Feeling Pressure: Where Does This Noted UTEP Grad Find His Own Release Valve?

{Editor’s Note: Thanks, Merle Haggard. After spending 2019 promoting my new book on history and college football, “Beyond the Big Shootout: 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons,” I’m right back “to where I’ve really always been.” I’m here again, twice a month, to cover UTEP in a way nobody else can, through the heart of a grad and two-year letterman. Note the new format. A 9-year-old tells me it’s easier to read on mobile devices. If you like what you see, spread the word. Nudge me at mark@DustDevilPublishing.com. Keep the circle tight and never forget, we are Miners forever. — McD, class of ‘72}

Eddie Hochuli, known to former UTEP teammates as The Hochulator, never sought attention. But as a long-time NFL referee, he might be the most recognizable figure in the history of Miners athletics.

By Mark S. McDonald, undocumented railbird-historian

Last time I saw Eddie Hochuli, in the flesh, he was playing linebacker for us, and generally goosing the City of El Paso and the UTEP campus from a stronghold at Miners Hall. (A series of stories in itself.) Since he graduated with honors, Eddie has been a little busy.

The Hochulator, as teammates know him, in no particular order has: Earned a law degree at the University of Arizona, passed the bar exam (no, not the one at the Kentucky Club in Juarez), married, reared a family, practiced law, gone to a Rolling Stones concert or two and … oh, yeah … officiated football from Pop Warner youth leagues to a pair of NFL Super Bowls.

Quickly, who had more TV face time than Nate Archibald, Fred Carr, Charlie West, Don Haskins, Tim Hardaway or Nolan Richardson? Edward G. Hochuli.

Background: Eddie was a valued teammate because I knew he would be prepared and, come Saturday, he would show up jazzed to give max effort. The Hoch just might have been the only one of us with the combo of street smarts, self-awareness and give-a-shit attitude to have navigated the straits of working for the NFL. If you know The League, you know that nobody does anything, anywhere, anytime without approval from HQ.

Eddie’s son, Shawn, is now an NFL referee. Which means Hoch – even after retiring before the 2018 season – still cannot have that steel rod surgically removed from his south end zone.

Matt Kuchar, cool under pressure.

Pressure? With millions of eyeballs trained on his every move, and fortunes won or lost on his decisions under fire, Eddie uses focus as a coping mechanism. Matt Kuchar, one of the most popular players on the PGA Tour, says “keep the main thing the main thing.”

Hoch, during public speaking events, puts it this way: “If you ignore pressure … it does not exist.”

Consider.

Maybe you already knew:

  • UTEP football will hold its August training camp on campus, not the cool pines of Ruidoso, N.M. The team hotel with multiple adjacent practice fields was immensely popular with players and coaches. Townies embraced the uptick in tourist trade. Why the move? Just follow the money. Even though the host hotel charged only $79 a night for a room for two players, breakfast inclusive, my spies tell me Athletic Director Jim Senter has said the camp costs the program $100k.
  • UTEP men’s basketball has so many kids floating in and out, the NCAA transfer portal is a blur. We fans buy the game tickets and write the donor checks. Somebody teach us how to keep pace, when the roster is written in pencil?

Coach Rodney Terry’s UTEP off-season scorecard: 6 transfers out, 3 transfers in, 3 scholarships left to give. Be advised, this could change overnight, and UTEP has company in its roster instability. Kansas State, for example, also lost six to transfers.

At last count, there were 770 in the NCAA transfer portal. One of them — James Akinjo of Georgetown — was freshman of the year in his conference, at Georgetown, before finding Arizona on a map.

Is this good for college basketball? In this free flow from school to school, do these tourists even pack a bag? Who’s the big winner? Who loses?

Philip Gabbard has made the improbable journey from UTEP football to published author.

Ex-Lineman Blocks Out Personal Clutter

Former UTEP lineman Philip Gabbard better watch it. This keeps up, he will be better known as a thinking, published author than for playing on a good team under Bob Stull that contended for a conference title.

For Gabby, the crossroads is not that he once was Sean Kugler’s roommate but a new book on self-examination called “THISday.” Despite his height (6-4) and heft (once +/- 275 pounds), Philip reveals a vulnerability that is almost childlike. His exploratory journey is universal, yet somehow personal, especially in a dicey early relationship with a son.

Sneak preview: Gabby believes in the power of words, and how they shape our lives. He says the opposite of fear is not courage, it is conformity. Hmmm.

What better time to quit following the herd than when we have been shuttered in place with the COVID-19 pandemic. Taken in small bites, this is one of those books you should read. Your brain needs the tonic. One reviewer called it “so authentic and powerful, it didn’t need f**k in its title.”

Here’s a teaser to get you started:

Gabbard, a national Hispanic media consultant, came to UTEP from Arizona and still resides in El Paso. But this rare animal lives in the trees of his mind, where he is free to fly. You will, too, with ThisDay, not yet available at book stores but only through this Amazon link.

Next issue: This Miner forever is the popular “poor devil” of yesteryear who didn’t know when to quit.

{McDonald escaped starvation while working in newsrooms of dailies in El Paso, Abilene, Dallas and San Antonio. Today, he manages a publishing team that specializes in creating custom books for selected clients <DustDevilPublishing.com>.}

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