Playing for Bryce: How UTSA's star safety keeps brother's memory alive for hometown Roadrunners

Courtesy of Rashad Wisdon's Twitter

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Power clean is king at Converse Judson High School, and Rashad Wisdom was out to prove that he was the heir to the throne. 

It was the offseason of 2017 and Judson head coach Rodney Williams, the offensive coordinator at the time, could hear the commotion in the weight room from anywhere in the athletic building. His players were cheering on a power clean competition between Wisdom and DeMarvin Leal, two juniors poised to become college stars. Wisdom, a safety who now packs 205 pounds on a 5-9 frame, was battling with Leal, a defensive lineman that Texas A&M lists at 6-4 and 290 pounds. 

Williams said retelling the story still gives him chills. It makes Wisdom laugh. The program was maxing out on lifts. Leal and Wisdom were among a group doing power clean on that day. As fate would have it, Wisdom and Leal were the only two left as the weight grew to 300 pounds. The two completed 300 pounds. Only Wisdom was able to power clean 305, securing his warrior-like status inside the Judson program for eternity. 

“DeMarvin has been big his whole life,” Wisdom joked. “I had something to prove. Everyone in there went crazy when I got the 305 pounds up. I was able to beat him and that was cool for me as the smaller guy.” 

The feat only furthered Williams’ opinion that Wisdom is among the best competitors he’s ever coached, and that is a long list of players with college and professional resumes. Williams became aware of Wisdom when UTSA’s starting safety was a running back on the middle school team that included Leal and UTSA running back Sincere McCormick. 

The coaching staff knew a great group was on the way, and Williams even flirted with pulling Wisdom up to varsity as the third-string running back during his freshman year after a preseason scrimmage. 

“The first person I talked to about after the scrimmage with my head coach was Rashad to see if we could get him as our third running back on varsity,” Williams recalled. “If I’m not mistaken, mom wasn’t too happy with it and wanted him to stay with the freshmen for a year, but that was kind of my first time I remember him on my radar. He was pretty impressive as a young man.”

The winds changed for Wisdom entering his sophomore year. The Rockets were fine at running back with a combination of upperclassmen and the emergence of McCormick, who became UTSA’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (21) on Saturday in a win over Lamar. Wisdom, who played running back from flag football through freshman year, knew a move to defense meant immediate playing time. 

He landed at safety and the rest is history. Wisdom earned first-team all-safety accolades alongside Cibolo Steele safety Caden Sterns, who now plays in the NFL after a career at Texas. He’d repeat those honors as a junior and a senior leaving Judson with 218 tackles, seven interceptions, 14 pass breakups, four fumble recoveries and a pair of forced fumbles. Oh, and the belt as the undisputed power clean champion of the 2017 offseason. 

“Going to Judson was a blessing because there was talent there to push me. I looked up to the older guys who went off to college and the NFL,” Wisdom said. “We all pushed each other to be better and we’re all shining now. We always competed with each other, and you learned from the wins and the losses.” 

Adversity comes calling, and Wisdom answers 

Ask Wisdom about the tragedies he’s faced, and he’ll talk to you about the blessings in front of him. It’s the clarity that comes from going through hell and arriving on the other side. The Wisdom family went through hell, and there is no way around that. Rashad’s younger brother, Bryce, was diagnosed, and eventually succumbed, to cancer in July of 2020, but not before he inspired an entire community. 

The hashtag BryceStrong became a pillar of the UTSA, and San Antonio, football community. Bryce’s strength in the face of death made an impact on everyone, including Rashad. It also impacted a new face at UTSA – newly appointed head coach Jeff Traylor. During his brother’s illness, Rashad managed to earn Conference USA All-Freshman honors when he registered 44 tackles in 12 starts. The team finished 3-9, however, and the head coach he signed with out of high school – Frank Wilson – was replaced by Traylor, a man best known for dominating East Texas with Gilmer High School. 

