UTSA to bring experience, momentum into initial Conference USA campaign
SAN ANTONIO — The opening act of UTSA football went as well as anyone could have expected once the curtains were pulled on Sept. 3, 2011. The Roadrunners drilled Northeastern State, 31-3, in front of an NCAA startup-program record 56,743 fans at the Alamodome, helping to lay the foundation for a 4-6 record and an average home attendance figure of 35,521, also a startup-program record.
What did UTSA do for an encore to top that first-year success?
Well, the Roadrunners exceeded all expectations by reeling off victories in their first five contests of the 2012 campaign. That stretch began with a thrilling 33-31 victory at South Alabama in the season opener for the program’s first-ever win against a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team and was capped by a 35-14 decision at New Mexico State for their first Western Athletic Conference (WAC) victory.
UTSA went on to register an 8-4 overall record and a 3-3 mark in league play, capping the successful season with a 38-31 home win against I-35 rival Texas State and leading the league in attendance (29,226).
Year three promises to bring a new set of challenges to the young program. UTSA officially joined Conference USA (C-USA) on July 1 and will face a new set of league foes along with the toughest non-conference slate yet, but it will do so with much experience and momentum on its side.
UTSA welcomes back 50 letterwinners, including 20 starters (10 offense/8 defense/2 kickers), from last season’s squad. The returnees account for 100 percent of the receiving and 94 percent of the rushing yards gained, 98 percent of the scoring and 76 percent of the tackles posted a year ago.
The Roadrunners are picked to finish seventh in the West Division in the Preseason C-USA Poll, similar to last season when they were picked to be seventh out of seven teams in their first and only WAC campaign. UTSA proved the naysayers wrong by finishing fourth in the league behind three bowl-eligible teams.
This year’s schedule features 12 contests against FBS teams, a first for the program. UTSA opens the slate at New Mexico on Aug. 31 before hosting Big 12 Conference preseason favorite Oklahoma State the following Saturday in front of what is expected to be one of the largest crowds in program history.
The Roadrunners then head west on back-to-back Saturdays for a Sept. 14 contest at Arizona and the C-USA opener at UTEP seven days later. UTSA will host Houston in its final non-conference game on Sept. 28, one of four matchups with in-state schools.
The Birds’ final seven dates are conference tilts with four at home — Rice (Oct. 12), UAB (Oct. 26), Tulane (Nov. 9) and Louisiana Tech (Nov. 30) — and three on the road — Marshall (Oct. 5), Tulsa (Nov. 2) and North Texas (Nov. 23). UTSA, which is not fully bowl-eligible until 2014, can participate in the Conference USA Championship Game on Dec. 7.
Eric Soza is back for his final campaign after enjoying a banner season in 2012 and he enters his senior year as one of 30 members of the Manning Award (nation's top QB) watch list. The Beeville native threw for 2,085 yards and 20 touchdowns — both school records — while completing 166-of-282 passes despite missing two-and-a-half games due to injury. He threw just three picks and enjoyed an interception-free stretch of 256 consecutive passing attempts, which at the time was the longest streak in the nation.
Junior Tucker Carter and freshman Zach Conque both took a redshirt last season but proved they are capable backups to Soza during spring practice.
David Glasco II and Evans Okotcha emerged as a potent one-two punch in the backfield for UTSA last season.
Glasco, a junior from San Antonio Wagner, led the team with 537 yards on 111 carries and he added five touchdowns on the ground. The 5-10, 200-pounder also caught 11 passes for 72 yards and a score in his sophomore season.
Okotcha, a Coppell native, added 430 yards and a team-high eight TDs on 106 rushes. The 5-9, 220-pound senior showed his versatility by hauling in a team-high 24 receptions for 349 yards and three scores.
Brandon Armstrong (27-97) and Brian Vaughn (8-72) provide a speedy change of pace in the backfield, while additional depth could come from Jerry Bynum, Treston Coleman and Jarveon Williams.
Nate Shaw returns as the entrenched starter at fullback and Terrance Wilburn and CheRod Simpson will back him up.
The men up front helped the Roadrunners offense average 31.2 points, 390.2 total yards (159.2 rush/231 pass) and 19.4 first downs per game last season. The group also allowed just seven sacks in 368 pass attempts, which was tied for the second-lowest total in the FBS.
