Meet UTEP's two new defensive line starters: Tavita Tafuna and Maurice Westmoreland

For all that UTEP returns on defense, particularly on the front seven, there are two massive holes to replace.
End Jadrian Taylor was a first-team All-Conference USA end who led the league in sacks, while Kelton Moss was an anchor at tackle whose arrival in 2020 with fellow junior college transfer Keenan Steward could be circled as a turning point in the program's fortunes.
UTEP isn't starting over on the right side of the line, far from it as line depth has been one of the team's biggest strengths. Tackle Tavita Tafuna and end Maurice Westmoreland were big parts of that depth, but now they need to be something more.
They are the two new starters on the defensive line who will line up alongside the old stars Praise Amaewhule and Stewart and they are excited about their time arriving.
Tavita Tafuna, defensive tackle
Tafuna's time looked like it might arrive earlier, as he was emerging as a transfer sophomore in 2021 before he blew out his knee late in the season.
He was back last year but noticeably not at full speed as he played his way back into the rotation. Torn ACLs take more than a year to get back to 100% and Tafuna is there now.
"Last year wasn't the year I was expecting, I felt like it was a fall-out year for me," Tafuna said. "Now I want to come back this year and show out, get my name out there, get my name on the radar for recruitment to the next level.
"I'm comfortable with my knee, I'm playing faster and stronger than I was previously."
While there is a bigger spotlight on him as a starter, Tafuna is trying to approach everything with the same mentality he's always had.
"I'm familiar with it, it's no difference to me becoming a one," he said. "I had to work my way up there, but I have to keep grinding. I can't be comfortable being at a one, I keep grinding every day, treat it like I'm a fourth-stringer trying to work my way up."
The difference is that leadership comes with a starting spot and he embraces that.
"I had Kelton Moss ahead of me, I learned from him and Keenan," Tafuna said. "Now that I'm with the (first team) I have to show out so the guys behind me, the young ones, are able to play the game faster and stronger."
After spending last year getting Tafuna up to speed, coach Dana Dimel said he is excited to see the results.
"Tafuna two years ago before he got hurt in the Rice game, we felt he was playing as well as any of our defensive linemen," Dimel said. "We felt like last year was a year to get himself back after that injury. This year we're expecting him to have a really good year for us. He's physical, one of our top linemen."
Maurice Westmoreland, defensive end
Part of the Kilgore College connection that at the moment is the most productive stop on UTEP's recruiting trail, Westmoreland made an instant impact last year in his debut as a Miner. He had five of his 17 tackles against New Mexico State and played in every game to give Taylor, another one of those Kilgore transfers, some rest.
When Taylor wasn't resting he was recording 9.5 sacks so Westmoreland has a big jersey to fill. That's why he came to UTEP.
"I've prepared for this situation, I've always been ready to step up," said Westmoreland, who is one of five Kilgore transfers on the current roster. "All our guys are ready for that next role. I feel like I have something to prove. JT had a great year, so I have to try to surpass that."
That amounts to some pressure, but he's ready to meet it.
"Just a little bit, but I've prepared my whole live for this moment," Westmoreland said. "I've been playing football since I was little, at the end of the day this is just football so I'm good."
Dana Dimel is excited to see what he can do.
"It's going to be a good year for Mo," Dimel predicted. "He's been around, but he's a first-year starter taking the place of Jadrian. It's important for him to have a big year, make plays, be active for us."
Taylor and Westmoreland do have important years in front of them, but both feel their time at UTEP has prepared them to succeed.

Latest Player Notes

How Wisconsin athletes are benefiting from a unique NIL deal with Madison's Exact Sciences

Feb 17, 2024MJ Hammill entered what can be a scary time of an athlete’s life in mid-December.She went into the volleyball ...

Mike Griffith: Texas is Georgia's primary focus this offseason

February 16, 2024The Georgia Bulldogs face three SEC contenders on the road next season in Alabama, Texas and Ole Miss. According ...

Navigating a season that could see Texas play Georgia more than once

February 17, 2024The Texas Longhorns and Georgia Bulldogs will play in Austin on Oct. 19. It may not be the only time they ...

After some key departures from the team, Dykes got busy in the portal this offseason.

5:11 PM on Feb 16, 2024Biggest unanswered question: Who will emerge as the clear WR1?Before last season, Williams was the ...

How Louisville football coach Jeff Brohm balances transfer portal, high school recruiting

Louisville Courier JournalCollege football used to buzz on the first Wednesday in February, but Louisville football's office ...

Bob Asmussen | Illinois defense counting on linebackers to plug the gaps

College Football Reporter/ColumnistCHAMPAIGN — A new linebacker coach is in place at Illinois, and Archie McDaniel said he ...

Where Alabama’s quarterback group stands before spring practice

Alabama football’s offense is going to look different this season. Kalen DeBoer has replaced the retired Nick Saban as head ...

Why did AJ McCarron return to the St. Louis Battlehawks?

When AJ McCarron joined the resurrected XFL last year, the former Alabama All-American hadn’t played since suffering a knee ...

Colorado football self-reported 11 minor NCAA violations from Deion Sanders’ first year with Buffs

1/26/2024The Colorado football program has self-reported 11 minor NCAA violations since the hiring of head coach Deion Sanders ...

What Steve Young said about today’s NFL quarterbacks

By Jackson Payne Steve Young may have enjoyed a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, but that doesn’t stop him from feeling just ...
See More Player Notes