Experienced program to challenge for Conference USA crown in just fourth season
SAN ANTONIO — In just four short years, UTSA has gone from being the new kid on the block in college football to the most-experienced team in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
UTSA welcomes back 54 letterwinners, including an FBS-best 21 starters (9 offense/10 defense/2 kickers) and an FBS-leading 37 seniors, from last season’s squad that posted a 7-5 record and finished second in the West Division with a 6-2 mark in their Conference USA debut.
The returnees account for 92 percent of the receiving and 65 percent of the rushing yards gained, 81 percent of the scoring, 82 percent of the tackles, 83 percent of the fumble recoveries and 75 percent of the interceptions posted a year ago. The Roadrunners also boast the nation’s most-experienced offensive line (143 starts) and defensive backfield (133 starts) in addition to a returning receiving corps that has combined for 416 catches for 4,927 yards, which both rank third in the country.
A large number of those players have been with the program since it went 4-6 during its inaugural season as a Football Championship Subdivision independent in 2011. That group has helped lead the Roadrunners to a 15-9 overall record, including nine conference victories and 13 triumphs against FBS teams, in the last two seasons, all while being picked to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference two years ago and in the West Division of Conference USA last year.
Now, with a roster that features 54 upperclassmen with game experience, UTSA is picked to finish third in West by the league’s head coaches and some preseason publications even have gone as far to pick the Birds to win the division, which is a giant step forward for a program that just went through a practice season in 2010 that included 18 of this year’s seniors.
This year’s schedule features 12 contests against FBS teams for the second consecutive season, including four non-conference rematches. UTSA will open the campaign at Houston in an ESPNU nationally-televised game at 8 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 29, which will be the first-ever game in the brand-new TDECU Stadium.
The Roadrunners return home on a short week to host Arizona in another national TV contest — this time on FOX Sports 1 — at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 4, before hitting the road for Saturday dates at Oklahoma State (Sept. 13) and the C-USA opener at Florida Atlantic (Sept. 27).
UTSA closes out the non-conference slate with a home game against New Mexico on Oct. 4 and then hosts FIU in a conference matchup one week later. The Birds also host league contests against UTEP (Oct. 25), Southern Miss (Thursday, Nov. 13 on CBS Sports Network) and North Texas (Nov. 29) and will travel to Louisiana Tech (Oct. 18), Rice (Nov. 8) and conference newcomer Western Kentucky (Nov. 22).
The nationally-televised C-USA Championship Game between the East and West Division winners is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 6.
UTSA completed its required two-year reclassification into the FBS last year, meaning the Roadrunners can be selected to compete in one of C-USA’s six bowl games this December. If that happens, it will mark the quickest bowl game debut for a startup program in NCAA history.
For all the experience UTSA brings back, quarterback is one area that comes into the 2014 campaign with a limited amount at best. Eric Soza started 32 games and led the program to 19 wins during his three-year career. He passed for 6,952 yards and 46 touchdowns — both school records — and ran for 1,018 another yards and 16 scores.
Tucker Carter, a redshirt senior from Allen, is penciled in as the new starter heading into fall camp and he is the only signal caller on the roster with game experience. He completed 23-of-33 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown in five games in relief of Soza last season. Carter was the 2011 Southwest Junior College Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 2,654 yards and 26 TDs for Trinity Valley Community College.
Redshirt freshman Austin Robinson saw plenty of reps during spring drills and the 6-foot-3 dual threat signal caller was a Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Top 300 recruit out of Bellaire Episcopal High School after throwing for 1,487 yards and rushing for 801 more as a senior in 2012.
True freshman Blake Bogenschutz, also a Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Top 300 selection, registered 9,569 passing yards, 126 TD passes and 35 wins, including the Class 3A Division I State Championship as a senior, during a decorated prep career at Carthage High School.
