UTSA's undefeated season depended on one final play.
The 10–0 Roadrunners had improbably climbed to a No.15-national ranking under second-year head coach Jeff Traylor, but that unblemished record and their chances for a Confernce USA West Division title would evaporate if they didn't score a touchdown in the next seven seconds.
The play wasn't pretty. Quarterback Frank Harris took the shotgun snap on 3rd and goal from the 1 yard line and immediately dropped it. Then, he frantically scrambled to his left and lofted a prayer into the end zone that was tipped by a UAB defender. But the ball floated into tight end Oscar Cardenas' hands, extending UTSA's school-record winning streak to 11 games.
There were a season-high 35,147 people crammed into the Alamodome that day, but Devin McCuin was perhaps the most important spectator. At that moment, the 6-foot, 180-pound wide receiver recruit from Jacksonville High School fell in love with the program.
"They made me feel wanted, not just like a piece of meat that was out there," McCuin said. "When I went up there, the atmosphere was crazy. I just love it up there and I feel like I'd fit right in."
UTSA gave McCuin his first Division I offer when he was just 15 years old wrapping up his sophmore year. Both parties were hungry, with a lot to prove. McCuin wanted to build off his District Newcomer of the Year campaign and cement his status as a major college football recruit. UTSA needed to establish a winning culture after Traylor's inaugural 7–5 season, at that time just their second winning season in the last seven years.
The Roadrunners were the first to offer McCuin, but they were far from the last. He morphed into a first team all-district wide reciever in 2021, grabbing 63 receptions for 890 total yards and nine touchdowns. He was Jacksonville's clear No.1-option, and his speed made him a consistent home run threat. And the more explosive plays he generated, the more opportunities that came his way. TCU came calling. North Texas extended an offer. Texas State wanted his services.
But UTSA never left the forefront of McCuin's mind, especially as they compiled the best season in school history. Most other schools had offered him during or after his junior season. The Roadrunners had already known what he was capable of when they offered him as a sophomore.
"I always kept that in mind," McCuin said. "They were the first to believe in me and give me an opportunity to play DI football."
Although they always had the upper hand in his recruitment, McCuin needed a commitment from Traylor before he committed to the school.
Because while McCuin fielded offers from other Division I programs, Traylor emerged as a front runner for the Texas Tech job after they fired Matt Wells in the middle of the season. Traylor's electric 8–0 start made him a hot commodity for Power Five programs. UTSA acted quickly, signing Traylor to a 10-year contract extension on October 31, 2021. With Traylor locked in for the next decade, McCuin felt comfortable joining a program with a stable head coaching scenario.
"My family and I had questions about if he’s (Traylor) staying or leaving," McCuin said. "When I saw the 10-year contract, that kind of sealed the deal."
And just like Traylor, McCuin is now locked into his pledge to UTSA and says he will shut down his recruitment ahead of his senior season.
While UTSA has its coach of the future, Jacksonville has gone back to the drawing board.
Former head coach Wayne Coleman retired at the end of the 2021 season, and new head coach Jason Holman was hired on January 11. Holman, a Jacksonville alum, struggled in his first year at Tatum High School in 2019 with a 3–7 record, but led the Eagles to back-to-back eight-win seasons in 2020 and '21.
McCuin says the new coaching staff has made an instant impresion on him and his teammates. While Jacksonville will still run a spread, Air Raid attack, the offseason intensity has picked up as the Indians look to rebound from two consecutive 1–9 seasons. In truth, one of Holman's top priorities will be improving the defensive side of the ball. The offense enjoyed plenty of explosive games, but the Indians gave up a whopping 39 points per contest in 2021.
"I love the new coaching staff," McCuin said. "They’re really changing the culture down there in Jacksonville. The past couple years we haven’t been so good, so they’re coming to change that."
Jacksonville has some key returning pieces this season that give them a chance to compete for a winning record as they move from 5A Division II to District 9-4A Division I.
Rising junior Jermaine Taylor (6-1, 190) picked up a UTSA offer on June 10. The wide receiver and linebacker prospect was an Honorable Mention All-District pick in 2021 as a sophomore, and also plays basketball for Jacksonville with McCuin. Both Taylor and McCuin were first team all-district selections on the hardwood. McCuin says he's working hard to sell Taylor on UTSA.
"That’s my guy right there," McCuin said. "He’s been fighting hard to get that offer and I put in a good word for him. He went up to a camp and he balled out."
Jacksonville also returns last season's starting quarterback, Ryan McCown, who led the district in passing yards laregely due to his deep balls to McCuin. McCown is the son of Randy McCown, who was a three-year starting signal-caller for Jacksonville before playing at Texas A&M from 1995-99. Ryan displayed an innate ability to extend plays with his scrambling ability in his first season as a starter, buying time in the backfiled while McCuin dashed for open grass. The duo combined for several improvisational touchdown passes last season, a chemistry they've been developing since middle school.
"He’s been my childhood best friend since we were little," McCuin said. "We’ve been playing together since 7th grade and we’ve been doing the exact same thing. It’s just brought to light on varsity."
McCuin doubles up as a wide reciever and defensive back for Jacksonville, but he plans on primarily lining up on the offensive side of the ball on offense. He says UTSA stood out to him because they listened to where he actually wanted to play instead of insisting on recruiting him at where they saw fit.
"Initially they wanted me for safety but they got to asking me questions about what I really wanted to play and I said receiver, so they changed it up. I’m grateful," McCuin said.
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