If you notice a buzz on the campus of the University of the Incarnate Word, it’s not because there are only eight weeks to go until Christmas break.
Okay, maybe it’s that too.
There’s a buzz on campus surrounding UIW Athletics and it’s not only the students who are taking notice. Both national and local media are noticing the huge leap UIW has made in just over a year of postseason eligibility in Division I sports.
Dr. Brian Wickstrom took over as Athletic Director in August 2017, coming over from the University of Louisiana, Monroe. Upon his arrival, he wanted to make a change and quickly hired several new coaches that fit the school’s mission statement.
The school’s football team hired Eric Morris as head coach, who came from Texas Tech, where he spent five seasons as offensive coordinator.
“Eric said it best that the players needed to believe in themselves,” Wickstrom said. “You see the players are believing in themselves and that’s why they’ve been successful. It’s been a great season with four games to go.”
Morris is the second football coach that Wickstrom hired after he appointed Matt Viator as coach at ULM, who has his team two wins away from being bowl eligible for the second time in program history.
The addition of Morris and his coaching staff has transformed the Cardinals in just one season. After going 1-10 a year ago, UIW Football is currently 4-3 and 4-1 in Southland Conference play as of this writing.
Morris’ hire also saw his student-athletes raise their game not just on the field but in the classroom. Since Morris took over in December 2017, his team has seen its GPA increase from a 2.2 to a 3.2.
“When our coaches show they care about how our players do in the classroom, it makes things easier,” said Wickstrom. “I saw Coach Cunningham tutoring and Coach Morris oversee a study hall. If academics are important to the coaches, it makes it better for our athletes to do well academically.”
UIW started 3-0 in conference play for the first time in program history and defeated No. 6 McNeese 45-17 this past Saturday for its first-ever win over a ranked opponent in the 10-year history of the program.
It is not only the media, fans, and students excited about the future of UIW Athletics but Wickstrom’s own family as well.
“San Antonio is the best city we’ve ever lived in,” he said. “My kids are big UIW fans, they cheer when we win and cry when we lose. They talk about coming to school at UIW and wanting to play sports here. This campus has just a great family atmosphere.”
Wickstrom is not the typical AD who sits up his in office and shows no interest in the athletics. He is on the sidelines cheering on the team no matter the score and is passionate about seeing the student-athletes succeed.
“I take time to get to know the student-athletes. I get to know them personally and hear their story, you take a more vested interest in their academic and athletic successes. I already have kids of my own but these kids are a part of my family.”
Wickstrom also made changes to the basketball coaching staff, hiring Carson Cunningham from Carroll College as head coach.
UIW’s women’s basketball has not been successful in the past but Wickstrom feels with the new culture change, the wins will come over time.
“Coach Smith understands we want to see progress,” he said. “She is someone who cares about the success of her student-athletes. Sometimes when you change the environment it takes a little longer to win but the wins will come.”
Wickstrom works hard every day to leave a legacy both in athletics and on campus. He wants to make sure he leaves his mark for the next generation.
“I want UIW to become a nationally recognized, top Division I Catholic institution,” he said. “With a positive culture and following our school’s mission statement of core values, I feel we can achieve that both in and out of the classroom.”