SAN ANTONIO — Junior center Nate Leonard is back again this season with a blog that will give fans an inside glimpse into UTSA's first season as a member of Conference USA.
Leonard helped the Roadrunners win their 2013 season opener at New Mexico last Saturday by a score of 21-13. UTSA scored 21 unanswered points after falling behind, 13-0, and the Birds finished the contest with 394 total yards (157 rush/237 pass) of offense. The 6-foot, 280-pounder had a team-leading four knockdown blocks in the victory.
A leader on and off the field, the McKinney native was instrumental in the team's success last fall. He helped UTSA open its second season with five consecutive victories and the Roadrunners finished the year with three straight wins en route to an 8-4 overall record and 3-3 mark in their first and only campaign in the Western Athletic Conference.
The only player in program history to start all 23 games, he recorded 34 knockdowns a year ago and anchored an offensive line that allowed just seven sacks in 368 pass attempts (t-2nd FBS), as the Birds averaged 31.2 points and 390.2 yards (159.2 rush/231.0 pass) per outing.
Below is his second entry of the fall.
Week 2 — “We’ll Go 99”
My jersey and pants were soaked. The towel that I use to keep my snap hand dry was soaked and dangled lifelessly by my right hip. I kept squeezing it because I busted my thumb in the second quarter, and the harder I squeezed, the more I loosened the inflammation and swelling. There was a little blood on the towel too, which I was proud of for a very egotistical reason, for a bloody towel is more socially respected than a stark white one. If you’ve ever put your hand in the grass, you understand. My left ring finger was swollen into my glove due to losing balance on an aggressive play-action pass and I braced my fall with the tip of the aforementioned finger. The callouses on the balls of my feet felt like they had opened up and were packing their bags while I was getting annoyed at the fact that my knee braces kept sliding down and I had to constantly readjust them with my battered hands. I found myself standing near the sideline with around eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, waiting for the referees to make a decision about a questionable call. Did the punted ball cross the goal line or did it not? Was there a “home-cooking” call in the works? It was a crucial decision because we would either get the ball on the 20-yard line with a touchback or on the 1-yard line with the original call on the field. I was waiting for the play to be reviewed when one of the zebra crew ran over to Coach Coker and informed him that the play could be reviewed and asked him if he wanted them to take another look at it. Coach looked him dead in the eyes and, as if he was scolding a misbehaved child, said, “No, we’ll go 99.” That is why he is Larry Coker. That is why I play for him.
Coach Travis Reust ended our conversation by growling something along the lines of, “You just don’t kick a sleeping dog.” I was standing on the steps of the bus that escorted us from UTSA to the airport and was looking mighty spiffy, sporting our brand new navy blue Adidas travel suit. However, like Coach Reust, my collar was a little too tight, so to speak. We felt disrespected. Coach Jim Marshall so endearingly referred to us as his “chump crew,” further reminding us of the mindset of our opponent. You know, I laughed off the reminders, but what they stood for infected me, burrowing under my skin and feeding off my brain like insidious parasites. Disrespect me all you want because I’ve been through worse than some name-calling and I settle disputes with my actions, but if you disrespect my university, teammates, fans and family, then we have a problem. “Sleeping dog” was starting to sound a lot better to me.
Again, our travel arrangements are first class. Food awaits us in our plane seats and it is delivered to us every minute of the flight. My menu for this week’s trip was a turkey and ham sandwich, a cheese steak sandwich, BBQ Baked Lays, grapes, cheese sticks and the ever so crucial pickle wedges. My meal was supplemented by original episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants and ice cold Gatorade, not to mention the fact that I have the privilege of sitting in an exit row seat which means extra leg room and Eric Soza as a row buddy, although he was a tad upset that he was squeezed between Cody Harris and myself. I think he was more concerned about us stealing his food than his lack of shoulder room, but at least he was well protected.
When we arrived in New Mexico, it was just a different feeling for me. I wasn’t all giddy and anxious like a fresh-faced puppy, but I was more relaxed and poised like a scruff-faced vet. That brought me to the uninvited realization that I am a scruff-faced vet. I am 22 years old with this season and next to prove to those people who love me and believe in me that they were right for doing so. Having said that, it’s an overwhelming amount to play for. I play football with a heavy heart, and, therefore, I believe I play football the way the game should be played. As Coach Eric Roark so righteously put it during an outstanding pregame chapel, “You should play the game with love.” If y’all couldn’t already tell by what y’all have seen, heard or experienced of me, I’ll put it in writing … I love my team.
So, my hogs and I rumbled, bumbled, stumbled out to the end zone where I set the huddle and waited for the play to come in from the sideline. I knew that this was going to be a critical drive, as we were clinging to a one-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. I remember saying something along the lines of “Let’s put the nail in the coffin.” Mind y’all, I don’t think I said it so kindly, but this is family reading. The offense also has a motto that no matter where we are on the field, we are always “going in.” Normally, “going in” refers to having the ball on the short end of the field and heading into the end zone. However, having the right mentality tends to make any field position shorter. As does having an offense full of teammates that sacrifice their bodies to put the ball in the box. I felt anxious, poised, but anxious. I set the line. I set my feet. Eric shouted “hut” a few times, I snapped the balled a few times, and together, with my brothers, we “went the 99.”
I like that. “Going the 99.” It may only mean something to Runner Nation, but that’s all that really matters.
So, my friends, how do my cleats feel? Are you banged up? Are you sore? Do you feel tired? If y’all are wearing my cleats, which I asked you to do, then just brush off the bruises, tighten the laces even more, and “go the 99” with the boys and me to the Alamodome this weekend. I am making a rally cry, Runner Nation. Be there, because we need you. As 30-point underdogs, we need the spirit of San Antonio.
Did I say “underdogs?” Excuse me, I meant “sleeping dogs.”
· Aug. 26