Up until three years ago, Incarnate Word was not a football program that registered highly on a lot of FCS radars. The Cardinals, though, have set a new bar in San Antonio as of late and have found tremendous success in recent seasons with their best yet coming in 2022.
UIW, behind the stellar play of a high-powered offense and Walter Payton Award-winning QB Lindsey Scott Jr., went 12-2 and made an unprecedented run to the national semifinals where they came oh so close to knocking off North Dakota State and playing in their first national championship.
The best season in school history, though, came at a cost... as it often does with FCS programs playing at a high level... and the team is now saying farewell to much of the talent that got them that far. Head coach G.J. Kinne is now the head man at Texas State after just one season with the Cardinals. Scott is looking ahead to the NFL while several of his teammates are either doing the same or following Kinne to San Marcos. Losing that many key pieces is often devastating to a non-FBS team.
Incarnate Word fans, though, shouldn’t be too worried right now because the success of last season is already paying dividends as far as recruiting and the transfer portal are concerned. Now not even a month into the offseason, UIW has picked up ten FBS transfers with Scott’s potential replacement under center being perhaps the most notable one.
Former Texas A&M and Auburn quarterback Zach Calzada announced earlier this month that he intends to make his way to UIW to continue his football career. Calzada, who was granted a medical redshirt with the Tigers last season, has two years of eligibility remaining and will look to make an immediate impact with the Cardinals.
In 2021, Calzada appeared in 12 games for the Aggies, completing 56.1% of his passes for 2,185 yards and 17 touchdowns. His most notable accomplishment came against then #1 Alabama squad in October of 2021 when he led A&M to a gutsy 41-38 upset over the Tide. This was a game in which he went 21-of-31 passing for 285 yards and three scores. Replacing Scott is no easy task, but having a guy like Calzada enter the fray surely will soften the blow of saying goodbye to the talented QB.
While it’s no surefire guarantee that an FBS-transfer at quarterback will pan out the way they hope, Incarnate Word has plenty of reason to be optimistic about going that route. Last year several quarterbacks stepped down from the same ranks to lend an immediate hand to their new FCS squads including Austin Peay’s Mike DiLeillo, Montana State’s Sean Chambers and Chattanooga’s Preston Hutchinson amongst several others.
It isn’t just QB moves, however, that have UIW sitting pretty. The promotion of former associate head coach and receivers coach Clint Killough to the lead role is also a big move and one that has ripple effects far beyond the surface level. Killough has been with the team since 2018 and also played for UIW as a receiver for three seasons. Players around the program are familiar with him and his style meaning that there likely won’t be the usual mental reset when it comes to familiarity to a coaching style for the guys still there.
Killough and his staff have done a tremendous job of patching up the holes left by the departures this year. When a slew of offensive lineman (Nash Jones, Caleb Johnson, Jimeto Obigbo and Dorion Strawn) all left with Kinne, UIW wasted no time in picking up their potential replacements. Joe Bryson came over in the portal from USC and Steele High School (Cibolo, TX) product Christian Fitchett signed in the early signing period back in December.
Special attention has also been paid to the defensive side of the ball; an area where the Cardinals lost five to the FBS in the portal. While linebackers Isaiah Paul and Tah Mac Bright (55 combined tackles in 2022) left, Killough was able to stay in the state and bring in FBS talent to fill those shoes. Former Texas Tech linebacker Derrick Lewis, who never saw much action with the Red Raiders, will now have a chance to shine with UIW as will North Texas transfer Emmerick Dopona.
Then, of course, there’s the big losses at receiver. Both of last year’s leading wideouts, Darion Chafin and Taylor Grimes, are now graduated. Once again, however, it's an issue that has been promptly addressed by Killough and company. A pass catcher in tight end Dalton Meyer came over from Sam Houston while Amarillo native receiver Jameson Garcia came aboard in the early signing period.
It seems as though with every gap that appears on the roster, the Cardinals have it met head on and it’s not even February yet. The always tough task of replacing a coach and QB in the same cycle has seemingly been no issue for the team and their filling in of support pieces is on, or ahead of, schedule. If this keeps up through spring ball, then once again UIW may very well be one of the last teams standing in the fall when all is said and done.
The Cardinals will kick off their 2023 season against UTEP on September 2.