David Glasco II returns for his final campaign with 32 games and 28 starts under his belt as the Roadrunners’ lead running back. The local product has rushed 250 times for a school-record 1,182 yards and 15 scores during his previous three seasons. Last year, he set a UTSA standard with 135 yards on the ground in the win at Tulsa en route to a team-high 496 for the year.
Speedsters Jarveon Williams and Brandon Armstrong both will provide experienced depth and a change of pace in the backfield.
Williams, a sophomore from Converse Judson, rushed for 126 yards and had 134 yards and a TD receiving. Armstrong, a senior from San Antonio Roosevelt, had 251 yards and three scores on the ground and 172 yards and a pair of TDs through the air in 2013.
Nate Shaw is entrenched as the starting fullback and the senior from Austin Anderson has developed a reputation as a strong blocker on run plays and in pass protection.
UTSA’s offensive line welcomes back all five starters — who have combined for 129 starts — and two others who have started 13 games. That group did not commit a holding penalty en route to helping the offense average 417.8 yards (175.4 rush/242.4 pass) per game in 2013.
Left guard Scott Inskeep is a two-time second-team all-conference selection and a preseason first-team All-Conference USA choice in addition to being on the Rotary Lombardi Award (nation’s top interior lineman) watch list in each of the past two campaigns. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound senior from McAllen has played in all 34 of UTSA’s games with 33 starts.
Left tackle Cody Harris collected honorable mention All-Conference USA accolades a year ago after grading out at a team-leading 85 percent and the
6-foot-5, 300-pound senior from Smithson Valley also has played in all 34 of UTSA‘s all-time contests with 32 starts.
Center Nate Leonard, a preseason Rimington Trophy candidate (FBS’ top center), is the only player in school history to start all 34 games and he was a second-team Academic All-American last year. The 6-foot, 280-pound senior from McKinney posted a team-leading 70 knockdown blocks last season.
Tackle Josh Walker and guard William Cavanaugh will man the right side of the line. Walker, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound senior from League City Clear Springs, has played in 26 career games (21 starts), while Cavanaugh, a 6-foot-1, 300-pound junior from New Braunfels Canyon, worked his way into the starting lineup early in 2013 en route to starting the final nine tilts.
The top two backups have combined to play in 38 contests.
Payton Rion, a 6-foot-3, 285-pound senior from Smithson Valley, has appeared in 22 games (10 starts) at guard. Fort Worth native Jordan Gray, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound former tight end, has played in 16 games (3 starts) at tackle.
Depth will come from guard Cody Cole (6-foot-5, 290), tackle Reed Darragh (6-foot-4, 290) and center Juan Perez (6-foot-2, 270).
The deepest position on the team based on sheer numbers, this group is led by seniors Kam Jones, Brandon Freeman, Seth Grubb, Kenny Harrison, Earon Holmes, Marcellus Mack and Josiah Monroe, who combined for 139 receptions and 1,421 yards in 2013.
Jones, Freeman and Mack are listed as the starters at the three wide receiver spots, but UTSA will play a rotation of as many as nine.
Jones, a native of Edna, led all players with 34 catches for 345 yards (31.4 ypg) and a TD, and the 5-foot-11, 190-pound former prep quarterback added 302 yards and five scores on the ground en route to honorable mention All-Conference USA honors. He enters his final campaign with program career records of 96 catches for 1,246 yards.
Freeman, a Cameron Yoe product, tallied 255 yards on 24 catches last year and has 870 receiving yards for his career.
Mack, from Giddings, caught 22 passes for 169 yards in 2013 and has 377 yards in his first three seasons in the Alamo City.
The experienced depth comes in waves from the likes of Harrison (70 career receptions for 534 yards), Grubb (16-245), Monroe (31-268) and Holmes (33-428), along with juniors Kenny Bias (29-571) and Aaron Grubb (29-361).
UTSA has a bevy of young talent at the position in the form of junior Sean Hesler, sophomore Miles Lerch, redshirt freshman Aron Taylor and true freshmen Greg Campbell Jr., Larry Stephens and Kerry Thomas.
