I hope to be able to get Denizens involved in providing a little support for him, and his fellow soldiers in the future. I will give the Denizens some more information on that, soon.
I want to thank all of those who are serving our country, wearing the uniforms of our military for their service and sacrifice. Please join me in thanking them when you see them, and do what you can to help them, and support them.
Archive for July, 2011
UTEP’s Running Backs under Mike Price have done pretty well for a guy who is supposed to be all about the passing game. To be sure, his teams at UTEP have not been 3 yards and a cloud of dust kinds of rushing teams. But, believe it or not, since his arrival in 2004 the team has rushed the ball 2,737 times and passed 3040 times. Take away the 2006 season, when the team rushed just 288 times compared to passing the ball 447 times and the rush to pass ratio gets very close at 2449/2593for those six years. We’ll get back to that 2006 season a little later.
Let’s say that Coach Price uses the pass to open things up for his running game rather than him using the running game and then uses the pass to keep teams honest. His two starting quarterbacks have rewritten UTEP’s passing records, but he has also set the standard with his running back Donald Buckram.
In 2004, a sliver of a running back, a special guy, tough as nails, but probably had to put rocks in his pockets to tip the scales at 160 pounds racked up 1265 yards. Howard Jackson, took advantage of Coach Price’s spreading the defense of opponents out through the passing game. The slightest opening was all HoJo needed to rip off a big gain. Jackson averaged 98.9 yards per game. But, the pros were pretty sure that he would simply not be able to take the pounding in the NFL.
The 2005 team had a one two punch with Marcus Thomas and Tyler Ebell that may have just been the best combination UTEP had ever put in the backfield. Marcus Thomas was big strong and fast. He was the Cadillac. Tyler Ebell was quick, and elusive. He was the Corvette. Thomas bruised his way to 822 yards and averaged 71.9 per game. Ebell juked and darted his way for 577 yards, and averaged 76.6 yards per game. The two combined for 1399 yards for the season. Both went on to play at the next level.
The 2006 team, the team I mentioned earlier, had an off year in rushing yardage. But, that may have been due to the passing year Jordan Palmer was having. That year, Palmer completed 65.7% of his passes, and averaged 299 yards yards a game through the air. Marcus Thomas no longer had Ebell to keep defenses off balance, either. Thomas was held to 565 yards and an average of just 46.6 yards per game that season.
But, Thomas more than made up for it the next year. The senior rushed for 1210 yards and an average of 106 yards per game. MT seemed to have a determination that season that hadn’t been there the previous year. Maybe it had something to do with the senior knowing it was his time to show what he could do, and maybe he knew that his freshman quarterback could use the help of his running to keep defenses honest. I don’t know what it was, but he was sure fun to watch that year.
The 2008 season was a season in which the rushing attack was by committee. Terrel Jackson stepped up to fill the void left when Thomas moved on. But he had a couple of young ball carriers who were looking for their turn, too. James Thomas II was a dual threat quarterback, but with Trevor Vittatoe firmly in position at the quarterback spot, Thomas was given the chance to use his running ability. There was also this kid name Donald Buckram that showed promise. Jackson rushed for nearly 500 yards that season, and JT and DBuck added nearly another 400 yards each. The three backs averaged 102 yards per game.
The 2009 year was Donald Buckram’s. The record setting back ran for 1638 yards that season, and averaged 132.8 yards per game. He had speed, power, and enough shiftiness to allow him to run through, past, and around defenders. He will be taking his shot at the NFL this year.
Donald Buckram returned for the 2010 season after having undergone surgery. Early in the season he showed some signs of the effects of missing Spring Ball and preseason practices. But, a young man who had transferred from TCU after sitting out a year was ready to go. Joe Banyard showed that he could get the job done. He showed a combination of power running and speed that allowed him to rush for 638 yards while sharing duty with Buckram, who got his mojo back and added another 354 yards.
After seven seasons, the Miners have sent three running backs to the pros. That, from a pass oriented coach. Not too shabby.
However, that was then and this is now. Like Janet Jackson says, it’s all about the what have you done for me lately. So, let’s see what this season has for us at the running back position. Well, for starters, expect Joe Banyard to profit from being the main man. He is the kind of running back that seems to get stronger as the game goes on. But, like back in the day when Marcus Thomas had his Tyler Ebell to provide the scatback combination, Banyard will have Vernon Frazier. Frazier is the amazing little back that leaves defenders grasping at his vapor trails. There is also a big bruising back, Leilyon Myers, who show ed flashes of what could be the second coming of Marcus Thomas, last season. As if that wasn’t more than enough, there are some really special ball carriers coming up through the ranks. Nathan Jeffery is just waiting for his chance to break out, and is so talented that he will get is chances.
When it comes to the running back spot, there is no doubt that the Miners will be good to go. The real question is whether these guys can go from good to great. A great running game would sure make the transition at the quarterback position a lot easier.
