Posted on August 8, 2012 at 9:27 AM
Friday, Aug 31 at 10:47 AM
Throughout UTSA's inaugural football season last year, Roadrunners coach Larry Coker said his team was a "work in progress."
Given UTSA's youth again this season, maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to post a sign on the door of the team's locker room bearing those three words in bold-face letters.
"We're a young team," Coker said Tuesday during the team's media day at the UTSA Convocation Center. "We're building. Will we be better? Without question, we expect to be better. As I've said before, we have to be better because the competition level is going to be better."
After finishing 4-6 as an independent in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA last year, the Roadrunners move into the Western Athletic Conference this season before jumping to Conference USA in 2013. The WAC and C-USA both compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division I-A.
UTSA has only six seniors on its preseason roster, with safety Sean Luchnick and defensive end Lekenwic Haynes the only lettermen in the group.
Although it will be at least two more seasons before the Roadrunners have bigger numbers in their senior class, Coker said that last year's baptism by fire has made the core of the team grow up in a hurry.
"The maturity level of the players, no question, is much better," Coker said. "We have 30 redshirt freshmen, 23 freshmen. We only have six seniors. But the guys we have coming back, they know what to expect and how to practice."
UTSA opens season at South Alabama on Aug. 30
After opening preseason workouts Sunday, UTSA practices in full pads for the first time Tuesday.
"From what I've observed, we're so much further ahead because guys know their assignments," Coker said. "Our coaching staff is intact. I think the thing that you see is they're really ahead of the game from a year ago.
"Physically, we're a lot better and we know how to practice better. We have better team leadership out there. All those things are helping us get along a little bit further than where we were a year ago."
UTSA will have 25 workouts before they kick off their second season at South Alabama on Thursday, Aug. 30.
The Roadrunners meet Texas A&M-Commerce in their home opener Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Alamodome. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
UTSA plays a 12-game schedule this season, with six games at home and six on the road.
Coker: 'I'm more encouraged now than I've ever been'
So how much better will UTSA be this season?
"As a coach, you're always very positive and have high expectations," Coker said. "I think we're going to have a good football team this year. What does that mean as far as wins and losses? I don't really know that, but I think that our guys are going to compete.
"We were very competitive last year for the most part. I think we'll be competitive this year. We'll have to be better because the teams we're going to play are going to be better. I think we're going to have an exciting team to watch."
Coker, who turned 64 in June, said the anticipation of a new season renews his passion for college football each year.
"Maybe more now than ever because I'm so excited about these young guys growing up," Coker said. "You can see such a difference now. Some of the places I've been, you didn't even know their names until about two years later. But now, these guys are the face of the program.
I'm more encouraged now than I've ever been."
Coker praised Charlie Dudley, the Roadrunners' strength and conditioning coach, for the work he did to help players improve in the offseason.
"We had a great offseason, much, much better than before," Coker said.
Extra points: Coker said he's been impressed with junior quarterback Eric Soza, who started all 10 games last season. "I think the confidence he has makes so much difference," Coker said. Defensive players also have praised Soza's execution in practice . . . Medina Valley graduate Patrick Hoog, a senior who transferred from Oklahoma State last year, is practicing with the first team at left offensive tackle. He has replaced Drew Phillips, who started last year but is no longer with the team. "Patrick is our strongest player in the weight room," Coker said. "He's very smart. He has to have a good year for us and step up. I'm really encouraged by him." . . . The Roadrunners will practice twice in one day for the first time Thursday . . . Coker said the transition from former offensive coordinator Travis Bush to his successor, Kevin Brown, has been "pretty smooth." Bush resigned in February to join the coaching staff at Houston. Brown coached the tight ends last season. "Everybody's different," Coker said. "I think the thing you see with Kevin is that they've really taken to him. He's a real good coach. He and Travis worked so closely together that there are so many things that have carried over, which is a good thing for us . . . Defensive coordinator Neal Neathery was upbeat in assessing his unit Tuesday. "We're better," he said. "One, we have more good players. And the good players we did have, have gotten better. We're a better football team on both sides of the ball. It's dramatically different. There's a big change. It'll be fun and exciting to see if we've changed enough to keep up with our schedule."