Ask UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe about breaking the school records for career passing yards and passing touchdowns, and he deflects the answer back to the team.
The marks are nice, but what he really wants is to play in a bowl game.
When Vittatoe arrived at UTEP, the Miners were coming off back-to-back bowl appearances. But that has yet to happen for him and his teammates. Now that he is a senior and UTEP (5-2) is on the verge of becoming bowl eligible, he is close enough to feel what his buddies back home in Texas have felt all along.
“I go home at Christmas time and all my friends talk how much fun they had on their bowl trips,” Vittatoe said in a phone interview. “I’ve had nothing to talk about. It’s going to be great to hopefully walk away with at least a little bit of hardware to be able to brag about.”
UTEP had an opportunity to get to six wins last week, but lost 21-6 at UAB. Now the Miners welcome Tulane with several key players banged up. Chief among them is Vittatoe, whose struggles last week through ankle and shoulder injuries hampered the team.
Coach Mike Price has declined to comment on the injuries and status of his players, but Vittatoe was seen Wednesday with the walking boot off his right leg. Vittatoe has played through injuries at several points in his career, so it would probably take a lot to keep him out of a game that could clinch bowl eligibility.
The Miners have not been to a bowl game since 2005. If they do win, the Miners would have six wins for just the seventh time in the past 40 years.
Vittatoe and his fellow seniors were so tired of losing, they came up with a plan over the summer to help their teammates stay focused and get back to winning. The Senior Council came up with the 14 Commandments, one for every game the Miners hoped to play in this season, including the Conference USA title game and a bowl game.
A true Miner will be mature.
A true Miner will focus on academics.
A true Miner will come to work every day with the intent of getting better.
A true Miner will show up to work even when coaches aren’t paying attention.
A true Miner will be his brother’s keeper.
The 14 Commandments are posted on a white board in the middle of the locker room for everyone to see every day before practice.
“We came in and a lot of guys in my class came from winning programs in high school. It was a total shock to us to not be successful and not be winning games,” Vittatoe said. “Since it’s our last year, it’s our turn to be the head of the team. We’re going to take a stand and not accept anything but the best.
“We’re tired of people not looking upon as being anyone worth worrying about on their schedule. We wanted to change that, and I think that really helped the attitude of the team, the guidance toward knowing we could do it.”
Vittatoe has overcome his own heart-breaking past. His mom, Kari, died in 2005 in a car accident, one day after Trevor turned 17. His parents had been divorced, so following her death, he went to live with his father, Vern.
Their relationship was rocky at first, but has grown tremendously since Trevor left for UTEP. When he was in the midst of a quarterback competition during the spring of his redshirt freshman season in 2007, Trevor made a bet with his father. If Trevor won the starting job, Vern would have to go to every home and away game.
He has yet to miss a game.
So Vern Vittatoe has seen every pass, every yard in his son’s career. Now Trevor Vittatoe has 11,429 career passing yards, moving into 20th place on the all-time NCAA list, and is within reach this week of Cincinnati’s Gino Guidugli (19th, 11,453 yards), Georgia’s David Greene (18th, 11,528 yards) and Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn (17th, 11,762 yards).
Vern was there the night Vittatoe passed Jordan Palmer for the UTEP career passing yards, touchdowns and attempts records against Rice on Oct. 10. Trevor went up into the stands to give his father a game ball.
“I told him that I dedicated the game to my mom but I dedicated the ball to him,” Trevor Vittatoe said. “He really appreciated that and he said, ‘I’ve always been really proud of you. You’ve always pushed yourself to be the best at everything you can be, but your road isn’t over, you still have a lot of work to do.
“Back to work.”
That work continues Saturday.