He did a fantastic job of recruiting for the Longhorns in his two years in Austin and was named Big Twelve Recruiter of the Year in 2016, but when Strong was fired and Tom Herman was hired he apparently was so afraid of having Jeff Traylor behind his back that he terminated him. We all saw how well that worked out for Herman and one would imagine he would have made a different decision if he had it to do over. For Jeff, it worked out well.
He was picked up almost immediately by his friend and former East Texas football coach Chad Morris to join SMU as Assistant Head Coach. The team made a bowl game that year and then Morris was offered and accepted the Arkansas head coach position. Everyone thought that he would be named the new head coach at SMU, but the Board of Regents didn’t want a head coach who had never had that position on a college team, so he was let go.
Once again, he was not unemployed long, as Morris offered him a spot on the Razorbacks staff and he accepted. Just as he did at Texas, Jeff did an awesome job of recruiting in Arkansas, but Morris didn’t inherit a team with many athletes and after a brief 2-year stint for Jeff, the entire staff was fired.
All of those experiences led to him being named as the head coach at UTSA in San Antonio in 2020, so even though he had disappointments along his trail, it all paid off for him. In his first year at the helm the team went 7-5 and made it to a bowl game.
Going into their game this past Saturday night in the Alamodome in San Antonio against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders in the Conference USA opener for both teams, the Roadrunners were 2-0 on the season. They began the year by upsetting favored Illinois just a week after the Fighting Illini had beaten Nebraska on the road. It was the first time UTSA had beaten a Big 10 team.
The Runners built on that big win and defeated Lamar University a week later at home with a shutout 54-0 win over the Cardinals. Their third game this past Saturday had them hosting Middle Tennessee State in the Alamodome.
We had planned on covering a UTSA game last year, but COVID-19 had other plans. We had texted earlier this year and I told Jeff the Mirror would be down to cover a game this season. When we noticed the Roadrunners were playing Middle Tennessee State last weekend it was obviously the perfect game to cover.
For those who are not aware, Gilmer Buckeye star Tra Fluellen transferred there after playing his first season after graduation in Gilmer at Houston Baptist University.
We got in touch with Kyle Stephens, Associate Athletic Director for UTSA and secured a press credential for the game. As it turned out, Kyle is the nephew of former Gilmer Buckeye Arlyn Stephens and he said since his dad grew up in Gilmer he had spent time here when he was growing up visiting his dad’s family. His dad is Arlyn’s older brother Alex.
We had the opportunity to not only cover the game and attend Coach Traylor’s presser following his team’s 27-13 win; we had a chance to talk with Tra to get his thoughts about blocking a UTSA field goal in the game. We talked with former Buckeye Head Coach Matt Turner and former Offensive Line Coach Kurt Traylor on the sidelines during pregame warm-ups.
Additionally, former GISD Superintendent Larry Bennett and his wife have season tickets for the games and we talked with him a bit about recommending Jeff in 2000 to become the head coach of the Buckeyes.
When we talked with Coach Turner we asked his thoughts on being on the Roadrunner coaching staff and reuniting with Jeff and Kurt once again.
“That’s pretty hard to put into words, quite honestly. It’s just the relationships. Obviously, I loved the relationship I had with both Jeff and Kurt, and it’s just neat to be part of the team and part of this coaching staff and these players. I did it for 38 years so it’s something I enjoy, obviously.”
Coach Turner’s title with the Roadrunners is Football Chief of Staff. We asked if that meant he watched and coached the coaches on the team, and he responded, “That’s a standing joke around here, yeah. Who knows what the Chief of Staff is? I get to be around great coaches, great player. When I can I ask questions. I’m learning a lot more than any of them are from me, trust me. It’s just I get to be a part of this and it’s really special.”
When we talked with Kurt we asked what it meant to him to be coaching in San Antonio at UTSA with his brother and Coach Turner.
“Obviously, it’s great to be here, but more importantly, I think it’s great for us just getting to be together again. You know how much we enjoy being around each other. It’s always special to end up working with guys that you ended up working for, with them being my mentors. That’s a blast being with them again. I’ve always said I wasn’t going to go work for anybody else unless it was my brother and Coach Turner. I worked for him for several years. I’ve really enjoyed it. What we’ve done here is the same thing that we’ve always done in Gilmer and the same thing that we put in in Tyler. It’s fun, it’s a blast. I love being with these guys. Jeff does a great job of hiring people that suit our culture.”
