Two years ago, the UTSA Roadrunners were trying to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The December 2019 firing of former coach Frank Wilson prompted the hiring of Jeff Traylor, who was tasked with creating a winning culture for a team that barely existed a decade prior—and in the midst of a global pandemic with little-to-no in-person contact with his players for months.
In came the “Triangle of Toughness,” a team culture that has quickly ingrained itself within the football program.
Flash forward, and the Roadrunners have not only found a solution at the head coaching position, but also a new identity. Led by second-year coach Traylor, UTSA 11–1 and knocking on the door of its first conference championship, clinching the C-USA West Division in a thrilling 37–30 win over UAB on Nov. 20.
“That win went to prove to what you can do when everyone is bought into a culture and each other,” junior safety Rashad Wisdom says. “The games that we have later are going to be bigger and when we are in a dogfight like that, we have to prove what our team and the [Triangle of Toughness] culture is about.”
With all the success Traylor has had at UTSA, it’s hard to imagine the Roadrunners without the 56-year old coach today, but his hiring wasn’t a sure-fire thing. Early on in the coaching search, Traylor wasn’t even being considered for the UTSA job until potential candidates who interviewed for it cited his strong reputation within college and high football ranks.
Traylor, who considers himself a Texas football guy through and through, wasted no time making a connection with athletic director, Lisa Campos.
“Within the first five minutes of coming into the interview room with him, I felt a total connection with him,” Campos says. “I felt that in my heart with Jeff that not only did he have the background and experience with being a successful head coach at the high school level and coaching at the collegiate level, but he’s all about developing men, [specifically] 18–22 year old football players. In all of our reference checks, everyone talked about not only how great of a coach he was, but also a great human being.”
Inheriting a young roster that was coming off a miserable 3–9 season, Traylor needed a culture or philosophy to rally behind, something that the players and coaches could use as motivation to accomplish their short and long term goals.
“Lisa Campos and [myself] had a vision that lined up, which first began with being a team that resonated with the city of San Antonio,” Traylor says. “We began this by creating a [social media] hashtag #210, which is our Triangle of Toughness culture.”
The Triangle of Toughness has grown to be more than just the area code of San Antonio, but the identity of this program. UTSA football players and coaches are expected to embody all traits of the triangle: Selflessness, perfect effort, integrity, passion and toughness.
To recognize those who personify the qualities of the TOT the most, Traylor only allows the players who represent the ideals of the culture the most to wear single-digit jerseys. This is decided by a vote; all numbers that are 0–9 are decided by the players, with the numbers 2, 1 and 0 considered the most prestigious.
With a new branding and culture initiative, UTSA took an instant leap of success in Traylor’s first season. After a 3–3 start, the Roadrunners blazed through the second half of their schedule to finish with a 7–4 regular season record, earning them a spot in the First Responders Bowl against No. 16 Louisiana, co-champion of the Sun Belt. However, the Roadrunners would have to compete without their first-year head coach, as Traylor tested positive for COVID-19 just two days prior to gameday. The Roadrunners went on to lose a 31–24 thriller against the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Even with the tough end to their season, Traylor knew that the team was close to contending for a conference title in 2021 given it returned all but two starters from its 2020 roster. His expectations were not only met, but also surpassed. A win over Western Kentucky this Friday will give UTSA its first conference championship in program history.
For senior quarterback Frank Harris, it puts him one step closer to a dream he’s been chasing his entire career.
“One of the goals that I wanted to achieve when I committed to UTSA was to bring championships to the city of San Antonio,” Harris says. “The win against [UAB] starts that goal off right, but [we] aren’t done yet, we still have [two] more games to go. But it means alot to us to clinch the division title, and we couldn’t have done it in any better way—a game winner.”
The QB’s development has impressed the coaching staff over the last few seasons, and for good reason. Few quarterbacks can say that they have battled ACL tears in both legs (2017 and 2018) and bounced back to become a Day 1 starter the following year. A season-ending shoulder injury ended a promising start to the 2019 season in just four games, delaying his chance to show his full potential.
Fortunately, Harris remained mostly healthy in 2020, although his biggest weapon was his legs, rushing for 528 yards last season but only throwing for 1,630. In 2021, his improved accuracy and strong chemistry with the three-headed receiving core of Zakhari Franklin, Joshua Cephus and De’Corian Clark has led to a career season. His season stats dwarf his 2020 stats—2,688 passing yards with a 66% completion rate and 28 total touchdowns (23 passing, five rushing).
“I’ve only played in four games in three years up until the [2020 season], so I’ve been battling adversity throughout my entire career,” Harris ksays. I was kind of confused as to why these [injuries] kept happening to me, but I realized that [thinking that way] made things worse. You just have to leave it up to God and battle through all the adversity because it’ll make you a better person, and that’s what I’ve been doing and I’m repeating the benefits now.
Harris's development as a passer has taken the load off Sincere McCormick, who’s been a focal point of this offense for the last few seasons. The Roadrunners’ 2020 second-team All-American running back led C-USA in rushing yards for two consecutive seasons, with 1,467 and 1,275 yards in 2020 and 2021, respectively. His bread and butter is not only running between the tackles and through contact but also his unselfishness and versatility in this offense.
“He doesn't care who has the ball in his hands,” Traylor says. “He has a smile on his face everyday, never misses a practice. He’ll block for his quarterback and catch passes out of the backfield. He’s also a great human being, and when your best players are also your best people, that’s when you know your team is special.”
While the Roadrunners’ historic season hasn’t necessarily been all blowout victories, a common theme that you can associate with their wins is their mental toughness, a pillar of the Triangle of Toughness. Three of UTSA’s five losses last season were by eight points or fewer, but this season the Roadrunners have won five games within the same margin.
“Our ability to handle these tough situations goes back to our chemistry,” Wisdom said. “Being as close and experienced as we are, we know each other's motives and what gets us going and what we also [struggle with]. Being able to know everyone’s strengths and weaknesses on the field is important because we can have each other's backs when and hold [each other accountable].”
Wisdom, the safety, and an outside linebacker core of Clarence Hicks (31 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, eight sacks), Charles Wiley (31 tackles, 8 tackles for a loss) lead a defensive that only gives up an average of 22.2 points per game, which is the best in the C-USA.
While the program will miss out on an undefeated season due to a shocking 45–23 loss to North Texas last week, the future is looking bright for UTSA—and it doesn’t just apply to the roster.
Just over a month ago, Traylor signed a historic 10-year, $28 million dollar contract extension. That same month, the program announced a move from the C-USA to the more competitive American Athletic Conference, with a timetable of the move undisclosed. In addition, the program opened “The RACE” facility in August, a $40.4 million dollar complex that currently holds two state of the art practice football fields, a 7,500 square feet locker room and lounge exclusive to the football team, a strength and conditioning facility, sports medicine center and more.
While it’s clear that UTSA athletics is making the push to be one of the premier collegiate sports programs in the region, the one thing that will never change under Traylor is to put out a product that the city and state of Texas can be proud of.
“We want to connect this team to the city of San Antonio,” Traylor says. “We went from 11 players from the city to 33, we have seven former Texas high school football coaches on my staff, 100% of our current high school football signees are Texas guys and we are only one of two programs that can say that, which I’m very proud of because they make great players.”
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