JJ’s Journal 2.14.17

JJ's Journal returns as InsideRunnerSports’ JJ Perez offers his opinions on several UTSA-related topics.

JJ’s Journal for February 14, 2017 

It always feels like National Signing Day takes forever to roll around. But when it finally does get here, it seems like it finishes in a flash. That is what it felt like two weeks ago when UTSA Football signed their eighth recruiting class. Head Coach Frank Wilson and his staff did a terrific job landing a talented group of recruits. The day really went well for UTSA as things went off without a hitch. The class is widely considered the best in program history. Although it wasn’t the consensus #1 class in Conference USA, it’s very debatable that 23 recruits UTSA signed were either the #1 or #1A class in CUSA. We graded out the class as an A-. You can view our NSD Report Card here: LINK. Recruiting and signing classes aren’t the end-all be-all of college football. Some players never pan out while other players who were under-recruited turn into key contributors. It’s an inexact science. But make no mistake about it, recruiting is the lifeblood of a quality division one football program. A class like the one UTSA just signed is the foundation for future teams’ success. It will still be up to the staff and players to coach and develop, but this is start. Enough cannot be said about the job Wilson and his staff did with their first full recruiting cycle. 

With the ink barely dry on 2017 letters of intent, Frank Wilson let everyone know on National Signing Day that they were already off and running with the 2018 recruiting class. With over 500 recruits on their board, offers are being sent out left and right. Less than a week after signing day 2017, UTSA landed their first commitment to the 2018 class. That’s the earliest a recruit has committed to UTSA. In fact, UTSA landed two commits on Feb 6. Over the weekend, UTSA held their annual Junior Day event. Geared as a “get-to-know you” type of an event, the Roadrunners introduced themselves to some of the best talent in the area and the state. By all accounts, the event was a success. Recruits and their families had nothing but good things to say about it. As a result, UTSA landed two more commits. You can see an overview of all four 2018 commits here: LINK. For all of the attention and notoriety the 2017 class received, this 2018 class should garner much more attention. While one good signing class can lead to a season or two of success, back-to-back quality recruiting classes set up things up even stronger for a period of about four to six years. Can you imagine being in contention for the next four to six years? That’s the impact that back-to-back good recruiting classes can have a program. That makes 2018 the most important class in UTSA’s history. The unofficial hashtag of this class is #WeRunnin18. Keep a close eye on this class because the future of the program depends on it. 

On Monday we learned that Defensive Line Coach Eric Henderson was leaving the coaching staff to take a position in the NFL with the Los Angles Chargers. From Graduate Assistant to Quality Control to Position Coach, Henderson ascended the coaching ranks very quickly. He was at UTSA for just about one year. And while the defensive line performed well in his only season leading that group, Henderson’s biggest impact came on the recruiting front. Labeled as UTSA’s “Ace Recruiter”, Henderson was the primary point of contact for many of the players that signed as part of the 2017 recruiting class as well as many of the players UTSA is recruiting for the 2018 recruiting class. But football is a game of next man up. When you have success in this game, there is transition among coaches. Henderson’s departure leaves a void but everyone should be confident Frank Wilson will find a candidate more than qualified for the position. So long Eric Henderson.

