and ready to play."

There was some thought he would step right in immediately in 2019 when Quardraiz Wadley got hurt shortly before last season. Right around then Fields transferred back to UTEP from Georgia Southern and Treyvon Hughes had a breakout senior year, enabling UTEP to redshirt Hankins.

Hankins said that all ended up working out well.

"It helped me get the system down, it helped me on the football field and it also helped me mentally, getting mentally tough," he said. "Now I'm able to perform when I feel the pressure on me."

That feeds into Hankins' other asset.

"He's one of the best character kids you'll ever meet," Dimel said. "He's a very very positive guy to have on your football team. You'd like all of his teammates to emulate the way he treats people and the way he handles himself."

Said quarterback Gavin Hardison: "He's a super good guy, a super-nice guy, he's never bagging on anybody. He's a really good teammate, he treats everyone with respect. He's an awesome guy. I was super-hyped for him.

"He gave us a lot of momentum, got everyone going. Big runs like that help feed into the team."

On the character aspect, Hankins wanted the number 3 but settled on 33 because, "I've worn a 3 all my life because I want to represent the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost," he said. "My number has been changed around a few times, I used to be 32, 36 — as long as it has a three in it I'm good. As 33, my Mom told me it's double the luck."

Hankins didn't have to go far to make this great start happen, as he is now in the middle of what is becoming a running back legacy in El Paso.

That started with Americas' Jack Fields, a high school star at the turn of the previous decade who went on to Boise State.

Jones, of course, became UTEP's all-time leading rusher and led the NFL in touchdowns last season for the Green Bay Packers.

Americas' Joshua Fields, younger brother of Jack, is a senior at UTEP and now Hankins' backup. Americas senior Aaron Dumas has committed to New Mexico, Burges junior Tavorus Jones has been offered by, among others, Texas and Alabama.

Being part of that is important to Hankins.

"I was born and raised here," he said. "Being able to represent my city means a lot."

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