SAN ANTONIO – The distinct sounds made by the popping of shoulder pads and helmets filled the air at UTSA football practice Thursday, drawing smiles from players and coaches alike.
“It’s a contact sport and our guys were eager to make contact today,” coach Frank Wilson said. “We did not scrimmage, so there was no tackling or things of that nature. But at the point of contact, or the point of attack, we made some genuine, sincere pops. It was good to see that.”
The sounds made Wilson, 43, nostalgic for his younger days.
“It brings you back to yesteryear when you played ball at its purest state,” Wilson said. “And just wanting to see guys that enjoy our sport, the contact of our sport, and to know that we have a team that rallies around that and wanting more. We’ve got to slow them down a little bit because they’re ready to make contact with someone.”
Donning shoulder pads for the first time since opening fall camp Tuesday, the Roadrunners used the workout as a primer for their first practice in full gear Saturday. They will practice in what coaches call “shells” – helmets and shoulder pads – again Friday.
“It’s always good to see guys that are eager to make sincere contract, so I thought we did that today,” Wilson said. “I thought the anticipation of putting on partial full gear, upper shells with helmets and shoulder pads, was good for us.”
UTSA opens its seventh season against Houston on Sept. 2 at the Alamodome, where the Roadrunners have played their home games since their inaugural season in 2011. UTSA returns 44 lettermen, including 15 starters, from a team that finished 6-7 overall and 5-3 in Conference USA’s West Division.
Junior safety Darryl Godfrey, an O’Connor High School graduate, made it clear after Thursday’s workout that he’s ready for full contact.
“This is just a taste of it,” he said. “Really looking forward to putting all these pads on and hitting. I’m feeling good.”
Reminding of the adage that football camp doesn’t start until the popping begins, Godfrey replied, “That’s true, that’s true. It started today, actually.”
So, what’s it like to hear the sound of the popping of shoulder pads and helmets for the first time in months?
“It feels great,” Godfrey said. “I just love the sound, how it feels. You just get a different feeling every time it happens.”
Senior linebacker La’Kel Bass also was upbeat after doing some hitting.
“It was pretty exciting,” he said. “Everybody was getting after it. It was pretty exciting (to) see our teammates back here as a family.”
Wilson said the players’ desire to start contact work was palpable from the first day of camp.
“You run around with helmets on and you ask guys to be young pros, to stay on their feet, to go by guys, put yourselves in position, just kind of tag off,” Wilson said. “They’re eager and they want to show their worth, so they want to tackle, and they want to make contact.
“But you’ve got to hold them back and do what’s right through this acclimation period as well. We’re able to do that and today we were able to make up for it by allowing them to have some type of contact in a controlled manner.”
Citing safety concerns, the NCAA voted this spring to ban teams from having multiple contact workouts in a single day. The elimination of multiple daily practices made it necessary for teams to start preseason workouts earlier this summer.
“We had already kind of started evolving into that,” Wilson said earlier this week. “We may have done two or three two-a-days last year. I didn’t see a need for it as much as it was in the days when I played football because you’re able to get enough efficient work in in the time that they give us.
“It’s not a big deal for us. We were already headed in that direction anyway. We’re fine with it. It doesn’t affect us at all. One (practice) a day is more than sufficient, especially when spanned out over 29 days.”
UTSA has had split workouts since the start of camp, with the veterans practicing in the morning and the younger players going in the afternoon. The entire team will practice together Friday for the first time.
“Back-to-back, two really good days of practice for us, and making strides in the right direction,” Wilson said.
Season tickets and single-game tickets are currently on sale for the Roadrunners’ season. Fans can click here, or call (210) 458-UTSA (8872) for more information.