The only other offensive position where UTSA does not return a starter, the tight ends are in good shape with the return of Cole Hubble, David Morgan II and Trevor Stevens.
Hubble, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior with 10 career starts, earned honorable mention All-Conference USA accolades last year after posting 274 yards and two touchdowns on 20 catches. The Bandera native enters his final campaign with 598 career receiving yards (16.6 yards per catch) and a school-record six TD catches.
Morgan II, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound redshirt junior from Marble Falls, has battled through injuries to produce 283 yards on 20 catches during his career.
Stevens, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound sophomore from Friendswood, saw action as a blocker on offense and special teams last year.
Junior Cade Laufer and freshmen Triston Crossland and Cameron Oliver will provide depth.
If offensive line is the most-experienced group on the team, its defensive counterparts are close behind, as UTSA boasts a two-deep that features 92 career starts.
The interior is led by the four-man rotation of seniors Richard Burge, Ashaad Mabry and Ferrington Macon and junior Brian Price.
Burge, a 6-foot-3, 290-pounder from Houston Stratford, posted 38 tackles, including 2.5 for loss and a sack, two pass breakups and a pair of quarterback hurries last season.
Mabry, a 6-foot-3, 315-pound San Antonio MacArthur product, garnered honorable mention all-conference honors last year after registering 41 stops, including a pair for loss.
Macon, a 5-foot-11, 310-pounder from Corpus Christi Carroll, had 14 tackles last season, while Price came up with 25 stops and four QB hurries in his debut campaign.
Inside depth will come from junior Kennedy Ubabuike, redshirt freshman Anthony Lee Jr. and true freshman Kevin Strong.
Honorable mention all-conference bookends Codie Brooks and Robert Singletary, who also is a preseason Lombardi Award candidate, join forces with Cody Rogers and Jason Neill for a formidable lineup at end.
Brooks, a 6-foot, 245-pound sophomore from Seguin, was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team after recording 34 tackles, five sacks, four pass breakups and a hurry as a walk-on last season.
Despite missing four games, Singletary, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound transfer from Baylor, matched Brooks with a team-high five sacks as part of his 30 stops, and the Kingwood native added four hurries, two breakups and a pair of forced fumbles.
Rogers leads all defensive linemen with 21 career starts and the senior from San Antonio Brandeis enters his final year with 93 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and a school-record 10 quarterback hurries.
Neill, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound native of Flower Mound, owns 27 career stops, six tackles for loss and nine QB hurries. He was awarded a medical redshirt in 2013 after being injured in the season opener.
Redshirt junior Justyn Eddins and true freshman Marcus Davenport will provide depth.
UTSA uses just two linebackers in its 4-2-5 scheme and will enter the season with a pair of experienced upperclassmen at one spot and at least two players looking to fill the void left by the graduation of honorable mention All-Conference USA performer Steven Kurfehs.
The middle will be manned by Drew Douglas and Blake Terry, who have a combined 16 starts.
Douglas, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound junior from Garland Sachse, posted 69 tackles, including two for loss and a sack, in his first season as a starter.
Meanwhile, Terry, a 5-foot-11, 225-pounder from Denton Guyer, enters his final year with 106 career stops, including 6.5 for loss.
Jens Jeters and Dalton Miller came out of spring practice listed 1-2 outside.
Jeters is a 6-foot-1, 235-pound senior who registered 29 tackles and a forced fumble in his first season with the Roadrunners last fall.
Miller, a 5-foot-11, 220-pound redshirt sophomore from San Antonio Warren, had six stops in limited action as a true freshman in 2012 before sitting out last fall as a redshirt.
Depth will come from a group that includes promising redshirt freshmen Marcos Curry and Tank O’Neal, sophomore transfer Cedric Haley and true freshman Justin Todd.
The Roadrunners have a wealth of safeties and cornerbacks at their disposal and, just like last season, there is a remarkable amount of depth in the secondary.