When we talked with Dr. Bennett we asked him to tell us a little about the process that led to him recommending to the GISD board in 2000 that they hire Jeff Traylor as coach of the Buckeyes.
“Well Jeff came by my office in 2000 and he said he just wanted to drop off an application. We sat and visited and 4 hours later he left my office and in those 4 hours he convinced me that he loved kids. I also interviewed 2 guys who won State Championships. They didn’t talk about loving kids. Jeff Traylor did, over and over and over. That’s why I recommended. He did have a 1-year probationary contract. He beat Gladewater though, so that’s probably what took care of that! His excitement about being home and coaching kids and loving kids (was why he recommended him.)
The game itself played out as expected. Middle Tennessee came in at 1-1 and fought hard but they were no match for the Roadrunners, due in part to the UTSA defense. UTSA was in control from the beginning of the game until late in the game when Middle Tennessee scored a couple of TDs.
The first score in the game came when Frank Harris hit Zakhari Franklin on a 33-yard TD pass with 3:01 left in the first quarter. Duplessis hit the PAT and UTSA led 7-0.
The Roadrunners got on the scoreboard again with 2:22 left in the first half when Duplessis booted a 30-yard field goal, putting the home team up 10-0.
UTSA received the second half kickoff and held the ball for 4:52 and scored their second TD of the game when Frank Harris hit Joshua Cephus on a 13-yard scoring play. Duplessis added the extra point and the Runners extended their lead to 17-0 with 10:08 left in the third quarter.
The Roadrunners looked to increase their lead with 13:17 left when Duplessis attempted a 32-yard field goal that was blocked by Gilmer’s Tra Fluellen for Middle Tennessee.
The visitor’s victory was short-lived as Lorenzo Dantzler recovered a Middle Tennessee fumble at the 3 and returned it the short distance for a touchdown with 12:56 left in the game. Duplessis added the extra point and the Runners pulled away 24-0.
Duplessis added a 39-yard field goal with 8:01 left in the game to push the score to 27-0 in favor of the Roadrunners.
Middle Tennessee finally got on the board with 3:28 left in the game when Chase Cunningham hit Jimmy Marshall on a 23-yard TD pass. A try for 2 was no good, but the visitors were on the scoreboard but still trailed 27-6.
The Blue Raiders added another score with just 57 seconds left in the game on a 16-yard TD pass to Jarrin Pierce. The extra point was good and the UTSA lead was cut to 27-13.
The win propels UTSA to 3-0 and drops Middle Tennessee to 1-2. They will travel to Tennessee next Saturday to take on Memphis before returning to the Alamodome on October 2nd to take on UNLV.
Coach Jeff Traylor summed up his thoughts on his team’s victory in his post-game presser with the media.
“It was a game that our defense totally dominated from the start to the finish. Offensively, we just couldn’t get out of our own way. On the opening drive we had a critical penalty. We came back from that and had a turnover and after that we come back with two more turnovers and had some more crucial penalties. You know, I never felt like the game was in question but we just couldn’t quit getting out of our own way.”
We mentioned that former Gilmer players were everywhere and asked his thought about Tra Fluellen blocking the Duplessis field goal attempt.
“He’s a great kid, comes from a great program. They don’t ever quit. Everybody likes all those points we scored back then (in Gilmer) but we had a few games like this. It was bad for us but we got some good reps in. I was happy for him. That’s the first time our field goal team hasn’t been solid. Those guys just stuck it to us. We’ve got to be better but I was happy for him though. I’m always happy for the Buckeyes!”
When we talked with Tra we asked him how big it was for him to block a field goal against the former Buckeye coach’s team.
“Playing the game we needed a big momentum drive and that was a big momentum drive for us, or a big momentum stop. We needed to turn the ball over for our offense but unfortunately it didn’t work out for our offense, but we needed it and that was big. Any time we can keep points off the board that’s a big thing for us and we’re doing our job and that’s what we’re looking for. I’m always looking to grow. I’m always looking to be better and the opportunities I’m getting I’m trying to take advantage of those. We just want to win, so whatever we have to do to win is all I’m looking for.”
We concluded by asking Tra what message he would like to send back to the 2021 Gilmer Buckeyes. He replied, “When you get in college you’re on your own. Take advantage when you get your opportunity. Take advantage and just be focused and never change in what you want. Be yourself and chase your dream!”