Despite numerous NCAA Division I conferences and programs postponing fall football seasons in recent weeks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Conference USA and the University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners are in full swing with preseason practices.

One UTSA Roadrunner is a former Rio Grande Valley high school football standout who feels blessed to be back on the gridiron.

Kelechi Nwachuku, a 2018 graduate of McAllen Memorial, is entering his redshirt sophomore season with UTSA.

Kelechi Nwachuku. Photo – UTSA Athletics

“We’re eager and we’re very grateful, too, because not a lot of people got to wake up today and play football. Everyday we walk out there, we know it’s a blessing and we can’t take it for granted, so that makes us go out there and work even harder,” he said.

UTSA recently suited up for its first fall practice with full pads, less than a month away from kicking off their 2020 season Sept. 12 against Texas State.

“Everybody was excited, everybody brought the juice. From the time we stepped on the turf, everybody was flying around,” he said about the first day of full pads. “Smiles on everyone’s face because it’s been a while since we really got to hit anybody with no spring ball, so everybody was really excited.”

But things look much different for Nwachuku, UTSA and other programs attempting to play football this fall amid the pandemic.

Still, Nwachuku said he feels safe at UTSA as the program has followed protocol and procedures to ensure the safety of student-athletes. From lifting weights with masks on to eating lunch in the cafeteria with teammates 6 feet from each other, Nwachuku said it will take some getting used to.

“The way they’ve set up camp and our meetings and weight room, I feel extremely safe here. As long as every school is doing what we’re doing, I know we’ll be fine,” he said.

As a senior at McAllen Memorial, Nwachuku was named the District 30-6A Newcomer of the Year and an all-state honorable mention as he recorded 163 tackles, nine pass breakups, six tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception.

As a redshirt freshman during UTSA’s 2019-20 campaign, Nwachuku saw action in 12 games and earned a starting safety spot in the Roadrunners’ final six games. Over the course of the season, he tallied 36 total tackles, 23 solo tackles, three pass breakups and one tackle for loss. Nwachuku also set a personal best in tackles with nine against Louisiana Tech and six stops against Texas A&M.

Now, Nwachuku is in line to play a key role on the UTSA defense this season at safety.

The Roadrunners are slated to play nine games total this season with seven of those against C-USA opponents.

“Coach (Jeff) Traylor really instills in us to just focus on us. Right now, we’re on go and our schedule is still in place. Whoever decides to play us Week 1, we’re going to have to be ready,” Nwachuku said.

bramos@themonitor.com