UTSA returns four of its five starters from 2012, including preseason first-team All-Conference USA selection Scott Inskeep. The 6-4, 300-pound junior from McAllen graded out at 79 percent and registered 28 knockdowns en route to second-team All-WAC accolades last year. He has 21 starts under his belt and is penciled in at left guard.
The junior duo of Cody Harris (20) and Nate Leonard (22) has a combined 42 starts. Harris, a 6-5, 300-pounder from Smithson Valley, recorded 39 knockdowns and graded out at a team-best 84 percent in 2012 and will move to left tackle to replace Patrick Hoog, the only starter lost on this side of the ball. Meanwhile, Leonard, the center from McKinney, posted 34 knockdowns and graded out at 82 percent and he is the only player in program history to start all 22 games.
Fellow junior Josh Walker drew starts in all 12 games last season, turning in a team-best 46 knockdowns and grading out at 77 percent at right guard and tackle. The 6-3, 295-pound League City native is slated to be at right tackle when the season gets underway.
Zach Hester has earned the starting nod at right guard coming into fall camp. The 6-4, 315-pound sophomore from Houston appeared in 11 games with one start as a true freshman.
The second string is made up of junior Payton Rion, who has appeared in 14 games with seven starts, at right guard, sophomore Jordan Gray, a converted tight end at right tackle, sophomore Will Cavanaugh at center, redshirt freshman Cody Cole and true frosh Reed Darragh at left tackle and guard, respectively.
Arguably the deepest position on the club due to sheer numbers alone, the group is led by juniors Kam Jones, Earon Holmes, Marcellus Mack, Kenny Harrison and Brandon Freeman, who combined for 91 receptions, 1,096 yards and six touchdowns a year ago.
Jones, a native of Edna, led the receivers with 23 catches for 323 yards and a TD, while Holmes, a San Antonio Brackenridge product, hauled in 21 catches for 279 yards and a pair of scores. Mack, from Giddings, had 19 receptions for 174 yards and a touchdown, while Harrison, out of Linden-Kildare, posted 124 yards and two TDs on 19 catches. Freeman, who hails from Cameron Yoe, added 196 yards on just nine receptions for a 21.8-yard average.
Senior Cole Hicks led all receivers with four touchdowns to go along with 169 yards on 14 catches. Kenny Bias enjoyed a breakout redshirt freshman season, as the speedster registered 236 yards and a pair of scores on 13 receptions (18.2 avg.).
Josiah Monroe (10-81) and Aaron (11-143-1) and Seth (2-17) Grubb, brothers from nearby La Vernia, add proven quality depth to the receiving corps, while Rileigh Davis, Sean Hesler, Miles Lerch, Aron Taylor and John Simmons — who made the transition from quarterback during spring practice — will look to make an impact on the position this season.
While wide receiver is considered UTSA’s deepest position by numbers, this group is pushing for that title with the return of Jeremiah Moeller, Cole Hubble and David Morgan, who missed the 2012 campaign due to injury.
Moeller, a 6-2, 245-pound senior from New Braunfels Canyon, is considered by the coaches to be the team’s best blocker at the position, but he also caught 10 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown last year.
Hubble, a former all-state quarterback at Bandera, led the position with 15 receptions, 308 yards and four TDs during his sophomore season.
Morgan was the Roadrunners’ top pass-catching tight end as a true freshman in 2011 with 13 catches for 214 yards and a pair of scores.
Redshirt freshman Trevor Stevens, a 6-4, 250-pounder from Friendswood, and sophomore Cade Laufer will provide depth.
The Roadrunners will go as high as nine deep along the front line and seven of those players will bring starting experience with them this season.
The four-man rotation at tackle will feature juniors Richard Burge, Ashaad Mabry and Ferrington Macon and sophomore Brian Price.
Macon has the most starts among the group — 15 through the first two seasons — and the Corpus Christi native posted 18 tackles last year. Burge, who hails from Houston, has played in 21 contests (9 starts) and registered the most tackles — 31, including five for loss — among the returning DTs in 2012.
Meanwhile, Mabry, from San Antonio MacArthur, recorded 24 stops a year ago, while Price is a sophomore transfer from Hancock (Calif.) Junior College who went through spring drills after signing a National Letter of Intent last December.
UTSA is equally as deep at defensive end, where at least five players are expected to see playing time.
