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The five most important players on UTSA’s offense

The Roadrunners will rely on a slew of experienced veterans to pilot their offense in 2017.

NCAA Football: New Mexico Bowl-New Mexico at Texas-San Antonio Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

An old saying goes, “experience is the best teacher.” If that is indeed the case, then count UTSA as one of the most well-taught offenses in Conference USA. A heap of upperclassmen make the unit a group of seasoned vets that have seen their fair share of playing time. As skill sharpens through game experience so does a player’s physique and stamina. UTSA hasn’t had this much experience on offense in over three years.

This group developed great cohesion over the course of last season, and they ought to function like a well-tuned machine. For the Roadrunners to be that machine consistently enough to meet this season’s high expectations will depend on the leadership within the offense. Each position group will have a captain they look to, and in some units there’s two of those guys.

Austin Pratt – Center, Sr.

Center is the most critical position of the offense next to the quarterback, but that argument can be made the other way around as well. As the director of the offensive line, Pratt looms in at 6’2”, 290 pounds. He started 12 games on the line last season – seven at left guard and five at center – and proved to generate the best results at the center position for UTSA.

One of his best performances came against Southern Miss when UTSA piled up 339 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground; his first start at center of the season. Pratt also directed the line in the bowl game against New Mexico.

Pratt’s made a name for himself since transferring to UTSA from Blinn College and has proven to be quite effective as an interior blocker. He’s also developed in the art of the pre-snap read, having learned how to adjust the offensive line in accordance to defensive alignment. The league has taken notice as well as he’s been named 2017 preseason All-Conference USA by conference coaches.

Josh Stewart – Wide Receiver, Sr.

Stewart emerged last year and almost instantly became one of UTSA’s premier playmakers. His stature and route-running ability make him the most difficult task on the field for opposing defensive backs, not to mention he’s about as sure-handed as they come.

Last year was actually Stewart’s first season getting playing time, and by the end of it he had achieved accolades such as leading the team in receptions, setting program records for receiving yards and yards per catch, and registering a couple of the longest receptions in school history. All on the way to receiving honorable mention All-Conference USA.

The only thing that was really lacking from Stewart’s game was consistency, which I think was simply due to not being in a live game situation in over three years. I anticipate a lot of improvement in that regard after playing a full season. Stewart’s proven to be a highlight waiting to happen, expect for his reel to get a lot more material this year.

Jalen Rhodes – Running Back, Jr.

The ground game has long been UTSA’s strong suit, and that will continue to be the case as Rhodes guides the ball out of the backfield this season. Last year he paired with Jarveon Williams to give the Roadrunners a “1-2 punch” running game in where Rhodes was considered the “2” of that punch, though at times it was clear that Rhodes was the best back on the field for UTSA.

This year he assumes all authority over the primary spot and won’t be splitting up so much of the work. His carries will definitely increase after averaging 13 a game last season, but he’s cut out for the load. Rhodes has played in all but one of UTSA’s last 25 games. He has elusive capabilities but prefers to run as a north-to-south back, using his vision coupled with an explosive burst out of the backfield. He’s also good at allowing for blocks to develop an extra split second.

My guess: this year he’ll enjoy the most decorated season for a running back in UTSA history.

Dalton Sturm – Quarterback, Sr.

The man of the hour. People can’t wait to see the astounding talent of Sturm on display, and understandably so. Thing is, he won’t have to exhaust himself by being the hero anymore. The Roadrunners are good enough on defense and have enough playmakers for Sturm to utilize on offense that there’s no need for him to play Superman.

There couldn’t be a better prognosis for Sturm if you drew it up: he’s a better player than he’s ever been before, he’s better protected than he’s ever been before, and he’s better equipped around him than he’s ever been before.

There’s also no added pressure. With Sturm as the surefire number one, he won’t have to worry about being perfect on every play for the sake of staying on the field. This should allow Sturm to be more calm in the pocket and more comfortable in the huddle. Commentary from fall camp highlights how much the game has slowed down for him. He credited a lot of that to the time he spent at the fabled Manning Passing Academy this summer.

Sturm is a top talent quarterback in C-USA. Aside from his abilities as a playmaker both passing and running, a feature that separates him from other quarterbacks is his ability to protect the football. Sturm threw only six interceptions over his 13 starts last season. With him at the helm the offense is in sound hands.

Stefan Beard – Guard, Sr.

As the case has been in the past, UTSA’s offense will go as far as their line takes them. The difference this year is the Roadrunners actually have an offensive lane capable of driving results throughout the season. A big part of that is Stefan Beard.

At 6’3", 310 pounds, Beard started 11 games last season and became the anchor of UTSA’s right side. His sheer size alone is a problem for a lot of C-USA’s defenders to get past. To go along with his physique is a quick first step and the leg work to keep him in front of defenders through the whistle.

Beard is also the toughest man on UTSA’s roster. He comes from an area in inner-city Chicago known for high murder rates and gangs running rampant. When he moved to Texas he was highly recruited by Big 12 schools TCU, Texas Tech, UT and Baylor. This year he’ll make the trip to Waco to try and earn UTSA’s first Power 5 victory.

With Beard in the mix, this line is set to be leaps and bounds better than what it has been the last two years.

Honorable Mention

Kerry Thomas - Wide Receiver, Sr.

The younger brother of fellow wideout Josh Stewart, Thomas is on pace to break UTSA’s career receiving yards total this season.

Kyle McKinney - Guard, Sr.

A two-year starter on the offensive line, McKinney has developed into one of the stalwarts up front for UTSA. At 6’4”, 305 pounds, McKinney has the brute force to push the pile when necessary.