UTEP Coaches Find a Nugget (November 2020)

Amidst the political and social upheaval of an election year and a world-wide disease from China, here’s a warm story about a UTEP football player on the rise. 

It starts at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa where a senior lineman named Kennan Stewart is the district’s defensive player of the year and a solid prospect to play college ball. But his academics are off-track and he does not qualify academically for a four-year school. 

Stewart enrolls at Iowa Western where he gets parked somewhere on a dusty shelf. Keenan red-shirts his true freshman year, but in the off-season works his way up the depth chart to a starter role. Last winter, Stewart starts getting re-recruited as several schools offer scholarships. UTEP enters the picture:

Miners Head Coach Dana Dimel was a long-time assistant at Kansas State where the Wildcats got serious mileage out of junior college recruits. One of those was former K-State QB Jake Waters, now coaching receivers on Dimel’s staff. 

Iowa Western may be one of the most committed JuCos in the nation, especially for baseball and football. How well Jake Waters knows. He threw 52 TD passes there before signing at K-State for his offensive coordinator, a fellow named … yes … Dana Dimel. 

Waters spots Stewart and shows workout tapes to Dimel.

“Kidding me? This kid looks great,” says Dimel. “I wonder if he would pass the eye test.”

Dimel flies to Iowa to see for himself. Keenan walks in the room … and what’s not to like? 

Actually, “he’s awesome,” Dimel says, “and he’s intelligent.”

Stewart flies with his family to El Paso. “Looks like a nice place to be,” he says, and signs with UTEP.

Today, Keenan Stewart — all 6-2, 305 pounds of him — anchors a D-1 defense that has improved dramatically, for a 3-3 Miners team on the rise. 

He does this, despite being a zero-star (0) prospect in high school and never playing a down of JuCo ball.

Take-away message: All high-level college competition is iffy, a real-world crap shoot. Add the China virus, and the future becomes even more unpredictable. 

Could the improbable story of Keenan Stewart be a sign? Could his emergence become a benchmark for a rise in UTEP football fortunes?

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