One of the stories entering CUSA Kickoff 2017 was the rise of UTSA football and second-year head coach Frank Wilson. He led the Runners into the program’s first bowl game while making noise recruiting in an eventful first go as head coach. The consensus among prognosticators for 2017 is that UTSA is just behind the established and clear favorites Louisiana Tech and WKU.
The 6-win season with a bowl appearance was a program milestone and did not go unnoticed by other squads. WKU’s Joel Iyiegbuniwe even name the Roadrunners as a program one to look out for. "They are looking like a good team this year."
Meanwhile, a speculative Power 5 job is already being whispered about. Such was the impression made last year.
Wilson has continued to build on the foundation that was laid by the previous staff while making the program his own. Redshirt Sophomore linebacker Josiah Tauaefa was the face (the hair?) of the program’s young and talented defense, while Senior wide receiver Josh Stewart was a record-setting threat out wide that who capitalized on defenses focused on the potent run game. The two were on hand at CUSA Media Days to make the rounds with reporters.
While a 6-6 season was historic for the program, there is more work to do as Josh Stewart suggested. Last season was "A step forward. A tremendous step. There is definitely better seasons ahead but we’ve been working hard to take that next step."
The two Roadrunner stars were clearly having fun at the meet-up. This perhaps gives a glimpse into the type of program they describe as tight-knit, and "a family." The two were asked a bevy of questions from the assembled beat writers ranging from their favorite taco spot (Eziekiel’s) to their favorite chain (Fogo de Chao). There were lots of laughs and many questions about Josiah’s famous hair. In between answering those and doing various hair-flips for the cameras, Josiah talked about just what it is that makes the program special:
"The atmosphere, the community, the family feel of the program drew me."
"Same", said Stewart. "That and my brother. Him and the community and fans and the teammates being accepting of me before I was actually officially apart of the team. It’s special."
Also special? The city embracing the team. "We like being San Antonio’s program."
This line about building something in South Texas is a familiar one for followers of the program -- all the way back to its founding. The role of program-builder is one that connects them to the previous generations.
Josiah discussed this role and connection to the past. "Yes, guys like Egg (Michael Egwuagu), David Morgan who helped build the program. I’m real close with them. We stay in touch all the time. I think that’s a big driving force is build on what is already established and building on the generation before."
"Carrying on the torch" offered Stewart, nodding along with his teammate’s answer.
So what about the future, say in 10-15 years?
"Dangerous." said Tauaefa.
"Honestly, we won’t be able to recognize it." Steward said, excitedly describing the renovations, the staff, and a future conversation with future Runners. "We’ll be telling them, ‘Man it was way different when I went here.’"
Before anyone can concentrate on the future of the program, there is still the 2017 season to play. Louisiana Tech is still the class of the division and any hopes for a CUSA championship have to deal with the boys from Ruston. Interestingly the Bulldog squad is the closest thing to a rival to these two guys.
"They are a great program, but yeah that's probably one game that I circle" said Josiah conservatively, quickly looking at his teammate and smirking. Neither wanted to say much beyond that, and instead complimented the LT program. Do they feel like they've closed the gap on them even the slightest margin?
"Yeah definitely, just continuing to get better every day and build toward our goals."
That is what will have to do for a rivalry in this division. As Sean Kugler said about the r-word: "Over the years rivalries develop. They develop naturally and I can see it with all the Texas teams." At least for UTSA, that might include the Louisiana school, also.