Recruiting has so changed in college football with a greater emphasis on transfers that a program such as UIW may have be able to successfully replace a Walter Payton Award recipient, unlike others in the past.

And why not, the Cardinals have already proven they could go into the NCAA transfer portal to replace a Jerry Rice Award winner.

That UIW will try to continue, if not build on last year’s best season in program history will be one of the more fascinating storylines across the FCS this year.

UIW, located in San Antonio and officially the University of the Incarnate Word, lost two-year starting quarterback and 2020 national freshman of the year Cameron Ward to a transfer last offseason, only to bring in Lindsey Scott Jr. from across the Southland Conference at Nicholls and watch him develop into the 2022 Payton Award recipient, which honors the FCS offensive player of the year.

Not only will UIW’s offense be led by a different quarterback for the third straight season this fall, but it will have its third different head coach, Clint Killough, at 29 the youngest in Division I. His first team at his alma mater expects to have an answer behind center with a transfer, most likely Zach Calzada, who as Texas A&M’s 2021 starter beat Alabama, but he will have to secure the starting job over Ryan Stubblefield, who was at East Carolina previously.  

“It’s a good challenge to have,” Killough said on Wednesday following the start of D-I’s regular signing period, “and I think that’s a little bit different perspective. Obviously, (Scott) was the best player in the FCS last year, and he earned it.

“But I also think that was some of the allure. Obviously, we have become a destination for good quarterback play, and we’ve been able to be electric, be high-powered and play with a lot of pace on offense.”

The changes in many programs’ recruiting philosophies reflect in Killough’s first signing class, whose 31 members consist of 17 transfers – 10 with FBS experience – and 14 high school seniors. But it goes both ways as the Cardinals lost some transfers in addition to gaining newcomers.

Not surprisingly, many teams have had a regression the season after losing a Walter Payton Award-winning QB (Eastern Washington dropped to 3-8 last season after losing 2021 recipient Eric Barriere off a 10-3 squad). But Scott’s record-setting season at UIW this past year – his 60 touchdown passes and 71 total TDs were FCS single-season records – may have signalled how the loss of an elite quarterback and even a deep senior class doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a drop-off for a team.


The transfer portal giveth Calzada, who made 10 starts at Texas A&M in 2021, passing for 2,185 yards and 17 touchdowns, highlighted by a career performance in the 31-21 win over ‘Bama. He transferred to Auburn last year, only to miss the season following shoulder surgery.

Standing 6-foot-4 with an arm that Killough says can make all the throws probably gives Calzada an edge over the smaller (5-11, like Scott), but creative and elusive Stubblefield, who did not see action in three seasons at Eastern Carolina.

“I also think you have to bring in a guy that’s, one, going to acknowledge (Scott’s success),” Killough said, “and (two) going to attack it. Both of those guys, hey, ‘You threw 60 touchdowns last year; let’s go throw 65.’ Those types of conversations have to be had. You have to be bold at that position, and I think that those types are not afraid to be bold.”

Quarterback Zach Calzada, in 2021 action, spent three years at Texas A&M before being a medical redshirt at Auburn in 2022. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)

UIW’s starting lineup will be quite different from its glorious 2022 campaign, when under former coach G.J. Kinne (now at Texas State) it went 12-2 to set the school record for wins, beat an FBS opponent (Nevada) for the second consecutive season, pushed FCS dynasty North Dakota State to the brink of elimination in a national semifinal and finished with a No. 3 national ranking. The Cardinals’ 51.5-point average ranked second in FCS history.

Despite the loss of two All-America wide receivers with over 1,200 receiving yards each, Taylor Grimes and Darion Chafin, UIW’s new signal caller will throw to returnees Brandon Porter, C.J. Hardy and Jaelin Campbell, who caught six touchdowns each.

While UIW’s program is entering just its 15th season, Killough has been a part of nearly two-thirds of that time as a player and coach, including roles as associate head coach, wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator last year. His new coaching staff includes five others under 30.

While youthful coaches may be more in touch with today’s recruiting mind-set than much older brethren, Killough says he values high school recruiting and building from the bottom up even more than the transfer portal.

“Are you going to call me crazy if I say I saw this as a player?” Killough said of UIW’s growth as a program. He attributes San Antonio’s culture and status as the nation’s seventh-largest city as part of his vision.

“To see it develop has been really cool for me, to be honest with you. Sometimes I’ll sit there and just be like, ‘Wow, look at ‘The Word.’ This is what I thought that this should become.”