SAN ANTONIO (AP)No. 15 UTSA is enjoying a dream season after trusting in what could be when few others were as hopeful.
Basking in a 9-0 start and the first national ranking in the program’s 10-year history, the Roadrunners are rolling ahead of Saturday’s home game against Southern Mississippi.
”I’d be lying if I didn’t say this is almost surreal, a dream,” coach Jeff Traylor said. ”Enjoy these moments. These are special moments. We’ll look back in time one day and go, `Wow, that was an incredible ride.’ I hope we’ve got many, many more of those in front of us.”
How the Roadrunners are accomplishing this dream is a tale of taking some chances.
UTSA hired Lisa Campos, whose career began in student affairs, as the program’s fifth athletic director in 2018. Campos is one of only two Latinas among the nation’s 130 FBS schools running a Division I athletics department.
”Being in San Antonio, this is about being a role model to the youth here and across the nation that we have a responsibility to,” Campos said.
Her first major move was trusting her instincts and hiring Traylor, a relatively unknown commodity, as the team’s third head coach.
Traylor had coached in five state championships at Gilmer (Texas) High School, winning three state titles and 12 district titles and going 175-26 in 15 years. He then had a successful career as an assistant coach at Texas, SMU and Arkansas before joining UTSA in December 2019.
His previous success was not enough for some of the university’s existing fan base and casual observers, who wanted a known commodity like former Miami coach Larry Coker, the Roadrunners first head coach.
”I wish I would have saved some of the messages and some of the social media from two years ago when I made that hire,” Campos said, chuckling. ”There were definitely some folks who didn’t see what I saw, who didn’t know Jeff. They hadn’t connected with him.”
The biggest risk was taken by a growing list of local football standouts who decided to remain in San Antonio rather than join more established programs.
Junior linebacker Rashad Wisdom of nearby Converse said he kept a low profile as a freshman athlete while working toward his major in cybersecurity.
”I’m new, so I’m not really saying anything,” Wisdom recalled. ”People were in there (a class he was attending), `Are you going to the football game?’ I remember like it was yesterday, one girl was like, `Ah, no. Our football team sucks.’ I was like, `Man!”’
Wisdom can laugh after facing some initial criticism for choosing the school with nearly 35,000 students in Texas’ largest city.
”Now, everybody loves talking about UTSA football and say they love going to UTSA,” Wisdom said.
In the past three months, UTSA has opened a $40.4 million athletic training facility, upset Illinois for its first victory against a Big Ten school, has the best start in school history, is bowl eligible for the second straight season, received its first national ranking and announced last month that it will soon join the American Athletic Conference.
As big as those moments have been, what drew the most excitement among players and staff was Campos’ announcement that Traylor had signed a 10-year extension worth $28 million amid rumors that he might leave for a more established program.
”Jeff is a builder,” Campos said. ”He’s a builder of culture. He’s a builder of aspirations and belief. That team is totally behind him, believing in what they can do.”
To hear Traylor tell it, he simply stumbled into something.
”I’m so thrilled for my kids, my players,” Traylor said. ”It just makes me feel so good for them. They are the ones that deserve all this. I’m just so happy for them.”
Truth is, the 53-year-old Traylor has elevated the program at a faster pace than its mascot. UTSA has consecutive winning seasons under Traylor after being above .500 only once in the six seasons prior to his arrival.
Traylor has implemented the ”Triangle of Toughness,” which consists of offense, defense and special teams but also represents a culture of toughness and commitment that UTSA’s other athletic programs are adopting.
Traylor also has his staff and players vote in the fall on which players will wear single-digit jerseys during the season. Nos. 2, 1 and 0 – San Antonio’s area code – are the most prestigious. Local athletes Wisdom (No. 0), running back Sincere McCormick (3) and quarterback Frank Harris (0) are among those in single digits.
McCormick, on the 2021 Walter Camp Player of the Year watchlist, has rushed for 1,060 yards and 10 touchdowns on 211 carries. Harris has completed 68% of his passes for 2,079 yards and 18 touchdowns and rushed for 346 yards and four more scores.
Wisdom, who has 57 tackles, has done a lot of everything for the team. He leads the team onto the field before each game and his role as a team leader off the field has grown under Traylor.
”Coach Traylor is great at coaching football, but he’s a great life coach, too,” Wisdom said. ”He does a great job with making sure that we are good football players, but also better men at the end of the day.”
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25 Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://apnews.com/cfbtop25