In 2003, Jordan Palmer and Orlando Cruz split the passing duties almost perfectly down the middle. Cruz threw the ball 203, and Palmer passed 196 times. Cruz completed 50.7% of his, and Palmer completed 49.5% of his. The following year, under Coach Price, the Miners threw the ball 393 times. Palmer threw it 366 times, Omar Duarte put it in the air 20 times, and Cruz had only tossed the ball 3 times. For the time that Coach Price has been here, one thing has become very clear-his starting quarterback, once he earns the job, can pretty much count on being the man.
From 2004 through 2006, under Price, Jordan Palmer threw 94.7% of the 1298 passes thrown. From 2007 through 2010, Trevor Vittatoe threw 94% of the 1742 passes, even though he was playing with serious injuries the last two seasons.
So, as the players come back from summer vacation, and prepare for the 2011 season, the next few weeks should prove to be very interesting as we watch the final few rounds in the battle for the signal caller’s spot on this year’s team. At the end of Spring Ball, Nick Lamaison had gotten the nod to start the Spring Game with the lion’s share of the starters on his team. His backup for the game was Red-shirt Freshman, Javia Hall, who had come on strong in Spring Ball, in a bid to leap past all of the other contenders for the starting quarterback job. In the Spring Game, Hall may very well have had the best showing. Nick Lamaison was a highly touted, and accomplished, quarterback in the junior college ranks, and was brought in to fill the void left by the graduation of Trevor Vittatoe. Senior Tate Smith, and sophomore walk on Carson Meger, had been unable to do enough to claim the spot while serving as Vittatoe’s backups. But, Coach Price, when he announced the signing of Javia Hall, said that Hall would become the face of UTEP football in the years to come, and it looks like Hall has decided that the future is now.
It seems that Lamaison may have a tenuous hold on the starting spot, but, in the weeks to come, he may have a serious battle on his hands to keep it from being ripped from his grasp by the very talented Hall.
Back in 2007, when Palmer left, backup Kyle Wright was trying to claim the quarterback position. He was joined in the hunt by one of the highest rated high school quarterbacks to ever come to UTEP, transfer Lorne Sam, and a youngster, another highly ranked high school quarterback, James Thomas II. But, the quarterback that won the job was a kid that had slipped under everyone’s radar, the freshman, Trevor Vittatoe.
The long wait is over. Football is back. With lots of questions surrounding this season’s team, the next month’s quarterback duel starts things off with a bang. The trip up to Camp Socorro promises to be one of the more interesting ones in quite some time.
The family had been breeding, training, and racing their horses for generations. They were passionate in their pursuit of owning a champion. Through the years, they had taken many horses to the tracks, and gotten them into the gates, but more often than not, it was their horses that finished last. Other owners, for years had laughed at them behind their backs, at their methods, trainers, horses, and even the family, itself. Every owner dreamed of owning and racing a champion. But that same dream, that dream of a champion in the minds and hearts of the family, had become a ridiculous joke in horse racing circles. The family’s business, hopes and dreams of winning horses, had become an embarrassment to some members of the family. Some of the family had kept the hope and dream alive in their hearts, but over the years of humiliation they had developed a survival tactic of lowered expectations so that they wouldn’t feel foolish themselves, or appear foolish to others. Others of the family, who loved the dream, loved the life of being with the ones they loved, doing what they loved doing, and the sharing of the same dream, continued to try and catch the elusive brass ring.
At family reunions the talk would invariably include the brief period during Great Grandpa’s time as the head of the family business, when there had been a couple of seasons of relative success. To be truthful, relative success meant that they didn’t finish dead last or nearly so, in every race they entered. Those were the seasons when they had actually finished in the money a few times. That talk always led to the season when Grandpa had been successful enough to get their horse entered into one of the big regional stakes races. Expectations had been high for that race, and although the horse ran a respectable race, when they crossed the finish line the favorite surged ahead to win by a half a length. Pride and success are measured differently by those who have little of either.
Grandpa had seen enough of his family’s business to know that it was nearly impossible to live up to the expectations that he had given rise to. Even as the family had taken their horse to the track to run in that stakes race, Grandpa, seizing the opportunity when it came knocking, he had left the family business, taken a big raise, and a postion with a bigger and more successful racing family’s team. They felt that if Grandpa could win with the resources he had had in his family’s business, that he could surely make them into a powerful force, what with their considerably better resources. After a few seasons, seasons of modest success, he had been let go. He eventually found his way back to the family business.
After Grandpa had left, the family had brought in a number of young, up and coming men, and old veterans to run the business. Each had failed miserably. Each had their excuses. Some of the excuses were often repeated ones. The horses on hand weren’t winners, to needing more time to develop their newly acquired horses were pretty standard. If a veteran followed a younger man, it was common to say that the training hadn’t been tried and true, and if the older man was followed by a young man, you could almost bet money that the younger man would claim that the methods used were out of date. Occasionally, the family was blamed for lack of support, or the expectations were too high. The one constant was the failure to win.