Conference USA released the full 2017 schedule in late January. All of the games will be played in the State of Texas, with the exception of the road game vs FIU in Miami. For the most part, it’s an advantageous schedule for the Roadrunners. For the first time ever, all four of the non-conference games are winnable. Think about the gauntlet of non-conference schedules UTSA has faced in the past. That’s not an issue in 2017. Another good aspect about the schedule is that all four non-conference games are played and the beginning of the season and then there is a bye week. This will allow UTSA to hit the reset button after non-conference play and really focus in on CUSA games. UTSA isn’t away from home for more than two weeks. Some games that are circled on my calendar include: vs Houston and at Baylor to start the season. UTSA will be underdogs in both events but each team will be ripe for the pickin’. Halloween weekend at UTEP because UTSA and UTEP games are always tough. UAB/Marshall back-to-back at home in Nov will be interesting. And the Saturday after Thanksgiving at La Tech. That game in Ruston may be for the Division Title. UTSA has never won there and last season the Bulldogs unceremoniously ran up the score late in the game. Overall, it’s just a very favorable schedule. You will notice one game not mentioned is Texas State, or as Frank Wilson recently referred to them as “that team in San Marcos”. UTSA at Texas State doesn’t do much for me from a football standpoint, that probably puts me in the minority. There’s a history with the I-35 Rivalry and the competition in other sports. And even the one time the two schools played in football was very entertaining. But that was five years ago. A good showing vs Texas State doesn’t do much for UTSA as a program. Aren’t games vs Houston, Baylor, and every other CUSA much more important in terms of prestige and significance? Has anyone even seen a Texas State football game recently? Honest question, are they entertaining to watch? There’s probably more entertainment value with the halftime performance of Southern’s band than watching Texas State play. UTSA doesn’t compete with Texas State for much these days. In recent years you could say there have been be a few recruiting battles. But in this era, UTSA has moved on to competing with the likes of Houston, Colorado, Nebraska, and others of that stature. The fan perspective is understandable. But for me, personally, it barely moves the needle. That’s just one man’s opinion. I will, however, see you all in San Marcos.

First-year Head Coach Steve Henson has turned around the basketball program very quickly. There isn’t a lot of sheer talent on the team. But what lacks in talent is made up in effort and toughness. In the last week or so, the two best teams in Conference USA have come into the Convocation Center and have been on the ropes. UTSA’s home record is 10-2 with the only two losses coming to the #1 (MTSU) and #2 (La Tech) teams in the league. To say I’ve been impressed is an understatement. The ‘Runners are led by Forward Jeff Beverly, who is a walk-on. One of the harder workers on roster, the entire team has adopted Beverly’s workmanlike persona. Every game that UTSA has had success in this season has had a similar storyline: tough/hard-nosed defense, out-rebounding the opponent; limiting turnovers; and make just a few offensive plays to get it done. This team is going to make the Conference USA tournament. And while their offensive woes will likely lead to their downfall, they have the ability make some noise and score an upset. When UTSA narrowly lost to La Tech Saturday, I commented that maybe they were saving the upset for the tournament. I was only halfway kidding. Strange things happen during March Madness. 

It’s time for some baseball. The fifth season of the Jason Marshall-era begins Friday when the Roadrunners host Quinnipiac at 6pm. The team scrimmage last week and looked pretty good. We’ll have a more in-depth preview later in the week but just by looking at the team, you can tell how much they have improved from last season. Marred with various injuries, 2016 was disappointing in many ways. But now, 2017 is a chance for UTSA Baseball to wipe the slate clean. With a roster chalk full of juniors and seniors, the Roadrunners are talented across the board. And they have depth. Most importantly, they’re healthy and have a full roster available to them. UTSA should be good again offensively. Defensively, they’re as solid as they’ve ever been. And on the mound, there are seven or eight very good pitchers that will likely come on as key contributors this season. The challenge for Coach Marshall and his staff will be how they put it all together. This team has a combination of injured/unavailable players returning to the lineup, new players on the team, and returning players. It all starts Friday. Be sure to check back later in the week for more on the upcoming UTSA Baseball season. 

We enter that weird time on the calendar when football is over and spring sports take the spotlight. In San Antonio, that means Spurs Basketball and Fiesta. But it also means UTSA Football Spring Practices. The schedule isn’t set yet but look for the ‘Runners to kick things off sometime next month. Spring practices will culminate with the Spring Game on or around April 15. So for the better part of a month, we’ll get to preview what the 2017 team will look like. It’s always interesting to compare how a team looks in the spring vs how they look in the fall. I’m of the opinion that it’s always different. There are injuries, position battles, and coaching schemes that aren’t set. Some of the things to watch this spring: who takes the reigns as backup QB and do they have a chance to surpass Dalton Sturm; how does the o-line look with a new tackle; does Jalen Rhodes get a majority of the reps at RB; what’s the rotation at D-line; who moves into what positions in the secondary; and much more. With a talented group of freshman coming on campus after spring practices, we may not get all of our answers. Plus, there’s always the possibility of transfers/additions after spring practices. All of that is a part of spring football. We’re just a few weeks away. 

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