UTSA fields three safeties — dawg, rover and free — on nearly every snap and as many as seven players could see action in a given contest.
Senior free safety Triston Wade headlines the list of returning defensive backs. The preseason Jim Thorpe Award (nation’s top DB) nominee is coming off a junior season that saw him earn second-team All-Conference USA accolades, which came on the heels of a first-team All-WAC campaign in 2012. The 5-foot-11, 170-pounder from Tyler John Tyler is the program’s all-time leader in interceptions (8), pass breakups (21), forced fumbles (7) and fumble recoveries (4) and he ranks second in tackles (207). Wade also has had a hand in a total of 15 turnovers (eight INTs/seven fumbles) in the first 34 games of his career. Tevin Broussard (6-foot, 185) is Wade’s backup.
Senior dawg Nic Johnston, a 6-foot-2, 215-pounder from Coppell, has played in 33 career contests (29 starts) and he earned honorable mention All-Conference USA accolades last year. Johnston is the school’s all-time leader in tackles for loss (14), forced fumbles (7) and fumble recoveries (4) in addition to ranking second in interceptions (4). He has had a hand in a total of 13 turnovers (nine fumbles/four INTs) during his career. Sophomore Michael Egwuagu (6-foot, 215) saw action in 10 tilts in his inaugural season and will continue to see significant reps this fall.
Rover will feature a three-way camp battle between senior incumbent Brian King (6-foot-1, 190), redshirt junior Mauricio Sanchez (6-foot, 200) and sophomore Chase Dahlquist (6-foot, 195). The trio has a collective 51 games of experience under its belt, a figure that includes 24 starts. Expect the competition to go right up to the season opener, as no one was able to separate themselves from the pack during spring drills.
Honorable mention all-conference cornerback Bennett Okotcha, a 6-foot, 195-pound junior, mans one side of the field and is coming off a team-leading 11 pass breakups in his first action in three years.
Meanwhile, senior Crosby Adams III (5-foot-9, 180) has played in all 34 contests in program history, including 16 starts, and he had nine PBUs in 2013.
Senior Darrien Starling and junior Fred Blow are the projected top backups outside, while senior Andre Brown, junior Trevor Baker and redshirt freshmen N’Keal Bailey and Aneas Henricks and true frosh Stanley Dye Jr. will provide depth.
Preseason All-Conference USA place-kicker Sean Ianno is back for his senior campaign. The Pflugerville native made 11 field goals last year, including going 9-for-11 from inside 40 yards, and he enters 2014 with 32 career field goals and three game-winners along with being perfect on all 90 of his extra-point attempts, which is the second-longest active streak in the nation. His strong leg also has led to 33 career touchbacks on kickoffs, including 21 a year ago.
Kristian Stern provides a dependable leg in the punting game. The senior from Alamo Heights was an honorable mention all-conference punter last year after posting a 40.4 average and pinning 11 of his boots inside the 20-yard line.
Josh Ward, a senior from Pleasanton with 61 career punts to his name, is the top backup to Stern, while Daniel Portillo, a redshirt freshman place-kicker from Pflugerville Connally, impressed the coaching staff in spring practices.
UTSA boasts one of the most consistent deep snappers in the league in senior Jesse Medrano, who is a preseason all-league choice, while Seth Grubb is back for his fourth season as the holder.
Kenny Harrison returns as one of the most dangerous punt returners in the conference and that is shown by his inclusion on the preseason all-conference team. He owns a 13.6 career punt return average and also set a school record when he returned a Texas State punt 79 yards for a score in 2012. Aaron Grubb, who has four career returns for 57 yards (14.3 avg.) also could see action.
Williams, who averaged 23.1 yards per return in 2013, and Aaron Grubb are the primary kickoff returners, but Armstrong, Jones, Harrison (UTSA-record 25.3 career avg.) and Monroe (24.8) all have the ability to fill in when called upon.