It seems like every week the expectations for UTSA Football grow larger. Not by any means from experts and analysts, but from the team itself.
Most preseason polls and predictions have UTSA finishing at the bottom of the Conference USA West Division barrel, but Frank Wilson and company intend on making a much louder statement. And, they've been taking the proper steps to ensure so since Wilson was introduced in January.
Six months of preparation is accumulating to August 5th's first fall practice, and fans received some insight on what that preparation has entailed when Wilson and his two captains took to Irving, Texas for C-USA Media Days. Senior safety Michael Egwuagu and senior running back Jarveon Williams took the desk with Wilson for fifteen-minute question-and-answer with Ron Thulin on ESPN 3.
Among the best points of the conversation were how Wilson recruited players that were already on the roster, his versatile coaching experience, his summary of quarterbacks Dalton Sturm and Jared Johnson, the offseason "football school", and the team's ability to embrace the new regime. Here's some of the give-and-take:
Thulin: "Before you recruited players, did you have to recruit the current players?"
Wilson: "Oh yeah, it's the first thing I did... Before I hired a coach or went out to see a recruit I met with the leadership of our team and then the entire team. Just to give them assurance that there was stability and that they were in good hands. We were very fortunate that we didn't have any attrition; nobody wanted to transfer, nobody was trying to leave. They just wanted a plan and something in place to let them know that they were in good hands.
The stockholders are the current team, and they were most important to me when I first got the job."
This is a great take. Coaching changes are never easy for players, especially when it's unexpected. When the guy that recruited, coached, and mentored the locker room is removed, it's very easy to have bad blood pollute the program. It can spread like wildfire. To have not one player want to leave the program is a sign of the sure confidence players have in Wilson.
It's important to understand that Wilson was brought in during the high-tide of recruiting season, and could have easily neglected his inherited roster as result of such. He worded it perfectly, the "stockholders" of a program are the current roster.
Thulin: "Is it wrong to think that (running the ball) is all you're going to do? Is that a misnomer?"
Wilson: "Yes it's wrong to think that. I've been a receivers coach, I've been a tight ends coach, I've been a special teams guy. I've had my voice in an array of things in a program as a whole. And, in my humble beginnings, being coordinator and a head coach at the high school level... I'm not just a running backs coach. To understand what it takes to win on both sides of the ball as well as special teams is something I'm experienced with and am prepared to step forward with."
Of course that was a silly question, but it echoes the stigma that Wilson will undoubtedly carry with him into his first year as a head coach. He's known for his running back pedigree.
Especially with Williams entering his senior season, opponents expect this team to rely heavily on the running game. Now the offense will more than likely take a run-first approach, which with Williams in the backfield it sure should, but pay attention to Coach Wilson's résumé here. He's been up and down an entire sideline.
In 2002 he was named Louisiana's 4A Coach of the Year by fellow coaches and the NFL, and he was a finalist for Nike's National Coach of the Year Award. He knows how to create success on the field, and we're going to see a variety of schemes implemented to do so.
Thulin: "Give us an update on the quarterback situation."
Wilson: "When you look at our team and Dalton Sturm being thrust into the position by way of injury, experience was his best teacher. He went through trials and errors and grew up. He started spring football optimistic and wanted to see where he was at, and he got better each day.
When they announced that Jared Johnson was coming to UTSA, he took his game to another level. He improved immediately and continues to do so.
In Jared's case, I was fortunate enough to coach against him when I was at LSU. The thing I remember most was a young player. When the physicality of the game took its toll, he kept getting up. His leadership skills and his toughness revealed itself. Then, this past season, as we prepared to take on McNeese State, one of the games that was critical for McNeese was their game against Sam Houston. And here's this Jared Johnson appearing again.
I have a clear picture of who the guy is, I watched him take his team into depth of the 1-AA playoffs. I'm really pleased with both young men and anticipate an intense quarterback battle this camp."
Of course the hot topic among Roadrunner fans is who's going to be running their offense. Wilson gives praise for both quarterbacks, and a few things stick out that make the upcoming battle all the more interesting.
Sturm was baptized by fire last season. Enduring as much abuse as he did and fighting through all of it gained universal respect from the Roadrunner Faithful. Experience really has been his best teacher; he's highly talented but his abilities haven't been fully coached up to his potential.
It appears that Johnson matches Sturm's mental and physical toughness from Wilson's perspective. He actually draws comparison to what Sturm endured last season being similar to what Johnson endured against LSU during his sophomore year.
Both quarterbacks are dual-threat. Johnson's played more games than Sturm and comes with an impressive stat sheet, but can he take his game to the next level of competition?
It'll be exciting to see which one's got the bigger chip on his shoulder. The verdict will come down to execution and leadership quality.
Thulin: "Talk about the football school."
Wilson: "Well, it's something that I've done over the years. So many times, summertime is spent in strength and conditioning and speed enhancement, and not so much of that time is spent in the classroom. We've collaborated both of those things; we're getting bigger, faster, stronger, but also, from an intellectual standpoint, we're doing things in the classroom from an installation standpoint - with your coordinators and with your position coaches.
With the new allotted time the last two years that the NCAA has granted, we're able to do classroom-specific stuff by position group and by unit that allows us to grow so that the transition that happens from the summer to fall camp is that much more seamless."
Thulin: "Michael (Egwuagu), what have you gotten out of that?"
Egwuagu: "I agree. It's a great thing to be able to go in there with coaches, study some film, and then go out and do drills off of the film or play 7 on 7 with my teammates and go over some of the plays that we just went over the previous day in film.
Me as a senior, that's something we haven't done before, and I'm seeing it transfer over to these younger guys and it's clicking that much faster for them."
This is my favorite take. The most interesting, by far. Wilson has put the players in a classroom setting to solely study the game. In fact, when "football school" was first mentioned, both Williams and Egwuagu let out a slight chuckle, indicating that they've spent a good number of their summer hours in Football 101.
As stated by Egwuagu, it's an entirely new approach for the team, and it's obviously making an impact and resonating with players as they transition classroom material onto the field. For a senior to see the benefits firsthand is great sign of growth and progress. The team is getting better physically and mentally.
Thulin: "Coach, is there anything that surprised you from when you took the job to where you are today?"
Wilson: "I don't know if it's a surprise, but the thing I've been pleased the most with is the resiliency of the players. Their ability to take instruction, to take challenges, to embrace it - they've been sponges. Whether it's things in the weight room, things in the classroom, things in the football field, really embracing tough coaching, teaching, and the criteria that's been set forth.
I praise the previous staff because they got quality young men with the desire to want to be better. So when we put things in front of them and challenge them, there is no flinching. They embrace it, they're growing day by day, we're bigger, faster, stronger, and from a mental point, further ahead then we were in January. I like the direction of the team."
Wilson is polar of his predecessor Larry Coker as far as approach is concerned. He's assertive with players and as he put it, is a tough coach. But this answer seems to illustrate how much the team has embraced the new regime. From what this says, there's been little to no friction in changing face.
Also, Wilson drops another gem of a pull-quote here which ought to be turned into a UTSA hashtag: no flinching.
2016 UTSA Roadrunners: no flinching. They just might surprise us, folks.
Check out the entire interview below.