SAN ANTONIO — The first “official” year of UTSA Football went off better than anyone could have envisioned. The Roadrunners won four games and set NCAA startup program records for inaugural game (56,743) and single-season average (35,521) attendance. Most importantly, however, they established the foundation for future success with a brief, one-year stint in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) looming in 2012.
UTSA welcomes back 46 letterwinners and a total of 21 starters (10 offense/9 defense/2 kickers) from last season’s inaugural squad. With the climb to the Football Bowl Subdivision taking place in just the program’s second year of existence, that should help ease the transition.
However, that change will put a new set of challenges in front of the Roadrunners, maybe even more than what they faced in their initial campaign, but head coach Larry Coker is embracing the hurdles that his club surely will encounter this fall.
UTSA was picked to finish seventh in the Preseason WAC Poll, but to a man, the Roadrunners are using that as motivation, even going as far as embracing the motto, “Shock The Country,” for the 2012 season.
“We have our work cut out for us this season, but one of the best things about college football is facing challenges and overcoming them,” Coker said. “We have several players back from a year ago and they are excited to show the country that they belong in the WAC. We had a great offseason in the weight room and if the first two weeks of fall camp are any indication, we should be competitive, just as we were a year ago.”
The 12-game schedule (two more contests than last season) will put UTSA to the test right away with a Thursday, Aug. 30, tilt at South Alabama. The Jaguars handed the Roadrunners a 30-27 setback in double overtime last year at the Alamodome, so payback will be on their minds. UTSA also will be in search of its first road win in school history when they take the field in the season opener.
The Roadrunners welcome Texas A&M-Commerce to the Alamodome the following Saturday (Sept. 8) for the 2012 home opener and Northwestern Oklahoma State (Sept. 22) and McNeese State (Nov. 10) also will visit the Alamo City as non-conference foes this fall. Meanwhile, UTSA will make additional non-league road trips to Georgia State (Sept. 15) and Rice (Oct. 13).
The WAC slate kicks off on Sept. 29 at New Mexico State and other conference tilts away from San Antonio include Louisiana Tech (Nov. 3) and Idaho (Nov. 17). San Jose State (Oct. 20), Utah State (Oct. 27) and I-35 rival Texas State (Nov. 24) will come to the Alamodome in UTSA’s first and only season as a member of the WAC.
Junior Eric Soza returns after taking nearly every offensive snap last fall. Playing for the first time since his senior year of high school, the Beeville native completed 172-of-307 passes (56 percent) for 2,148 yards and 14 touchdowns and he added 285 more yards and three scores on the ground.
Junior Tucker Carter and redshirt freshman Ryan Polite have been battling for the top backup spot during fall camp and sophomore John Simmons returns after connecting on 5-of-6 passes for 49 yards and a TD in limited action a year ago.
Junior Evans Okotcha returns after rushing for a team-leading 326 yards on just 50 carries (6.5 avg.) last fall. He added four TDs and also caught 10 passes for 148 yards and another score. The Coppell native is expected to see time at both tailback and halfback (UTSA’s version of a fullback) this season.
Sophomore Brandon Armstrong added 171 yards on 25 totes (6.8 avg.), including 105 in last year’s season finale against Minot State. Meanwhile, classmate David Glasco II reached paydirt a squad-best five times, including scores in each of the team’s first four outings.
The Roadrunners also welcome back junior CheRod Simpson, who rushed 10 times for 27 yards and also hauled in seven passes for 79 yards and a score. A pair of true freshmen, Treston Coleman and Brian Vaughn, may contribute in their inaugural season.
Sophomore Nate Shaw and redshirt freshman Terrance Wilburn will see time at halfback when Okotcha moves to tailback.
Arguably the deepest position on the club due to sheer numbers alone, the group is led by sophomore Kam Jones. The former prep quarterback led the Roadrunners with 39 receptions for 578 yards (14.8 avg.) and he scored twice during his redshirt freshman campaign. Jones registered three 100-yard performances and is the most dynamic playmaker on the UTSA roster. Expect first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Brown to find creative ways to get the ball in his hands.
Also back is classmate Brandon Freeman, who hauled in 30 passes for 419 yards (14.0 avg.). He led the receiving corps with four touchdowns, which went for an average of 42 yards.
Sophomores Kenny Harrison (28-209-1), Josiah Monroe (8-86-1), Marcellus Mack (4-34-0) and Earon Holmes (2-27-0) are the other returnees who caught passes last fall.
A pair of redshirt freshmen, Kenny Bias and Sean Hesler, earned positive reviews from the coaching staff as members of the scout team in 2011 and both are expected to contribute this season.
With sophomore David Morgan (13-214-2) out for the season due to injury, junior Jeremiah Moeller is expected to step in and provide UTSA with a steady blocker this season.
The New Braunfels native played in all 10 games (two starts) a year ago and he caught a pair of passes for 32 yards.
Sophomore Cole Hubble returns to the position after finishing up 2011 at linebacker, while redshirt freshman Austin Rushing and true frosh Jordan Gray and Trevor Stevens also will vie for playing time.
The men up front helped the Roadrunners offense average 26.6 points, 364.5 total yards (144.8 rush/219.7 pass) and 20 first downs per game last season despite being young and inexperienced.
