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As one of the best return specialists in the country, Utah State's JoJo Natson is accustomed to stealing the spotlight by making big plays.

But on Saturday he'll have some competition in that role. The New Mexico Bowl could turn into a duel of special teams highlights.

UTEP has two solid returners in Autrey Golden and Damian Payne, players who had USU coach Matt Wells gushing earlier this week.

"They can hit home runs in the punt return and kickoff return game," Wells said. "We're going to have to be really good in our coverage units to bottle those two guys up and not let them get started because when they get started, they can go."

Golden has two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season, giving him six in his career and making him the active leader in the FBS.

Payne is averaging 129 yards on 23 returns.

Natson isn't so bad himself, returning 22 punts for 267 yards with two touchdown returns against Idaho State and Wyoming. He ranks ninth nationally in punt return average (12.1).

So is Natson ready for a special teams showdown? You bet he is.

"To win games you have to be solid in all three phases of the game," he said. "Coaches always tell us how big special teams can be so we're ready."

Natson has played several different roles for the Aggies this year thanks to injuries at the skill positions.

He ranks eighth in the Mountain West in all-purpose yards (98.6) and is third on the team in receiving yards (457) and rushing yards (458).

But knowing the Miners have a good special teams unit has his competitive mind going a little bit more than usual, Natson admitted.

"There is going to be a little competition out there," he said. "But that is what makes it exciting."

As much as he enjoys hurting opponents with his returns, Natson said he still thinks of himself as a receiver first.

"I will make a play wherever we need me, running back, quarterback, or wherever," he said. "It shows how much trust they have in me as a player, but I love being a receiver."

Natson, a junior, said he wants to spend the offseason working on his receiving skills with the hope he'll one day have as good a reputation for his play there as he has earned in the return game.

For now, Natson is happy doing his best in the return game, and anywhere else he is needed, to help USU win a third straight bowl game.

"They have a tough defense so we know they are going to be a challenge for us," he said. "We know we are going to have to bring our best game." —

New Mexico Bowl

USU (9-4) vs. UTEP (7-5)

O Saturday, 12:20 p.m.


JoJo Natson file

Vitals • 5-foot 7, 151 pounds, Junior

From • Ft. Lauderdale, Fl.

Of note • Ranks eighth in the MW in all-purpose yards (98.6), has returned 22 punts for 267 yards with two touchdowns…Ranks second on team in receptions (49) and third in receiving yards (457)