UTEP freshman finds place as kick return specialist[/color]
By Bret Bloomquist / El Paso Times
Posted: 10/06/2009 11:28:24 PM MDT
EL PASO -- A month ago, Marlon McClure was suspended from the UTEP football team, and the Miners were among the nation's worst in returning kickoffs.
Those facts hardly seemed connected, given that McClure is a true freshman from Class 1A Tenaha High School in East Texas and is a a small receiver (5-foot-9) in an offense built around tall, lanky wideouts.
By the first week in October, everything has changed. After an electric night of returning kickoffs, McClure no longer is in coach Mike Price's doghouse, and the return game no longer is living in a cellar.
"To say the least," Price said with a chuckle. "Marlon was in my doghouse, but that's OK. He's out and doing well. You're going to be seeing a lot more of him as games progress as a regular receiver, not just a returner."
The difference in the return game, though, was stark. UTEP came into the game 102nd in the nation in kick returns at 19.1 yards per game; McClure returned five kicks against Houston for a 27.2-yard average.
"He's just a really special athlete," Price said.
"It's exciting," McClure said. "I'm having fun, going 100 percent every play, working hard and trying to move up the depth chart."
That rise has been stunning given how low he was before the season started. He was suspended when the team broke Camp Socorro through the Buffalo game for an unspecified breach of team rules, meaning for three weeks he was away from the team.
"I was on the outside looking in," McClure said. "I missed being with my family, with my team."
He quickly got back into the team's good graces and spent the week of the Kansas game playing quarterback on the scout team, where he was in charge of simulating Kansas' Todd Reesing.
His redshirt was pulled the next week for the New Mexico State game.
The Miners, meanwhile, clearly had to do something to shake up their kick return game, just as they are now turning to McClure to fix their punt returns. UTEP has averaged 5 yards per punt return this season, 94th in the country. McClure was working with the first team in practice Tuesday.
"He's everything we thought he would be," Price said of the speedster. "A little kid from Teneha, Texas, to come in here and perform in the big league like he has without any hesitation, he's done it."
The only hesitation was Price deciding he wanted McClure in the first place. He attended the UTEP camp in Longview and caught Price's eye. Said Price, "I didn't want to take a small receiver, I didn't want to take a small receiver, I didn't want to take a small receiver ... Yes I do, yes I do.
"Houston recruited him. They were the first to offer, then his dad was at camp wearing a Houston T-shirt. Maybe that spurred me to offer him sooner."
That's looking like a fine decision right now.
If you are interested in watching Marlon play (and possibly Camaron Choice), the UTEP Miners vs Tulsa Hurricane game on Wednesday, October 21, will be broadcast "live" on ESPN. Camaron is on the roster and UTEP is down to two scholarship running backs due to season-ending injuries. Just think, Tenaha might have two of their own on national TV on the 21st of this month.
It is quite amazing that two Tenaha students are making this much noise at a major D-1 university. I hope that you are as proud of our kids' successes as I am.