By Jerry Briggs
The mop top of flowing blonde hair has disappeared. Dalton Sturm now sports a smartly-trimmed style that would allow him to walk into any businessman’s board room and look the part of a young executive, on the rise.
More importantly to his teammates on the UTSA football team, Sturm also has evolved -- both in outward appearance and personality -- into the type of athlete that appears set on making the most of his senior year with the Roadrunners.
Not only has he packed on 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason, he shows up to practice each day in spring camp intent on making improvements, both individually and with the team he now leads.
Sturm said he is embracing such a role, fully intent on guiding the Roadrunners to their best season ever next fall.
“We have the biggest goals,” he said. “We want to do everything, and beyond. We want to be conference champs. We want to go to the Group of Five bowl. We want to do all that stuff.
“There definitely isn’t a game on the schedule that we can’t win, so we just got to keep putting in the work, keep growing as a team, and we’ll be the best team we’ve ever had.”
Once a little-known walk-on who didn’t have much to say at practice, Sturm is now in the forefront of workouts, even offering critiques of other players.
“The thing I’ve seen from him … is, he comes out and commands the offense,” receiver Brady Jones told reporters. “If a receiver doesn’t make a catch, he gets on ‘em. Maybe he wouldn’t have (last year). It’s just because he’s more confident (now). He knows more what’s going on now.
“I feel like he can go more into the role of being the leader and maybe coaching up somebody else, because he knows what to do for himself. That’s where I’ve seen the most strides in his confidence. I just think that makes him play even better.”
Sturm wasn’t too shabby last year. In his first full season as the team’s No. 1 quarterback, he led UTSA to a 6-7 record and the program’s first bowl berth.
Along the way, he completed 56.5 percent of his passes for 2,170 yards and 20 touchdowns, against only six interceptions. Blessed with speed that would be impressive for most Conference USA running backs, he also rushed for 313 yards and four TDs.
Included in his highlight package were eight games with two or more touchdown passes and two with three -- against Arizona State and UTEP. He also enjoyed five games with more than 200 yards passing and four in which he threw and ran for a score in the same game.
Not everything went smoothly for him, however.
Sturm split quarterback duties with senior Jared Johnson in seven games. Near the end of the regular season, he sat out the final three quarters at Texas A&M, watching from the side while Johnson finished during a 23-10 victory for the Aggies.
In the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, played on a cold and windy day in Albuquerque, Sturm struggled again. But this time, he took every snap, and at the end he rallied the Roadrunners with two fourth-quarter TD passes in a 23-20 loss to the New Mexico Lobos.
“I thought he developed (last year),” UTSA coach Frank Wilson said. “I thought he still showed some immaturity at times. You know, every quarterback wants to be able to be the difference maker. But the thing they have to realize is, ‘Just do your job.’
“Doing your job is good enough. Your job may be to throw the 5-yard route. Or the check-down. Not to try to squeeze it in between guys.”
Sturm came up big on the final day of the regular season. In a game that UTSA needed to clinch a 6-6 regular season and the bowl bid, he threw for 286 yards and two TDs at home against Charlotte. The Roadrunners celebrated with a 33-14 victory.
“I thought he matured as the season went on,” Wilson said. “We want him to continue to do so this spring.”
This spring, Sturm is the clear-cut No. 1 in camp, the only quarterback with playing experience.
Scholarship quarterbacks behind Sturm include third-year sophomores Manny Harris and Jaylon Henderson and freshman Bryce Rivers. Another freshman, Frank Harris, is set to arrive this summer.
If one of the backups doesn’t emerge as a clear-cut No. 2 by the end of spring, it’s possible that UTSA could bring in a transfer. But Sturm seems entrenched as the starter leading into Wilson’s second year as head coach.
Sturm said he feels as comfortable this spring as he has since he arrived in 2014.
“Oh 100 percent,” he said. “I feel I’m the most developed that I’ve been since I’ve been at UTSA. I feel strong. I feel as fast as I’ve ever been. I feel really confident. I just want to work on the fundamentals. I know the offense better than I did last year. So, I just feel real good about the season coming up.”
Sturm also said he’s getting more comfortable working with offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo.
“Coach Scelfo’s a great guy,” Sturm said. “He’s real easy to get along with. Sometimes he says he has higher expectations than I have of myself, which is hard to beat, because I believe that I can do a lot of stuff. But he’s always there for you.”
Aggressive in the weight room over the past few months, Sturm entered spring practices weighing 205 pounds. He said he wants to play his senior year at 215 “just to be more of the prototypical type of quarterback.”
Sturm, who tipped the scales at about 170 pounds in his last year of high school, has come a long way since making the transition to college football.
He was No. 4 on the depth chart for a good portion of his first two years at UTSA. He worked waiting tables at a restaurant to help pay for school. Last year, when the new coaching staff arrived, Sturm was faced with a challenge from Johnson to become the opening-day starter.
Looking back, he said the competition and the coaching all combined to help him become stronger mentally.
“Definitely,” Sturm said. “Like I said, mentally, I feel as strong as I’ve ever been. I know the offense like the back of my hand. I mean, I need to just keep growing. Not necessarily just knowing the offense but being able to check plays, read the defense to a ‘T.’ That’s one thing that’s going to separate me from last year.”
Now, sometimes, he’s the one getting on younger players.
“I think he’s more of a vocal leader now,” receiver Josh Stewart said. “He’s always been vocal but he’s more vocal because he has to do that. He continues to push, not only the receivers, but everyone on the team, to be great.”
Sturm said it wasn’t really difficult for him to take on such a role.
“It wasn’t necessarily hard,” he said. “I think I had a hard time doing it coming in as a freshman and a sophomore, when I wasn’t on scholarship. It’s hard to be as vocal as I want to be. But now that I’ve … developed a brand for myself, it’s just a little easier.”
Dalton Sturm Post-Practice Interview