SAN ANTONIO – UTSA will officially kick off the Jeff Traylor era next week when the Roadrunners travel to Texas State for their first game of the 2020 season. In their very limited amount of practice time over the past month, the team has been hard at work battling for roster spots.
This year, intra-squad competition came with an added twist.
None of the players were allowed to wear single-digit jersey numbers during fall camp, not even returning starting quarterback Frank Harris, who wore no. 7 last season. Instead, the single-digit jerseys would only be granted to the players who showed the most mental and physical toughness throughout practice and represented the team’s new culture. Players and coaches would vote on who they felt best epitomized those qualities. Three of the ten possible jersey numbers were held in the highest regard and reserved for the highest vote-getters: 2, 1 and 0, representing San Antonio’s area code.
The players selected to wear those three numbers on their jerseys are considered the bedrock of the UTSA football team and embody the qualities that Traylor wants to see out of the Roadrunners this season: selfless, perfect effort, integrity, passion and toughness.
Together, they are the “Triangle of Toughness.”
Traylor first saw the concept used by current Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule during his stints at the helm of the Temple and Baylor programs, and the Roadrunners have known about the competition for jersey numbers from the moment Traylor set foot on campus.
“It started when I first got here,” Traylor said. “It created a lot of momentum and a lot of excitement. Kids really competed hard for those numbers. A lot of hurt feelings, but that’s good. That’s what life is. That’s why football is such a great microcosm of life. I told my team, ’I don’t want the first time we face adversity to be out there on the football field.’ I need to create as much adversity as possible before the game gets here.”
This Monday, the team revealed the players who would wear the top three jersey numbers:
2 - SHELDON JONES
On first glance, Sheldon Jones’ name might not jump off the stat sheet. The New Orleans-native, affectionately nicknamed “Sticks” has caught 41 career passes for a little over 300 yards and has yet to find the endzone as a member of UTSA.
But Traylor knows there’s no denying the emotional impact and physical intensity Jones brings to practice every single day, and that’s a big reason why Jones will be wearing no. 2 for the second straight season.
“We have a tracking system on all of these kids now that lets us know how far they run, how fast they run and how long they’re on their feet. I would say in our 16 workouts, Sticks has been one of the top three -- if not the top one -- every single time. Nobody outworks Sticks. He only has one gear, and it’s full speed. He also does a fantastic job in the locker room with the guys. When the George Floyd incident occurred, he was one of the key pieces that really did a great job of holding our team together.”
“It really is an honor to wear [no. 2] because you have to earn the respect of your team,” Jones said. “Your body of work is going to speak for itself. Just to know that those guys voted me in, not being a San Antonio kid, not being a Texas kid and that I’m one of the guys they would like to follow... I truly appreciate that, and it’s really humbling.”
1 - JAYLON HAYNES
Defensive tackle Jaylon Haynes earned the honor of wearing no. 1 this year.
The 6-foot-2, 290-pound Wharton, Texas-native has developed into a consistent presence on the Roadrunners’ defensive line, playing in 11 of the team’s 12 games last season. Over that span, he amassed career-highs in solo tackles (24), total tackles (39), tackles for loss (11.5) and sacks (2).
Traylor knows how important his presence will be as the only senior member of the triangle, “He’s everything that [the concept] epitomizes. He’s a physically tough kid, mentally tough. He’s one of our older guys. He’s had some success, he has confidence, and he plays hard. You can’t have enough of those kind of guys.”
0 - FRANK HARRIS
Few have faced the physical adversity that quarterback Frank Harris has endured over the course of his career.
After missing his first two collegiate seasons with a pair of ACL tears, the former Clemens standout started under center for the Roadrunners in the team’s first four games in 2019. He then suffered an injury to his right, non-throwing shoulder on Sept. 21 in a road game against North Texas and missed the remainder of the season. At the time of his departure, the junior quarterback had completed 66 passes for 486 yards and three touchdowns. All three of his scores came in UTSA’s season-opener against UIW.
Since then, Harris has battled his way through yet another round of physical rehabilitation to return to the practice field in hopes of completing a full season for the first time at UTSA. He has not yet been officially named the starter for the upcoming season, but his selection as a member of the “Triangle of Toughness” speaks volumes.
“Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it,” Harris said. “When Coach Traylor called me and told me [about the selection], it was a no-brainer. In changing my number [from no. 7], I wanted to wear something that no one has ever worn before. Rashad said the same thing. We talked about it and decided that it was best that we both [wore no. 0]. We’re ready to go out and support the city.”
“His rehab and how he came back really showed those guys his commitment,” Traylor said. “I’m sure that’s why he got such a high number of votes.”
0 - RASHAD WISDOM
Harris will share no. 0 with safety Rashad Wisdom this year, and it’s no surprise that Wisdom is considered a vital member of UTSA’s foundation.
As a freshman, the Judson grad shot up the depth chart and started in all 12 games in 2019, racking up 44 total tackles, 31 of them solo, 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He returned his first career interception for a touchdown in UTSA’s 31-27 victory over Rice on Oct. 19, and was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team.
His performance on the field alone would be enough for him to earn his teammates’ respect. He garnered the most votes of any player on the Roadrunners’ roster during this selection process. But it’s his perseverance through family tragedy that speaks the loudest.
On July 27, Rashad’s brother, Bryce, passed away after a valiant battle with kidney cancer. He was 17 years old. The entire San Antonio community had rallied around Bryce’s fight, including the UTSA football program. Bryce was a consistent presence at Roadrunners games, and even walked out with the team for the coin toss prior to their home-opener against UIW. He watched as Rashad established himself as one of the nation’s best up-and-coming talents, all while wearing the jersey number Bryce wore in high school: 39.
Rashad’s decision to move on from that number, and the meaning behind it, was not an easy one.
“At first, I was not with it,” he said. “I was with 39 for so long, but after a period of time, I just felt like it was in my heart to let it go and start something new. I’m fully bought into this team. It was a huge honor just to be picked by my teammates, coaches and everybody on the staff. I definitely wanted to be one of the 210 numbers just to represent our team, our brand and also the city that we play for.”
“It’s a great example of how much those kids value what we’re doing,” Traylor explained. “Frank was very loyal to no. 7, and Rashad was very loyal to no. 39. It was totally up to them. I was not going to make anybody change a number. That defeats the purpose. I want them to understand the value. This is something that’s going to last, hopefully, for a long time. I hope it’s something that we’re all proud of, and when we see those numbers, we know what they represent.”
Throughout the coming weeks, UTSA will steadily unveil the rest of the players selected for single-digit jersey numbers. Fellow Judson grad and Conference USA Freshman of the Year Sincere McCormick has already been revealed as no. 3. His backfield mate, Steele alumnus Brenden Brady, will wear No. 5.
Regardless of who else makes the list, UTSA’s foundation has been firmly established. The Roadrunners will see if they can start the Jeff Traylor era off with a win in their season-opener against Texas State on Sept. 12. Kick off between the Roadrunners and Bobcats is set for 2:30 p.m.