UTEP football’s Camp Socorro in 14th year

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It was in 1999 the University of Texas-El Paso began holding its fall camp at New Mexico Tech, and 14 years later the Miners still roll into town every August to spend 10 days polishing their football skills.

Photos by Jonathan Miller/El Defensor Chieftain: Malcolm Trail looks in a pass during wide receiver drills at the New Mexico Tech athletic fields on Wednesday morning. Trail made seven appearances at wide-out for UTEP last season.

Now in his ninth year as head coach, UTEP’s Mike Price attributes that consistency to his program and players building and maintaining a special relationship with Tech.

“Every year it’s gotten better,” he said. “I’ve been able to watch the school grow. I just feel like I’m an alum. Our players get such respect from everybody here.”

The head ball coach said the program’s had a great relationship with the city, as well as Tech. Local shops, such as Water and Ice, benefit from the business the camp brings with it, and according to an article posted to www.ktsm.com on Aug. 8, Socorro City Clerk Pat Salome is working to establish a city sponsored banquet for alumni and fans by next year.

And besides hitting the gridiron in preparation for the upcoming season, Price and his team do get out and into town to help fuel that positive relationship and enjoy the perks that a small community such as Socorro has to offer. Many members on the Miners squad are from large cities such as Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Los Angeles, so they take the time to experience the aspects of small-town life.

They golfed, swam, had a belly flop contest and even found time to catch a movie at Loma Theater. “We’ve done so many things here,” Price said. “The gal who runs the movie theater is just as warm and gracious a person as you can ask.”

Price and the Miners also seem to appreciate the new grass field that NMT spent the summer installing. The new turf, which Price described as wonderful, was laser levelled, resodded and new irrigation was put in place. As of the final day of camp, Wednesday, the new surface hadn’t contributed to any injuries.

And being roughly 190 miles from El Paso doesn’t hurt either. Price appreciates the geographic location of New Mexico Tech, as it allows people access to UTEP football, but also reminds the players that they are indeed away at camp.

“Their parents can come up and their friends and family can come up,” Price said. “When we have a weekend scrimmage, we usually have a couple hundred people here from El Paso.

“It is close enough, but it certainly is far enough to make us feel like we’re away.”

Amidst all of the activities and fanfare, there’s still football to be played. And so far, so good for the Miners, at least as far as this year’s Socorro camp is concerned.

“We haven’t had a bad practice,” Price said. “It’s gotten better every day.”

UTEP’s senior quarterback Nick Lamaison (West Covina, Calif./Mt. San Antonio College) went 10 for 12 passing during Tuesday’s scrimmage, and this summer was named to the Preseason All-Conference USA First Team Offense. Punter Ian Campbell (Sr., Duarte, Calif./Mt. SAC) was named a C-USA Preseason First Team Special Teams player and also named to the 2012 Ray Guy Award watch list, and sophomore running back Nathan Jeffery (Caddo Mills, Texas/Caddo Mills HS) was named to the Doak Walker Award list. Eloy Atkinson, UTEP’s senior center (Los Fresnos, Texas/Los Fresnos HS) was named to the Rimington Award watch list.

So the Miners inarguably have some skilled players at various positions, but they’ll need every ounce of that as they head into a 2012 season with a schedule that might be described, at best, as unrelenting.

The University of Oklahoma will visit the Sun Bowl in El Paso for the first time on Sep. 1. The Sooners have won seven national championships, are third in all-time winning percentage and are picked to finish first in the Big 12 again this year.

“It’s the chance of a lifetime for me as a coach, and for them (UTEP) as a football team,” Price said of OU’s first-ever trip to El Paso.

“I think they (our players) are just excited for the opportunity. We have some great opportunities that other UTEP teams haven’t had in the past.”

After that historic game, the Miners will travel to Oxford to take on Southeastern Conference member Ole Miss in Mississippi, before they return home for the I-10 rivalry with New Mexico State. The week after that, UTEP will make the 1600 mile journey to Camp Randall Stadium in Madison to play the Wisconsin Badgers, the 2012 Rose Bowl runner-up.

In week five they begin a seven game conference stretch, and four of the teams they’ll face made bowl appearances in 2011.

Despite the ambitious nature of their schedule, Price says his team is approaching the season just as it always has, and that they’ll take things one game at a time.

“The most important thing for us is to win our conference,” he said. “That fifth game at East Carolina, we want to have the same guys able to start as the first game. Being injury free is a big thing for us.”

No matter what happens on the field this season for the Miners, Socorro and New Mexico Tech can probably expect the orange and blue train to come back to town next August.

“(NMT) Couldn’t be better hosts,” Price said. “We respect them.”