By Jerry Briggs
By the end of national signing day, on the tail end of an exhausting final month in the 2017 recruiting cycle, Frank Wilson was still joking around, talking loudly, trying to get people fired up.
The energetic, second-year coach of the UTSA Roadrunners stood on a stage in front of a few hundred boosters at the Palladium IMAX theater Wednesday night and led a spirit exercise known as, “ ‘Runners, ready, ready.”
The fans dutifully followed along, shouting and clapping in unison.
Wilson, feigning disappointment in the effort, paused to poke fun at one school administrator in the gathering, admonishing her for failing to clap on time.
“Yeah, you,” Wilson said, pointing to the culprit. “You were late. Let’s try this again.”
At that point, UTSA athletic director Lynn Hickey couldn’t resist. She let fly with a good-natured verbal jab of her own.
“Frank, that’s the lady that gives you all the money,” she told the coach. “So, be careful with what you say.”
Everyone laughed, and many stayed around long after the program ended to shake hands or to have a picture made with Wilson.
Who could blame them?
In only 13 months on the job, the coach has executed a complete attitude makeover at UTSA and has led the program to its first bowl game.
A little more than a month after the Roadrunners played in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, the coach has sent optimism soaring again, signing the best recruiting class in school history.
It’s a 23-player unit, highlighted by nine three-star athletes. Some are saying it’s the most talented group in Conference USA.
“We’re excited about our class,” Wilson told the boosters. “Actually, we signed five (players) at the mid-year point (in December). We signed 18 today, for a total of 23. I think we went out and met the needs for what was important for our team.”
Still something of a fledgling program, UTSA broke through on a number of fronts with its eighth signing class, which was Wilson’s second since he was hired on January 15, 2015.
For the first time, the Roadrunners signed a group that ranked in the top 100 in the nation.
One scouting service pegged it at No. 69 overall and No. 1 in Conference USA. Another ranked it 91st nationally and fourth in C-USA.
Alternately, one service listed UTSA with the sixth-best class among 12 Football Bowl Subdivision programs in the state, trailing only Texas A&M, Texas, Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech. Another service had Houston sixth and UTSA seventh.
Regardless, Roadrunners coaches and boosters seemed thrilled with the outcome despite a few commitments that fell by the wayside late.
Wilson said UTSA fared well in recruiting battles for players against traditional Power 5 programs.
He touted “52 weeks of consistency” for allowing the Roadrunners “to stand firm in the midst of the onslaught from other schools trying to pry (prospects) away from us.”
The class consisted of star power up and down the list.
Included were three-star talents such as running back B.J. Daniels, wide receiver Tariq Woolen, cornerback Samuel Barnes and defensive lineman Morris Joseph, Jr.
All had significant interest from Power 5 programs and elected to come to UTSA in the wake of its nationally-televised effort against New Mexico in Albuquerque last Dec. 17.
During a 90-minute program for the boosters at the IMAX, school officials showed video clips of each player. Two that drew the biggest cheers included wide receiver Dadrian Taylor of Shiner and safety Tay’lor Perry of Crosby.
Perry wowed the crowd with a few long returns for touchdowns.
Locally, all eyes will be on the two freshmen quarterbacks -- Frank Harris of Clemens and Bryce Rivers of Stevens. Both left-handers could compete with a few of the team’s veteran reserves for the No. 2 position behind senior Dalton Sturm.
Harris is coming off a knee injury, which could hinder his progress in the short term.
“We think he’s a phenomenal athlete,” Wilson said. “As you know, he had an injury this year, and we’re sensitive to it … His rehabilitation is going well. We will continue to monitor it until he gets here … We think he’s exciting. We think he has tremendous ability to place the ball (on the pass), as well as extend plays with his legs and even (gain) chunks of yards at a time.”
A few members of the class who might see playing time right away would be Daniels and possibly running back/linebacker De’Marco Guidry, Wilson said
Senior Jalen Rhodes is set to move into the No. 1 spot at tailback. But the film on both Daniels and Guidry suggests that they could add a physical presence to the UTSA rushing attack
Daniels, at 6-2 and 205 pounds, possesses 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash, which could also allow him to break some big plays. Wilson said UTSA had to “fend off” other schools to get him
“We were very fortunate,” Wilson said. “Coach (Everette) Sands did an outstanding job in recruiting him. We think he’ll be an immediate impact player for us.
In keeping with a routine that started when Wilson worked as an assistant coach in the Southeastern Conference, he said he slept in his office Tuesday night
He said he inflated a mattress and laid it down next to his desk, and after a few hours of sleep, he woke up at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, took a “warm shower,” did some push-ups and got ready for the day
“I enjoy it,” Wilson said. “It’s kind of a tradition. It allows me to digress, to focus, to think about the day at hand, to prepare for when the staff comes in and I greet them with a big ‘yelp.’ (Then) we go in and have a big morning.
Another task Wilson likes to undertake is to get a head start on recruiting for the next year. The Roadrunners, he said, are finished with 2017. They’re already working hard on the Class of 2018
“We made 42 offers within the last two days, so we’re rolling,” the coach said. “They’ve been pre-identified, they’re being evaluated. We’ll continue to move along and pretty soon (will) have those guys on our campus.
“Our board has already transitioned. There’s not a 2017 name on the board. It’s all 2018, and it’s about 500 names or more right now.
To borrow a phrase from a certain school spirit exercise, UTSA is “ready, ready” to coax a few of those high school juniors into making early pledges in coming months
“We feel confident about some,” Wilson said. “But we have no verbal commitments right now.”