Jeff Traylor speaks ahead of spring practice

Luke Lawhorn, Sports Editor

SAN ANTONIO – Three springs ago, UTSA handed the keys of the program to a high school football coach in hopes of leading the program out of the weeds in their ninth year as a collegiate program.

Now heading into his fourth season as head coach, Jeff Traylor is ready to take the back-to-back Conference USA Champions onto a new journey in the American Athletic Conference.

UTSA football has gained national attention over its last three seasons with Traylor at the helm. Amongst landing on national rankings and making three–straight bowl appearances, the Roadrunners managed to set the precedent that the rest of C-USA would have to run through them.

In the new 2023 season and now joining a new league, the last three seasons of success are reset.

The path to dominate the AAC like the Roadrunners did C-USA will not be an easy task. Though there were supposed trials and setbacks in the 2022 season, a new face of competition and unfamiliar environments will stand to test UTSA come late August.

Along with the new league, UTSA opens up its season with four out-of-conference games, which – much like last season – will give the Roadrunners little air to breathe in the competition.

 “There are no easy ones on that schedule. I mean, there’s zero,” Traylor said.

UTSA’s first contest is on the road against Houston, who gave UTSA a triple overtime season-opening loss in 2022. After playing both I-35 rival Texas State and Army in the Alamodome, the Roadrunners close their non-conference schedule against college football powerhouse Tennessee in Knoxville, who will give UTSA a run for its money.

“I’m not sure my (athletic director) wants to keep her coach very long,” Traylor jokingly said of the upcoming season’s schedule. “It went to me that she’s trying to get rid of me (with that) schedule.”

The first four out-of-conference games will resemble the 2022 season.

The Roadrunners get a chance to redeem themselves for its triple overtime loss in the season opener, though the game will be played in Houston this time. UTSA then plays Army, who UTSA defeated in a double overtime effort.

The extra game time carried over to the Texas game, which is practically highlighted on the UTSA schedule as the only game with UTSA as a significant underdog. 

This season, the ‘Runners will take their toughest test in Tennessee, which spent some time as the No. 1 ranked team in the College Football Rankings. 

Traylor just wants to get out of the non-AAC portion of the schedule healthy to avoid the onslaught of injuries the team faced last season.

“After that Texas game last year, I think our injury list was like around 30,” Traylor said. “My common sense says when we’re not as big as they are and we’re running into them a whole bunch, we probably need an extra week to recover, especially all four of those games in a row. 

“I hope we don’t start off like last year where you go into triple overtime, double overtime to add another couple quarters to your play.”

Much to the athletes’ chagrin, injuries can be random. Instead of focussing on what playing tougher opponents can do, the team can look forward to the travel in the new environments.

“I think they’re excited about going to new places,” Traylor said. “I think they’re excited about going to Temple, and I think they’re excited about going to New Orleans. Going to Tennessee. Going to Houston. They’ve been to Denton, you know, quite a bit … I think those trips have just got those guys excited instead of just going the same places all the time.”

Aside from the season’s anomalous schedule, UTSA is returning its key offensive weapons. Quarterback Frank Harris, who battled minor injuries throughout the season, just needs rest.

“We gotta get him, you know, where his body feels really good,” Traylor said. “He doesn’t like to hear that because he wants to go all the time. And I’ve gotta protect Frank from Frank. Frank doesn’t want to miss a rep. He doesn’t want to miss anything.”

The reigning C-USA MVP remains as the tiller of the Roadrunner offense, along with receivers Zakhari Franklin, Joshua Cephus and De’Corian Clark, who were at one point 1-2-3 in C-USA for receiving yards.

“(Clark) is a freak, and I mean that in the most complimentary way…. Zakhari, he’s had a great mindset … Cephus has had a great mindset,” Traylor said. “These guys are old, they’ve been playing with me a long time, and their bodies are, you know, they’re not broken down for sure.”

With the veteran offensive returners, Traylor is not worried about the players missing out on practice in the spring. 

“They’re great athletes, but they’re just getting fixed and cleaned up. They don’t need to practice that much. They’re good. They know all of our plays very well.”

As a head coach in modern-day college football, the job never stops. For Traylor, going into a new conference and playing new teams will present a challenge, but the schedule portion of his job is only from August to December.

Traylor’s job consists of a full year of recruiting, traveling to players’ homes, managing practices and keeping his coaching staff up to date. Understanding the non-stop grind is just a part of the game.

“There’s no doubt I am tired. It’s because it never stops,” Traylor said. “But it’s a great tired. It’s a very rewarding tired, because of my players. They’re that unique to me, and how much we love being around them every day.”

Many challenges will present themselves between the start of Monday’s first spring practice to the season opener against Houston on Sept. 2. Traylor is making sure the team continues on its historic run in the new conference.

“We’ve had a great three-year run here. And still, a lot of things left to get done,” Traylor said. “There’s just a great camaraderie, a buy-in to our culture and our brand and our triangle toughness. You just see it every day. It’s a really smooth running operation with those kids.”