by Pat Turner, goUTSA.com Contributing Writer
SAN ANTONIO — Triston Wade came to UTSA with big plans.
The safety from Tyler wanted to shine as a player, but his main objective was putting the Roadrunners on the college football map.
Since UTSA is halfway through its third season, the project still is a work in progress. It has been tough at times, but improvement is evident.
After starting with a 4-6 campaign as a Football Championship Subdivision independent in 2011, the Roadrunners went 8-4 last season with a 3-3 mark in their lone year as a member of the Western Athletic Conference.
Although UTSA has had its ups and downs in its first campaign in Conference USA, Wade continues to be one of the team’s bright spots.
After he totaled 39 tackles, intercepted two passes and recovered two fumbles in the program’s inaugural season, Wade turned up the intensity in 2012. The former All-East Texas selection was the bright spot of the defense, as he picked off four passes and ranked second on the team with 74 tackles en route to first-team All-WAC honors.
The challenges have increased this season. While playing a much tougher schedule, Wade has taken his game to a higher level, which is evident by his team-leading 61 tackles.
Although he is happy to contribute by bringing ball carriers to the ground, he is disappointed about having no interceptions and said changing that situation is mandatory.
“I like all the tackles, but I have to get some takeaways,” Wade said earlier this week. “A DB has to have interceptions, so I have to work on that. I’m going all out on the fundamentals during practice and hoping that will carry over into games.”
Still, Wade is pleased with where his overall game has gone since the beginning. He believes last year provided a positive carryover. He’s been more aggressive and has a better knowledge of how to perform in certain situations. That has enabled him to get more involved.
“Last year did a lot for me,” he said. “It put my name out there. Getting all-conference was nice. I knew I could do it, but I have to stay humble. I have to live up to bigger expectations and come back stronger, but that’s a good feeling.”
Wade developed a reputation for being a hard-nosed defensive back while roaming the secondary at John Tyler High School. Because of his success, college coaches started taking notice, including UTSA head coach Larry Coker and his staff.
At the time, Wade never had heard of the school that was getting its football program off the ground. Although the Roadrunners didn’t have traditions like Texas or Texas A&M, the opportunity to be part of something new was appealing.
Wade has no doubt he made the right decision.
“Our cornerback (former John Tyler teammate) Darrien Starling was already here and told me I should come down,” he said. “He told the coaches about me, so they started looking at me. When I came here, I liked the people. Coach Coker told me it was going to be a good program and I always wanted to play Division I football, so it was a go.”
Coker is happy Wade chose the Roadrunners.
“He is a football player,” the two-time National Coach of the Year said. “Triston can play the game. He’s a natural, he’s tough and he’s physical. He’s kind of like the safeties I had at Miami. He’s not as big as Sean Taylor, but he’ll bring it like Sean Taylor. He’s a game changer.”
Defense has been Wade’s passion since day one.
When he started playing football during his elementary school days, many of his friends wanted to score touchdowns and send crowds into frenzy, but Wade wanted to steal that thunder by playing on the defensive side.
“I loved contact and tackling people,” he said. “When I was younger, my father always said, ‘strip the ball,’ so I’ve tried to do that.”
His enthusiasm for making big hits and causing turnovers has risen, especially in college, where the intensity is higher.
“It’s all about staying focused and doing the right thing,” Wade said. “Knowing there’s bigger and better competition, I have to be ready for what’s coming. If you make mistakes at this level, you’re beaten. I prepare every day and visualize the plays. At night before I go to sleep, I see it my mind and think about it. When it happens in a game, I feel like I am ready.”
Wade is counting on that approach to be a factor for the Roadrunners’ remaining five contests, starting with today’s Homecoming game with UAB.
Despite the team’s 2-5 start to the season, Wade knows the Roadrunners are capable of a strong finish.
“We need to win,” he said. “We’re all fired up. No matter what our record says, we are going to come out to play. We have to stay focused as a whole team.”
No matter what happens, Wade still believes the Roadrunners are on the right track as they build their young program.
“We’ve come so far as a program.” he said. “Coming from where we first started, we didn’t have too much. Now, we’re playing big-time teams. We’ve gone from the WAC to Conference USA and we’re getting better every day. This is a dream come true.
“Last year, we lost some close games because we didn’t finish. The key this year is finishing. We feel like we know how to do that. We’re trying to put UTSA on the map. Not too many people have heard of us, but we’re going to try to shock the world as a team and show them what we can do.”