Thursday, Aug 9 at 7:08 PM
The way first-year University of the Incarnate Word linebacker Dravannti Johnson sees it, "football is football” – regardless of whether you play at a major college or a Division III school.
A former defensive end at Texas and blue-chipper at Nederland High School, Johnson is one three players who have transferred to UIW to complete their college careers this season after playing at Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
Johnson, running back Marcus Wright (Reagan/ Georgia Tech) and quarterback Zach Rhodes (New Braunfels/SMU, Louisiana-Monroe) are all graduate students. They will begin working on their master's degree when UIW starts classes later Aug. 20.
"The size of the stadium, the size of the crowd, the size of the conference really doesn't matter to me," Johnson said Wednesday night after a team meeting. "I've matured. I was at Texas for four years. Football is football. Wherever I'm at, I'm going to do what I'm supposed to do.
"I have pride in myself so I'm going to play my heart out, no matter what level I'm playing at. I don't care who's in the stands. I'm going to play up to my ability."
Johnson, Wright and Rhodes are among the 130 players expected to be on the field for the Cardinals' first workout of the preseason Thursday night.
Practice starts at 7:05 at UIW's Benson Stadium and is open to the public.
The Cards are preparing for their fourth season in school history and first under Larry Kennan, who was hired last December to succeed Mike Santiago as head coach.
Kennan won Super Bowl ring with Raiders
UIW competes in Division II and has applied for membership in the Southland Conference, which competes in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA). The Cards finished 2-8 overall and 2-6 in the Lone Star Conference this year.
UIW opens its season against Texas College on Sept. 1 at Benson Stadium.
"I've been running in place for about a month," Kennan said, chuckling. "I'm really excited. I think we have wonderful guys on our team and a great senior class. Our newcomers are talented guys who are going to make an impact this year. It'll be fun to see how we do this year."
Kennan, 68, had been executive director of the NFL Coaches Association since 1999 before taking the UIW job. He hasn't coached on a team since he was offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots in 1997. He was an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Raiders when they capped their 1983 season with a Super Bowl victory.
Wright was one of the most prolific running backs in San Antonio high school history when he played at Reagan from 2004-07, rushing for 7,099 yards in four seasons. He finished with 3,374 yards and 45 touchdowns as a senior, setting the area's single-season rushing record.
"It's exciting to be back in San Antonio and playing football," Wright said. "It doesn't matter where you play. You just go out there and play ball. Football players play football. I've been out here working out with the guys and it's a good atmosphere."
Kennan said Wright, who is 5-7 and 180 pounds, could give the Cardinals the breakaway threat they've lacked in their first three seasons.
"He can really get it," Kennan said. "He's not little. He's just short. He's a strong, powerful back. I'm excited about seeing him because he's got the speed, or at least he had the speed, to go the distance. I don't think you lose that. He's played at Georgia Tech and he's still a young guy. He ought to be a great addition."
Wright signed with UTSA in February
Slowed by an ankle injury he sustained in preseason workouts last year, Wright sat out the 2011 season after playing at Georgia Tech in 2008, 2009 and 2010. He rushed for 265 yards and three TDs in his three seasons as an A-Back in the Yellow Jackets' option offense.
Wright said he's looking forward to making a new start, even if he only has one season of eligibility left.
"It has been a while since I got the ball running down hill to run past people," Wright said. "I'm interested myself to see how I'll do. It'll be fun."
Wright signed with UTSA in February, but had issues getting into graduate school and wound up at UIW.
Rhodes signed with SMU in 2006, but was redshirted after hurting his right shoulder in the Texas High School Coaches Association all-star game that summer. After playing sparingly in 2007, he transferred to Louisiana-Monroe in 2008. He played for the Warhawks in 2010, but left the program after the season.
"I wanted to get a veteran guy who had played at a high level to help the young players along," Kennan said. "I didn't want to put too much heat and pressure on them. The players really like Zach and think he's really good."
Rhodes said he’s eager to work with Kennan and offensive coordinator Tony Marciano.
Rhodes: 'It nice to be back in football'
"The good thing about being with Coach Kennan is that between him and Coach Marciano, they both know so much," Rhodes said. "They teach it 10 times better than what I'm used to, so that's really nice. It feels great to be here. I've been working for a year, so I got a taste of the real world. It's nice to be back in football."
Rhodes, who got his degree at Louisiana-Monroe in general business, was working in sales for a packaging company in Schertz before he decided to return to football.
"It's going to be nice to be playing where my family can come see me," Rhodes said. "
Johnson, 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds was redshirted as a freshman and played
at UT for three seasons (2009-11). His best season was in 2010 when he started five games, finishing with 23 tackles (16 solo), one sack and two tackles for a loss.
"I haven't played football since last season," Johnson said. "I didn't go through spring ball, so I haven't had a helmet on in a while. I'm ready to get out there and grind with my teammates again, get back to who I am and what I am."
Johnson said that being part of a growing program excites him.
"That definitely speeds up the process and wanting to be a senior leader right away," Johnson said. "They're a team. I respect that. I just want to come in here and be a great asset for them and make some plays that guys may not have made before. They're a building team. They're getting better."