‘The better you recruit, the better chance you got at winning’

Coach Traylor sounds off on national signing day

Luke Lawhorn, Sports Editor

National signing day

The reigning back-to-back Conference USA champions are wasting no time stacking up to their new league competition.

UTSA football played its final season as a C-USA representative in the 2022 season, now joining the American Athletic Conference for the 2023 season. As of Friday evening, the Roadrunners sit at 59th overall in the college football recruiting rankings and number one overall in the AAC recruiting rankings.

“Again, I wouldn’t have known unless you had told me,” UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor said when told of the ranks. 

Tulane, the 2022 AAC and Cotton Bowl champion, is fourth in the conference recruiting rankings and 71st overall.

After UTSA, Memphis and SMU round out the top three. FAU, Rice, UAB, North Texas and Charlotte also joined the AAC, with FAU placing as the second-highest recruiting class coming from C-USA. The Owls are currently eighth in the new conference and 79th overall. 

“I know it gets my fan base excited; I’ve been a way better coach when my team is better than the other team,” Traylor said. “The better you recruit, the better chance you got at winning.” 

The Roadrunners have built themselves up to a well-known national program with their top-25 rankings and back-to-back double-digit winning seasons. Alongside three straight bowl game appearances and two straight conference titles, UTSA finds itself in a position to turn away players due to limited scholarship spots.

“We have turned down more kids than ever before,” Traylor said.

Three of UTSA’s top four signees are from junior colleges. Daniel Ogundipe is the highest-rated recruit for the Roadrunners, with an 89.50 overall rating. The 6-foot-5 offensive tackle is transferring from Iowa Central Community College, adding much-needed depth to the offensive line.

The running back room for UTSA heading into the 2022 season was the biggest question mark. Kevorian Barnes and Trelon Smith filled the void, though an unprecedented injury can shake up the whole roster. 

Brandon High, the Roadrunners’ second highest-rated player, hopes to be an answer. The Spring, Texas, native comes in as the 57th-rated running back in the state of Texas with an overall rating of 87.14.

“I know we’ll have a good football team,” Traylor said. “I know we’ll be deeper on the O-line than we’ve ever been. We’re deeper at receiver than we’ve ever been. We’re deeper at running back than we’ve ever been.”

Meep-meep nation

As Traylor said in Wednesday’s press conference, the Roadrunners brand has been taken to another level. 

The ‘Runners now have a reputation for developing players to compete at the next level. Tariq Woolen is one year out of UTSA after being drafted in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL draft. As a rookie in the NFL, Woolen is a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate and was selected for the Pro Bowl. 

Spencer Burford, also coming out of the 2022 draft, started in the NFC Championship game last Sunday for the San Francisco 49ers. 

Traylor credits the pedigree of the coaching staff’s development of players as a significant reason why players chose UTSA over rival schools.

“It does help that our NFL success has really helped,” Traylor said. “Tariq Woolen, Pro Bowl. Spencer Burford [is] starting [in the] NFC championship game. We got kids in the XFL; we got kids everywhere right now. They’re doing well, and all that just helps.”

The two-year-old $40.2 million RACE facility has also helped draw in recruits. The state-of-the-art facility includes a 14,000-square-foot weights and conditioning area, a kitchen with a snack bar, lounge rooms with pool tables, meeting and study hall rooms, and a full training room with advanced technology for treatment and recovery.

“Adding the RACE facility and all the wins have made it definitely easier,” Traylor said.

NIL opportunity

The name, image and likeness, better known as NIL, has been a game-changer in recruiting players. 

Traylor, along with coaches at all universities around the country, has called out local boosters to help their programs market star players. In today’s game, the money opportunity can make or break an athlete’s commitment to a school.

Star receiver Zakhari Franklin has the highest income at UTSA, with a NIL valuation of $166,000. Quarterback Frank Harris falls just short at $163,000. 

Running back Trelon Smith comes in third with a significant drop off of $23,000. $140,000 separates the second and third players at UTSA with NIL opportunities. With a lack of funds, players may choose to play elsewhere. 

Staying on the field

As much as NIL money, updated facilities, NFL representatives and recruiting rankings bring positive momentum to a team, coaching will determine whether these factors pay off.. Traylor and his coaching staff have turned UTSA from “just another Texas school” to an expected conference competitor. 

“I’ve said it a million times, and I stand by it, the evaluation piece is important,” Traylor said. “The recruiting piece is important. Two of those three are done now; it’s the development part – that’s what is most important. It’s what we do with these kids from here on out.”