Texas A&M University-San Antonio took the next step Wednesday toward launching its athletics program with the hiring of Darnell Smith as athletic director.

A San Antonio native, Smith returns to his hometown having last served as an assistant athletics director at the University of Central Oklahoma. At a Wednesday press conference introducing Smith, TAMU-SA President Cynthia Teniente-Matson heralded the beginning of a new chapter at the university on the city’s South Side that was chartered in 2009.

“Many, many hands have been hard at work coordinating resources, facilities, staff, finances, marketing, and communication – all preparing for today, the arrival of our inaugural director,” Teniente-Matson said.

“There’s been a lot of work behind the scenes for the last couple of years, but now we’re ready to [move forward] quickly because we’re going to start competing in the fall,” she added.

The athletics program is slated to begin in the fall with men’s and women’s soccer, women’s softball, and men’s golf. Men and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball programs will begin upon the completion of a campus recreation center, also expected in the fall, Teniente-Matson said.

The student body voted last spring in favor of paying a fee of $10 per credit hour – up to a maximum of $120 per semester – to fund intercollegiate athletics.

Martin Calderon, vice president of TAMU-SA’s student government, was among the more than 86 percent of students who supported the measure. He said the student body was united in its desire to bring athletics to the university.

“We are ready for that next step,” he said. “It was basically a unanimous decision that people want athletics.”

The university will compete in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), an organization that oversees college sports in smaller-sized programs. TAMU-SA will compete in the NAIA’s Red River Conference, which includes such schools as Our Lady of the Lake University, Austin’s Huston-Tillotson University, and the University of Houston-Victoria, among others.

Smith was tapped after a national search. A former college football player at Oklahoma State University, Smith parlayed his athletic success into a career in the administration of college athletics. Smith’s student-athlete background, diverse professional experience, and his familiarity with San Antonio were all factors in the decision to hire him, Teniente-Matson said.

Smith, whose military father was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, played defensive end for Taft High School, graduating in 2002.

“I understand San Antonio, and San Antonio is my home,” he said.

On top of building a competitive athletics program, Smith said he will emphasize diversity and inclusivity in the school’s sports culture.

Smith’s first item of business will be to hire coaches for the soccer programs. He said a search has begun to fill those positions, and the hires will begin recruiting players for the inaugural season shortly after. It will be a tight turnaround to build a program from scratch over a stretch of just a few months.

“The timeline may present some challenges, but I think we can get some great coaches in to be able to recruit and really build our team,” he said.

Looking ahead to the first sporting event at the campus, Smith said he envisions a loud and supportive atmosphere for home games at the university’s Rec Field, which opened in late 2017.

“That [kind of energy] is infectious,” he said, “and we hope to be able to carry that to the next sport and to the next sport and build momentum into the future.”

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez is a columnist at the San Antonio Report. A former reporter and editor at the SA Report, he currently works as a project manager for New York City-based Advance Local.