Junior Cody Rogers is listed as the starter at one end. The San Antonio Brandeis graduate tallied 31 tackles, 4.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks, and four QB hurries. He is slated to be backed up by junior Jason Neill, who turned in 12 tackles, including a pair for loss, to go along with a team-high seven quarterback hurries a year ago.
Senior Jarron Harris, a 6-3, 250-pounder from Leander, comes into fall camp as the other starter after coming up with 24 tackles, including three sacks, last year in his UTSA debut. Robert Singletary, a 6-2, 250-pound junior from Kingwood via Baylor, redshirted last season and Will Ritter also returns following a junior campaign that saw the Odessa Permian product register 26 stops, including 3.5 sacks, and four QB hurries.
UTSA uses just two linebackers in its 4-2-5 scheme and will enter the season with a pair of experienced upperclassmen and two promising sophomores on the depth chart.
Senior Steven Kurfehs, who earned second-team All-WAC honors last year, will start at the outside linebacker spot. The 6-2, 230-pound San Antonio O’Connor product has started 18 career games and posted 71 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks, three QB hurries and a 50-yard fumble return for a touchdown in 2012. Jens Jeters, a 6-1, 240-pounder from Pierce (Calif.) Junior College is slated as Kurfehs’ backup.
Blake Terry will draw the starting nod at middle linebacker. The 5-11, 220-pound junior from Denton Guyer recorded 64 stops, including three for loss, last year. He will be backed up by Drew Douglas, a 6-2, 225-pound sophomore from Garland who posted 20 tackles as a freshman.
More depth will be provided by senior Brandon Guerrero, sophomore Dalton Miller and freshmen Marcos Curry and Tank O’Neal.
The Roadrunners utilize a bevy of safeties and cornerbacks in their scheme and 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.
Triston Wade headlines the list of returning defensive backs and has solidified his spot as the starting free safety. The junior from Tyler earned first-team All-WAC honors last season after posting 74 tackles, a team-high four interceptions, four forced fumbles and a pair of recoveries. Junior transfer Tevin Broussard, who hails from Beaumont by way of Blinn Junior College, is slated as the backup.
Junior Nic Johnston is the returning starter at dawg. The Coppell native ranked third on the team with 73 tackles last season and he added four forced fumbles and an interception. He will be spelled by junior Joseph Lizcano.
Cody Berry emerged as the starter at rover last year. The senior from Cedar Hill registered 25 stops and forced a pair of fumbles in his first season with the Roadrunners in 2012, despite missing the first five games. Brian King, a junior from Orlando, Fla., also will see time after tallying 34 tackles and an INT last season.
A testament to the depth at safety, junior Mauricio Sanchez, a San Antonio Warren graduate with 13 career starts and 79 career tackles, provides even more quality depth.
The two-deep at cornerback is highlighted by a pair of experienced juniors and two promising newcomers.
Darrien Starling and Crosby Adams III are the starters. Starling, from Tyler John Tyler, had 33 tackles and a pair of pass breakups last season, and Adams, from San Antonio Roosevelt, turned in 17 stops and two interceptions in 2012.
That pair is slated to be backed up by Bennett Okotcha, a sophomore transfer from Oklahoma and the younger brother of Evans, and Andre Brown, a junior transfer from College of the Desert (Calif.).
Sean Ianno returns for his junior campaign as the team’s top place-kicker. The Pflugerville native made 10-of-13 field goals, including a long of 51 that was the game winner at South Alabama, and all 21 extra-point attempts in 2012. He also had seven touchbacks on kickoffs despite missing half the season with an injury.
Josh Ward is back for his third season as the punter and he is slated to see more time as a kickoff specialist after eight touchbacks, including a school-record seven at Idaho, last season. The Pleasanton product pinned five punts inside the 20-yard line and six his of his boots resulted in fair catches.
Kristian Stern, a junior from Alamo Heights, also provides a dependable leg in the kicking and punting games. He made 5-of-6 field goals and averaged 39.7 yards on 23 punts last year.
Harrison returns as one of the top punt returners in the nation after averaging 17.3 yard on 12 chances a year ago (2nd FBS). He also set a school record when he returned a Texas State punt 79 yards for a score and can return kickoffs (23.3 avg. last year) if the need arises.
Jones (19.7 avg.) and Bias will be the primary kickoff returners.