You know what they say about the first few days of preseason workouts in any sport: Hope springs eternal.
That pretty much would describe the prevailing mindset of the UTSA football team, which had its first practice of the season Sunday morning at Farris Stadium.
Coach Larry Coker was upbeat after the workout as he talked about the Roadrunners, who finished 4-6 in their inaugural season last year.
"It's exciting to be out there," Coker said. "We're a different-looking team now than we were a year ago. We're buying into what we're trying to do. Physically, we're different in a positive way. It's exciting watching guys practice.
"The coaching staff is pretty much intact and doing so many of the same things better, and giving our guys a chance to be major-college football players. I think they understand we've got a lot of work to do before we play, but we do have some time also."
Sunday's practice was the first of 25 for the Roadrunners before they start their second season at South Alabama on Thursday, Aug. 30.
Nearly 100 players, including 21 returning starters and two kickers, were on the field for Sunday's two-hour workout on the sweltering artificial turf at Farris Stadium.
Sophomore running back David Glasco II said the practice was the toughest of his career.
"That's because our intensity level was up a whole bunch," Glasco said. "Everybody was out there working, going hard and busting their butt. This year, we're taking things personal, catching every pass, hitting every hole hard, running every route. The small things."
UTSA will compete in the WAC this season
The Roadrunners return 47 lettermen, with only four seniors among them – defensive tackle Franky Anaya, linebackers Lekenwic Haynes and Brandon Reeves, and safety Sean Luchnick.
"Today was a great practice, especially for the defense," said Reeves, a starter last season. "We had a great day. Everyone was working hard. Definitely, it was a different atmosphere than last year. Everyone's all in and buying in, getting ready for South Alabama."
After playing last season as an independent in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA, UTSA will compete in the Western Athletic Conference this year before moving to Conference USA in 2013. The WAC and C-USA both are members of the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division I-A.
"We're in a new league and we've got to step it up," said junior quarterback Eric Soza, the Roadrunners' starter throughout the 2011 season.
UTSA set NCAA first-year program attendance records for a single game (56,743) and season average (35,521).
While Coker said he likes how the Roadrunners are maturing, he offered a sobering assessment of the challenges they will face almost every time they take the field this season.
"We're not going to be better than people physically," Coker said. "We're not going to be better than people talent-wise. We've got to do things to make ourselves better."
A sense of urgency
Some of those things, Coker said, will be to concentrate on fundamentals, physical conditioning and execution on both sides of the line.
"We're much, much better conditioned this year than we were a year ago," Coker said. "I want us to be a tough football team. I want us to be a well-disciplined football team, well-coached football team. We do those things and play hard, we'll be fine."
Soza liked what he saw in practice.
"We're running real crisp on offense and the defense is getting after it," Soza said. "They've got an attitude going and that's good. We're a lot further along than where we were last year. We're going real quick."
Reeves said the intensity of Sunday's workout reflects the Roadrunners' sense of urgency as they step up to take on tougher competition this season.
"Everyone is just ready to go," Reeves said. "There's a lot faster pace than there was last year."
After playing South Alabama, UTSA meets Texas A&M-Commerce in its home opener Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Alamodome. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
Notes: Sophomore tight end David Morgan will miss the entire 2012 season because of a leg injury, Coker said. . . . UTSA athletic director Lynn Hickey and her husband, Bill, who works in the school's athletic department as life skills coordinator, watched Sunday's workout . . . The season opener against South Alabama, scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff, will be broadcast by ESPN3 . . . Single-game tickets to UTSA home games go on sale at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Fans can call (210) 458-UTSA (8872) for more information . . . Neal Neathery is back as the Roadrunners' defensive coordinator but the offense will have a new leader, Kevin Brown, who was promoted in the offseason after Travis Bush resigned to become an assistant coach at Houston. Brown coached the tight ends last year. Charlie Reeve, a son of former Clark assistant coach Mark Reeve, was hired as the new tight ends coach.