By Jerry Briggs
After the UTSA Roadrunners finished their last practice of the spring on Saturday afternoon, quarterback Dalton Sturm delivered a message to teammates who might be tempted to pick up a preseason college football magazine in a few months.
“Tell ‘em not to pay attention to it,” he said.
This summer, the news on UTSA might be too juicy for some fans to ignore. The Roadrunners are expected to be pegged as one of the favorites in the race for the Conference USA title.
“It really doesn’t matter what (the magazines) say,” Sturm said. “Southern Miss was picked to play in the conference championship game (last year), and it didn’t work out very well, whether it was injuries, or poor performance.
“But (our players) definitely don’t need to pay attention to anything (in the media). Just let our play … talk for us.”
Sturm made his feelings known in the wake of a controlled scrimmage, which played out in front of an announced crowd of 3,102 at Farris Stadium.
Big plays highlighted the day.
Defensive linemen DeQuarius Henry and King Newton scored on long fumble returns for touchdowns in the fourth quarter, helping the defense rally for a 56-56 tie with the offense in modified scoring.
In addition, fans were treated to an aerial show that included five TD passes thrown by four different quarterbacks.
Receiver Josh Stewart emerged as the offensive standout with five catches for 54 yards.
The 6-foot-4 senior hauled in a 28-yard TD from Sturm in the first quarter and made another athletic grab on the sideline in the fourth.
Late in the game, cornerback Devron Davis intercepted Sturm in the end zone on a pass intended for Stewart.
Still upset with himself for the throw, Sturm nevertheless said he always feels confident when he targets Stewart.
“Me and Josh have a great connection, just as me and Kerry (Thomas) do,” Sturm said. “Just being that we’re reaI close, both on and off the field, it’s a great feeling. When I know I have Josh one on one, I’m going to give him a shot. Just like down here (on Davis’ interception). I just maybe got to take some air off that ball.”
Sturm, the expected starter in the fall, finished his day 11 of 22 passing for 120 yards, a TD and two interceptions.
In the battle for the No. 2 quarterback job, Manny Harris threw for two scores, while Jaylon Henderson and Bryce Rivers added one each.
“All the quarterbacks did really good today,” Stewart said. “You could tell it was a testament to all the hard work they’ve been putting in, in the offseason and in the spring, so it was exciting to see.”
UTSA coach Frank Wilson echoed Stewart’s opinion that the quarterbacks played well.
But he stopped short of saying that he felt comfortable with the current players behind Sturm, the projected starter, leading into the summer.
“I feel better seeing it today,” the coach said. “I need to watch the film and make sure from an audible standpoint, we managed the clock correctly, and we got the guys in the right motion … on the surface, it appears as though it was great.
“I was glad to see them get hit at times. Especially some of our younger guys. I wanted to see how they would get up and play. It was good to see us handle that well from the quarterback position.”
Typically, UTSA holds its spring games at the Alamodome, but the dome was booked, which prompted officials to move it to Farris, the North Side School District facility about five miles west of the main campus.
Wilson said he thought the atmosphere was “fantastic.
“You know, it was amazing to have such a beautiful day,” the coach said. “I thought the stadium and the setup and the support we got from the NISD was phenomenal. The city came out and we were able to share this Easter weekend with the people of San Antonio and our bird family.
“I thought we did a lot of really good things today, as far as the team. And I think the fan support was outstanding.”
UTSA finished with a 6-7 record last year, including a 23-20 loss to New Mexico in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.
The Roadrunners return six starters on offense and seven on defense from a squad that went 5-3 in the C-USA West, one game behind Louisiana Tech.
For the players, summer workouts will be crucial, to maintain a competitive edge for the start of fall camp. UTSA is set to open its seventh season of football at home on Sept. 2 against the University of Houston.
“I feel like we can be as great as we want to be,” Stewart said. “What makes me say that is, we all go in and work hard every day. As long as we work hard … the sky is the ceiling.”
Sturm said the Roadrunners need to stay together.
“We got to get together as a team and watch film as a team,” he said. “Go out and train. Do seven on seven. All the little stuff that we did before spring ball started.
“That’s a big thing for us. We just can’t lose what we have gained throughout spring ball. We just got to stay with it.”
Henry, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound defensive end from Houston Sharpstown, started the defensive team’s scoring parade in the fourth period.
The redshirt freshman scooped up a fumble by Henderson and returned it 77 yards.
Newton, a 6-1, 270-pound sophomore from Southlake Carroll, capitalized on the last play of the game. The son of former Dallas Cowboys star Nate Newton picked up the loose ball and returned it 60 yards.
“We ain’t never seen King move that fast,” UTSA defensive end Kevin Strong, Jr. said. “With him getting out like that, even though he was tired at the end, it was a good day. D-line with two touchdowns? Couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Jacob Vasquez from MacArthur forced the fumble on the last play of the scrimmage.
Rivers, Harris and Henderson all made enough plays to stir discussion about who might be the best candidate for the No. 2 quarterback job.
Rivers completed 6 of 15 passes for 97 yards and one score. Harris threw for two TDs and broke free on a 32-yard scramble. Henderson fired one TD pass and ran for another, a 13-yard score that he punctuated by hurdling a would-be-tackler at the goal line.
McGhee crumpled to the turf with an apparent leg injury early in the scrimmage while defending in the end zone against Stewart, who caught his TD pass from Sturm on the play.
McGhee limped off the field with help from the training staff. The sophomore from Memphis, Tennessee, finished the day on the sideline, on crutches.
Projected starters who were held out of the scrimmage included defensive end Marcus Davenport, safety Nate Gaines, running back Jalen Rhodes and center Austin Pratt.
Offensive Outstanding Effort: Reed Darragh
Most Improved Offensive Player: Tyrell Clay
Most Valuable Offensive Player: Josh Stewart
Defensive Outstanding Effort Award: Baylen Baker
Most Improved Defensive Player: Darryl Godfrey
Most Valuable Defensive Player: Kevin Strong, Jr.
Special Teams Ironman Award: Andrew Martel
Strongest squat: Baker, Strong, 625 pounds
Strongest bench: Kyle McKinney, 415 pounds
Fastest player: JaColbie Butler, 4.40, in the 40-yard dash