At first glance, Rashad Wisdom is as San Antonio as they come.
Born in the San Antonio Converse (TX) area, Wisdom had offers from several ACC programs coming out of Judson High School, but chose to stay home and go to UTSA to help build a program the city could be proud of.
So far, he’s seen some success in that goal.
“Being able to help build [UTSA] into what it is now and seeing how everything has developed from when I first got on campus to now, is a great feeling,” Wisdom told Underdog Dynasty at Conference USA Media Day. “Just watching not only the campus itself, but the people interact and how they become more proud of going to UTSA. … When I first got to UTSA, people were asking me, ‘why UTSA? Why UTSA?’ It went from that to ‘man, I want to go to UTSA. That’s my dream school …’ I’m definitely proud to say I’m from this city and proud to say I’m a UTSA Roadrunner and I know years down the road from now, I’ll be even more proud.”
His and teammate Frank Harris’ love for their hometown and its university is abundantly clear and, in many ways, it may help UTSA’s coaching staff.
“They’re my best recruiters. I mean, who wouldn’t love Frank and Rashad? And they love UTSA, and they love San Antonio,” UTSA Jeff Traylor said. “So, they’re my best recruiters. Again, I keep saying the word blessed but I was just extremely blessed that I got to coach both those kids.”
On the football field, though, it’s clear why people get excited to watch San Antonio’s own play.
Despite being undersized at 5’9”, Wisdom is an incredibly cerebral player when the pads come on, able to lead a largely successful UTSA defense to the Conference USA Championship last season.
“If you took Rashad to a camp, you’d probably say he’s too short, you’d say he’s probably not as fast as you want him to be. Then you coach him in football, he’s as good a player as there is in the country,” Traylor said. “Extremely intelligent, knows where the ball is, he’s a great tackler, he’s a great leader. He’s the spiritual leader of our defense. Couldn’t be more blessed to have Frank Harris and Rashad Wisdom. There’s a reason both of those guys wear 0, we vote for those numbers and those kids have a lot of respect for Frank and Rashad.”
Wisdom’s impact as a player was abundantly clear in UTSA’s Conference USA Championship game when Wisdom was removed from the game and the tides quickly changed.
“We were up, I think, four touchdowns against Western Kentucky in the conference championship game and he got thrown out of the game for targeting and they scored on four straight drives,” Traylor said. “So, I think that pretty much sums it up.”
See, Rashad Wisdom is very much the quarterback of UTSA’s defense. He’s responsible for getting everyone in the right spot, reading specific keys, and then reacting. Not only does he have to worry about his role in the defense but he has to understand what the other 10 players on the field are doing.
And while it may be challenging, Wisdom lives for it.
“We’re responsible for making all the checks and making sure everybody is lined up and everybody’s in the right position and I hold that responsibility real dear to me and with a lot of pride,” Wisdom said. “Just trying to make sure everybody is in the best spot possible to make a play is what I really like too. It’s awesome when one of your guys gets a pick or when y’all get a good three and out and you’re off the field and getting ready to come back on. We’re the quarterbacks and everything falls on us and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Wisdom is also really good at being the quarterback. In 2021, Wisdom was named to the All-C-USA First Team for the second straight season after finishing with a team-high 88 total tackles, a forced fumble, and 6 passes defended in 14 games. He was also the headliner of a UTSA defense that allowed just 258 passing yards a game.
Like so many of the world’s great quarterbacks, though, he also did a terrific job at getting his teammates involved.
Take, for instance, a play against Middle Tennessee that Wisdom said was one of his “favorite memories” while playing safety as a prime example.
“Middle Tennessee was … in the red zone, trying to go in and score. It was about [first] and goal, just ways of preparing, I had a feeling of a certain concept they’re gonna run. I felt they were gonna run those crossers, mesh and try and get everyone bumping in the middle, get someone leaking in the flex,” Wisdom explained.
