Presented by Pat Clynes and The Fritz Kennel.
By Jerry Briggs
Just about the same time the bowl-bound UTSA Roadrunners hit the practice field at 8:45 a.m. Thursday, the wind started to blow.
Temperatures were in the 40s, so the addition of wind to the equation was chilling. Despite the conditions, the Roadrunners enjoyed a productive practice on campus that lasted a little more than an hour.
"Great practice," coach Frank Wilson said. "You know, it was a little windy. (It was) a little chilled this morning, and so I wanted to embrace it, but I also wanted to do right by our team and not put us in harm’s way, where guys could get sick or anything, unnecessarily, this far away from the game."
UTSA (6-6) plays New Mexico (8-4) on Dec. 17 in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.
With the first bowl in school history looming in only nine days, players started arriving at the team room at about 7 a.m. Wilson said he liked what he saw when he entered the building.
"I came down to the team room to visit, and our energy was off the chart," Wilson said. "They were eager. They were excited about it. They were dressed for practice before it was even time to be dressed for practice. So we went out and from the very beginning, at stretch, they were just excited about the opportunity to practice again.
"It was something I had great appreciation for. With our team, they’re maturing so fast and embracing this moment and understanding the opportunity we have before us. I just thought we had a great practice today from an energy level."
Offensive tackle Gabriel Casillas, from Chula Vista in Southern California, expressed surprise at how cold it was on the field.
"It was something rather new to me," Casillas said. "In California, we don't get these kind of weathers but we got out there and we handled it. No complaining. No flinching. (It was) put your Under Armour on and let's take care of business."
Casillas said the acclimation could come in handy when the team gets to the game site.
"Great help to start getting used to something we might see out in New Mexico," he said. "I hear it's getting pretty chilly. So we got to be as well-prepared as we can."
Emotions have been running on high all week since UTSA learned Sunday that it would be headed to Albuquerque for the bowl, but it's even more of a heady experience for Casillas, a senior, who will be playing his last college football game.
"I think I'm taking it in, so far, so good," he said. "I haven't let the emotions get the best of me. I'm just really happy I've been here through the beginning of a new era, to see the beginning of the process."
Casillas came to UTSA in 2015 and then, like all the other returning players, had to adjust when the new coaching staff arrived in January.
"What coach had told us when he got here was, we're going to be the beginning of something great," he said. "Unfortunately for the seniors, we're not going to be able to see great. But we are going to be the first stone (in the foundation). So I'm excited to be a part of that."
The future holds promise with the return of standouts such as linebacker Josiah Tauaefa, who has been named first-team, all-Conference USA and the conference's Freshman of the Year.
Tauaefa, a redshirt freshman, came to UTSA last year as a defensive end.
It's likely he would have made a contribution anywhere in the UTSA defensive front this fall, but Tauaefa has flourished at linebacker, evolving into one of the conference's best players only two years out of Lake Dallas High School.
"I think he's playing the position that he was born to play," Wilson said. "He's a natural mike linebacker that has the ability to play between the tackles and stuff the run (and) the athleticism to play on the perimeter as well. As well as to drop into coverage against backs, tight ends and slot receivers.
"He's right where he is most comfortable and natural at. So when we first got here and began to evaluate our team, for us, we thought it was a natural fit for him, and I think he's excelled."