UTSA returns six players who saw action a year ago, including sophomores Scott Inskeep and Nate Leonard, who started all 10 contests at left guard and center, respectively. Meanwhile, sophomore Cody Harris played in all 10 games, including eight starts at right tackle, and senior Patrick Hoog drew starts in the final two tilts at right guard. Harris will move inside this season, while Hoog will slide out to left tackle. Sophomore Payton Rion appeared in eight games (seven starts) at guard, while redshirt freshman Josh Walker, the squad’s projected starting right tackle, saw limited action in three outings.
Redshirt freshmen Jaime Bernal and Michael Roberson and true freshmen William Cavanaugh, Cody Cole and Zach Hester all should see snaps during the upcoming campaign.
The Roadrunners will go as high as 10 deep along the front line and six of those players will bring starting experience with them this season.
The four-man rotation at tackle will feature senior Franky Anaya (14 TT/2 TFLs/1 sack) and sophomores Richard Burge (31 TT/1.5 TFLs), Ashaad Mabry (20 TT/3 TFLs/1 sack/4 QBH) and Ferrington Macon (15 TT/3.5 TFLs/2.5 sacks). All four players saw action in every game a year ago and the quartet combined for 21 starts. Burge led the way with nine, while Macon (five), Mabry (four) and Anaya (three) also drew starts.
Junior William Ritter (14 TT/2.5 TFLs/1.5 sacks) and sophomore Jason Neill (14 TT/4 TFLs/1 sack) are back at end, while junior newcomers Jarron Harris and Dan Winter join senior Lekenwic Haynes and sophomore Dominique Henderson in the pursuit of playing time behind the projected starting duo.
UTSA uses just two linebackers in its 4-2-5 scheme, but the tandem of senior Brandon Reeves and junior Steven Kurfehs proved to be quite a 1-2 punch last fall.
Reeves started all 10 games in his first season out of the JUCO ranks and led the Roadrunners with 69 tackles. He also was second on the squad with a half dozen sacks and ranked third with 8.5 tackles for loss.
Meanwhile, Kurfehs played in seven games (six starts) before missing the last three contests due to injury. However, he managed to finish third on the team with 61 stops and the San Antonio native recorded double-digit tackles in three of his final five outings. Also a threat when dropping into pass coverage, he recorded a pair of interceptions, including the first defensive touchdown in program history, a 45-yard pick six, against Bacone.
Sophomore Cody Rogers proved to be a valuable backup following Kurfeh’s injury. He started the final three contests (played in nine overall) and finished the campaign with 37 tackles, including a program-record 16 at McNeese State.
Redshirt freshman Drew Douglas is expected to see time behind Reeves after sitting out the 2011 season with an injury, while junior college transfer Brandon Guerrero and sophomore Blake Terry also will provide depth in the middle this fall.
The Roadrunners utilize a bevy of cornerbacks and safeties in their scheme and there is a remarkable amount of depth in the defensive backfield.
Junior Erik Brown and sophomore Darrien Starling, the incumbent starters at cornerback, came out of the spring atop the depth chart, but they are being pushed in fall camp by sophomore returnees Crosby Adams and Alondre Thorn, as well as junior college transfer Maurice Poullard. Brown played in eight games (six starts) following his arrival from Fresno State and he finished the season with 26 tackles and a pair of pass breakups. Meanwhile, Starling started all 10 contests and recorded 35 stops and two interceptions in addition to defending four passes. Adams played in all 10 tilts, including two starts, and Thorn also drew a pair of starts among his nine outings.
UTSA fields three safeties — dawg, rover and free — on nearly every snap and as many as eight players could see action in a given contest.
Sophomore Mauricio Sanchez came out of the spring as the “top dawg,” so to speak, but classmate and returning starter Nic Johnston is hot on his heels. Sanchez played in nine games (seven starts) as a true freshman and racked up 44 tackles, while his counterpart recorded 59 stops, including nine for loss, which was the second most on the team. Johnston added three fumble recoveries, two interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles in his 10 starts last fall. Also in the mix for playing time are sophomore Joseph Lizcano and freshman Charles Wort, the younger brother of Oklahoma’s All-Big 12 linebacker Tom Wort.
Sophomore Triston Wade came into fall camp with a leg up on the starting free safety job following a true freshman campaign that saw him register 39 tackles, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a pair of interceptions in 10 games of work (four starts). He currently is backed up by sophomore Brian King, who spent the last two seasons at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College but has not played since his senior year of high school.
Meanwhile, rover will feature two new faces this year with junior college transfer Cody Berry leading the way. Senior Sean Luchnick also could see time at the position after playing wide receiver a year ago.
Sophomore Sean Ianno returns after scoring a team-high 64 points in 2011. The former walk-on was good on all 31 of his extra point attempts last season and he also connected on 11-of-18 field goals with a long of 48 yards. He also brings a strong leg to kickoffs and is a threat to put the ball in the end zone at any time.
Sophomore Kristian Stern averaged 40.9 yards on 16 punts after classmate Josh Ward (35.1 avg.) went down with an injury midway through the season and they are competing for the lead job during fall camp. Also in the mix is senior Parker Cundiff.
The return game is led by Harrison, who averaged 26.8 yards on his team-leading 19 kickoff returns last fall. Armstrong and Harrison both are expected to battle for the punt return job leading up to the season opener.