“I told my corner, Corey Mayfield, I had told him, ‘Corey, they’re coming to you. Stay right here, they’re coming right to you.’ I guess this kind of reflects the trust that they have in me and how I try to put everybody in the right position because they ran exactly what I thought they were going to run and they end up throwing a pick right to Corey. … I really like that because it’s more than just me, I try to set all my guys up to be in the best position possible and I feel like that kind of reflects it there.”
Wisdom says that playing safety is “chess not checkers”. According to Wisdom, he’s trying to “think two steps ahead just to be ahead of them,” while also trusting the guys around him to make plays when they need to.
“It’s probably the most important thing to have on the defense. That, and communication. You got to be able to trust your guys because you’re going to be able to make every play,” Wisdom said about trust. “You’re not going to be able to be all over the field. Everybody has their one-eleventh that they have to do and if you can’t trust the guy in front of you to do their job, you’re not going to do your job as well because you’re worrying about what he’s going to do and you got to compensate and make up for him.”
In a lot of ways, Wisdom is a combination of a lot of different types of players. He may not be as good as some of the guys that he says he tries to emulate, including Tyrann Mathieu (New Orleans Saints), Budda Baker (Arizona Cardinals), or Jalen Ramsey (Los Angeles Rams) but he has a lot of the same skills and mentalities as these guys.
Wisdom, however, doesn’t limit his emulations to the football field either, taking notes from some of basketball’s biggest stars, including LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
“Covering someone is pretty much like playing defense in basketball in a sense. How you have to stay in front of somebody, you have to play with your feet, not with your hands,” Wisdom said. “So, I like to watch a lot of that, just how guys move with their feet [and] ways that they train because basketball, they jump a lot, they’re off the ground a lot jumping. Just the ways that they prepare their body with their knees. … Just trying to take a little something from everybody because they’re all great in their respective sports. LeBron’s been dominating basketball for 20 years. So you can definitely get something from him and how he plays and stuff like that and trying to mesh it into yours.”
All of that makes Wisdom one of the nation’s best safeties. A player capable of changing the game at any point and a guy with very few flaws. Despite his lack of abundant flaws, though, Jeff Traylor is still looking to see how he grows in one aspect of his mentality.
“That’s something we talk to all of our guys about and he’s fixed to be starting for me for three straight years. … How do they handle boredom? How do they handle being really good already? Can they continue to get better at their game?” Traylor said. “That’s what separates Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, the great ones. They can handle boredom, so that’s going to be key for him … as they progress - how do they handle the boredom? Can they continue to work on the smallest details? They’re both incredible humans and I suspect they’ll be just fine.”
All in all, when Wisdom’s time at UTSA ends and the dust clears on what will be an illustrious career, Wisdom’s legacy on the field will be undeniable. He’ll inevitably be talked about with players like Sincere McCormick as UTSA legends and, in some ways, he’ll be a ‘hometown hero’ in San Antonio.
Off the field, though, Wisdom isn’t done yet. He sees untapped potential at UTSA and he has lofty goals that he wants to see the program reach in the future.
You see, Wisdom doesn’t want UTSA to be just another good Group of 5 program, he wants the Roadrunners to be among the nation’s best when it comes to football. And for him, it’s going to start with local talent following in the footsteps of him and countless others and “making the crib great.”
“The biggest thing that I try to do, with me being from there and playing for the local university, is to inspire the youth. They’re going to start being the ones to come up and [get] recruited by all these big schools, like how it’s already starting to be, but I want them to see how I went about it, how Frank [Harris] went about it, Spencer [Buford], Sincere [McCormick]. There’s a whole list of people that are from San Antonio that decided to stay home and play and help build it up,” Wisdom said.
“I hope they look at them like ‘I want to go be like one of those guys. I want to try and make my own legacy in the city that I’m from’ instead of trying to play wherever. I hope they decide to turn down the other “big schools” and say ‘I want to go to UTSA, UTSA is a big school. …’ I know what this place can be and it can be one of the schools that people talk about in the future like how they do Texas, [Alabama], Georgia. Look how Cincinnati is and everybody’s gotta start somewhere, look at how Miami was back in the day. So, why can’t that be us?”