After many years the parade had come to an end, and Grandpa’s son had taken over the family business. At first, he had experienced considerable success. Family members, some of whom had been reluctant to mention their connection to the family business, and some of whom had never even made themselves known to the family, began to appear at family get togethers, along with those who had faithfully attended all of the family functions over the years. Those reunions were joyous affairs. Grins, and warm smiles greeted all, along with bear hugs and kisses. Laughs and raucous shouts replaced the whines and complaints of the past. There was an energy and excitement that seemed to envelope the family like a fog of nitrous oxide at those reunions. Minor irritations were replaced by the warmth of brotherhood. The scars of old wounds that had been caused by a continual picking at the scabs began to fade.
But, just a quickly as the success had come, it began to fade. Yes, there were still many more successes than there had been in the bad old days, but expectations had been raised. With the early success, investments had been made in the practice track, and the paddocks. The entire farm had seized the opportunity that the energy of success had brought to put on new paint and to update and replace old equipment. The success that had raised expectations brought changes that raised expectations even higher. And, there were all of those long lost relatives that had begun showing up. They had perhaps the highest expectations of all. Most of them had not been around during the years of disappointment and despair. They had never experienced the insidious nature of those years of losing. They hadn’t endured. They didn’t know anything but the here and now.
The next few seasons brought a modicum of success, offset, to a degree, by poor finishes that some saw as a return to the bad old days. Horses that seemed to be poised for a season of finishing in the money brought disappointment instead. The past year had been especially hard to take. Nagging injuries had taken the family’s expected top thoroughbred from favorite to longshot by the end of the season. On the basis of some wins against lesser competition, the horse had qualified for a regional stakes race at one of the larger tracks. When the bell rang and the gates sprung open, their horse was the last one out. For the first half of the race, the horse looked like it was drugged, and was moving in slow motion. The jockey appeared not to notice that the pack was furlongs ahead of his mount. At the half way point of the race, the horse and the rider seemed to finally realize that they were in a race. Furiously taking the whip to the horse’s flanks, the horse responded as best it could. It cut the lead considerably, but much of that was due to the winning jockey knowing that there was no need to push his horse and risk injury in a race that was already won.
When the family came together soon after that final race of the season the atmosphere of the gathering was different from all that any of the family could remember. In the past, many had seen the beat down, but familiar, grim determination generated by another season of losing races. Like rainy days in Seattle, nobody looked forward to them, but that’s life in Seattle. Gatherings after the rare winning seasons were accompanied by the joy that one would expect from those who had finally been blessed with success after years of failure. A mixture of smiles and frowns, compliments and curses, would be a normal responce to a season of mixed results. The newly found family that had appeared with the early successes had slowly, but steadily ceased to find the desire, or need, to make the trips to family events. They had returned to the lives they were leading for all of those years before success had come to the business. But, this time, this gathering, the atmosphere was charged. Those who still came to family get togethers were those closest to the family, and the family business. These were the ones who cared. These were the ones who were invested in the success or failure of the business. Theirs were the emotions of those involved, and not the emotions of those on the periphery. These were the ones for whom winning and losing directly affected their lives. The disappointment of those who were disappointed had a heavy dose of anger, frustration, and destruction mixed in. Meeting their level of negative energy required those who believed that the business was in the right hands, and was making strides, to muster the same level of positive energy lest they be thrown aside and be seen and treated as worn, and useless-no not just useless, but obstacles standing in the way. That gathering saw a divide in the family, a family that had always been together, in feast or famine. Along with success had come two unwelcome twins -dissention and condemnation. And these two had made their presence felt. Feeding on the energy of the disappointed, they had had a big impact on the gathering. Physical confrontations were avoided, but barely. Rifts began to appear where civility and family bonds once held the family together.
The end of the season, and the gathering that had followed, also signaled the beginning of the off season. For those who had been left angered and disgusted, it had not come soon enough. They had seen more than their share of disappointing losses. For those who leaned more toward seeing the past season as continued steps in the right direction, the break gave the horses much needed time to heal, and the trainers time to prepare the horses for the season to come. With time, the strength and fervor of both camps began to subside. More and more, it became harder to muster the energy to fight about what had been. The past was in the past. It wasn’t forgotten, but it wasn’t worth fighting over. Fighting over it wouldn’t change it. Exhaustion brought peace, first. As the days rolled by, the peace, and the warmth of summer, saw the seedlings of renewed hope and excitement spring forth. A young, up and coming jockey was brought in. There were a number of two and three year olds that showed promise. Talk of the family turned to the next season’s hopeful winners and wins, training, the upcoming schedule and venues, travel, competition, and glory to be had.
The wheel of life continued to turn. It turned in the same way it had turned so many times before. With each new turn, comes another chance. In life, all that can be asked for is a chance. The greater the odds against, the greater the rewards. Sometimes the desire to win overshadows the fact that it is great just to be in the race-to have a chance.
To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep.-The Byrds
The new season, the renewed purpose, was just a few turns away.