The night Traylor was hired he attended a Gregg Popovich fundraiser with some higher-ups in the UTSA administration, and they told Traylor to specifically contact two young players on the current roster before he did anything else. Traylor listened. 

“They told me to make sure and call Rashad Wisdom and Sincere McCormick. Those two were two young kids who were good local products that I needed to make sure and reach out to,” Traylor remembered. “I called Rashad and he was very receptive. He told me that he’d give me a chance, and I told the team that ‘they didn’t choose me, I chose them.’ I needed to win them over.”

Traylor went to visit Bryce “because that is what you’re supposed to do,” he admitted. The visit changed Traylor’s life. He and Bryce became friends. A teenager dealing with cancer and a head coach navigating his first head coaching gig at the college level during a pandemic began texting daily. Traylor said they talked on the phone at least twice a week. 

The Wisdom family has that impact on people. It’s the determination in wired in their blood. The same motivating factor that allowed Rashad to outduel a future first round draft pick who outweighs him by 100 pounds in a power clean competition. 

“As a family, they are so strong. It is an inspiration to everybody to not dwell on the negative things,” Williams said of the Wisdom’s. “You have to take whatever is negative or positive and point yourself in a direction to make others feel fortunate and blessed to be around you, and that is what they do to this day.”

Traylor, a man known for diagnosing, knows what separates the Wisdom family. 

“Their inner spirit. It’s their words when you know they’re hurting. It is how they are always taking care of people when you know they are the ones hurting. Who doesn’t love people like that?” 

Leaving a legacy 

Wisdom held a vision for UTSA as a football program serving as a celebration for football in San Antonio. He felt it was under recruited and underappreciated. Never shy of a challenge or punching above his weight class, Wisdom turned down Power Five offers and Ivy League invitations to become a Roadrunner. A year later, Traylor was hired, and he shared Wisdom’s vision. 

Traylor inherited a program with 11 players from San Antonio. One of those players was Wisdom. The current roster consists of 29 players from the area. The blueprint, at least in Wisdom’s opinion, existed at the University of Miami before he was even born. ESPN made a 30-for-30 about it and everything. UTSA’s first head coach, Larry Coker, even won a championship there.   

“We can make this like the ‘U’ and keep a lot of people from the city to stay home and build up the program. We’re in the seventh-largest city in the nation and there’s plenty of talent around here,” he asserted. “We all feel like we were being slept on, so what better way to prove that than to play together?”

Wisdom’s vision was taking shape, and the win totals rose. UTSA went 7-5 and reached a bowl game for the second time in school history in 2020, Traylor’s first season at the helm, despite the pandemic cancelling spring practice and preventing team drills in the summer. Traylor said that only about one-third of his offensive and defensive playbooks were deployed in 2020. 

Wisdom, the kid who grew up dreaming of becoming an all-conference running back, was named first-team all-conference and a Dave Campbell’s Texas Football All-Texas College First Team pick. He led the team with 95 tackles and intercepted a UTSA record four passes, tied for most in C-USA. 

That doesn’t mean he’s given up his childhood dream, at least on a smaller scale. 

“If I had to go back to running back, I still think I could do it because I’ll have the ability to go make a play with the ball in my hands, but I really love safety and that’s my future,” Wisdom said. “I would like to get on offense and do some split-back with Sincere (McCormick), but I don’t know if we could pull it off. It’d definitely be cool to do.” 

The only people surprised with Wisdom’s rise from freshman running back to varsity safety to all-conference defender never met him. The people around him knew from the beginning. His dad, Richard, recalls a young Rashad hearing that a new kid to the flag football team might be the real star on the squad. A young Wisdom simply outran him and out worked him until it was clear who ran the show. 

“Sometimes you play with a little extra chip on your shoulder, and when I watch him play, I know he has that fuel,” Williams said. “He’s going to outwork you, and you need to be a great warrior to match him anywhere in life, from the classroom to the weight room to the football field. That chip drives him to be the best.”  

 

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