It was just a few years ago when University of West Florida President Dr. Judy Bense gave a presentation about her future plans for the school and that road map had a gridiron at the end.
UWF started the journey by hiring Pete Shinnick as the programs head coach and this past February the school celebrated its first recruiting class.
Since then the school held its first spring drills and on Aug. 20 with over 100 young men starting their journey with Sept. 3, 2016 circled on their calendars – UWF’s college football debut in NCAA Division II.Shinnick and company still have a lot of work to do, but the vision he had to sell to prospective players is now more of a reality as there are helmets, uniforms, but most of all a schedule that is on paper.
“Things are looking great,” said Shinnick as he prepared for Aug. 20, which was the first day UWF took to the practice field. “This vision we were selling to these young men who committed to UWF is starting to come together.
“Typically this take a little time and I feel the second year is the right time for the team to take the field as we work on things the first year and scrimmage ourselves.”
West Florida, who will play in the Gulf South Conference, knows it is going to be very competitive when they start conference play in 2016. Last season was just a small hint as four GSC schools make the NCAA Division II playoffs.
This is one reason why UWF will not compete in 2015, but work on developing their players and hold five intrasquad scrimmages this season – four at the University Park Field (Sept. 12, Oct. 3, Oct. 24, and Nov. 7) and one at their future home Community Maritime Park on Oct. 17.
"These five dates that we have set for the scrimmages I think are vital to the growth of our program," said Shinnick. "It gives us the opportunity to really analyze each guy on our team and what he can do in an ultra-competitive situation. One of the reasons we wanted to scrimmage and not play against other opponents was because we wanted to maximize the number of reps that we could get for each one of our guys."
Reps are important for any football player, but what is even more important is character.This is one thing Shinnick and his staff have emphasized since he was named the first head coach for the Argonauts. And it is even more important as the first group of signees start life on campus.
“The number one thing we are looking at in any future or prospective player is character,” Shinnick said. “We make sure they understand that even before we bring them in for a campus visit.“Football is new to the university and we want the professors and staff to see a football player and know they are a great representative of the university. We want everyone to be excited we have football at UWF.”
Since the program has gotten underway, there is some excitement about the program itself building in Santa Rosa County.
Players from Pace and Milton has participated in some camps hosted by Shinnick and his staff, which is a way for them to get a closer look at some of the local area talent.
“We have about 10 to 12 guys on the squad that were at the camp the summer before,” Shinnick said. “It is just a great way to look at the kids first hand and then we can watch them develop when they go back to their schools as we watch them play their games during the season.”
Pace head Coach Mickey Lindsey as well as Milton head coach Chafan Marsh see a lot of great things down the road when toe meets leather officially for the Argos.
“All kids dream of playing Division I college football,” said Lindsey. “But I feel this gives them some aspirations and goals in live as they try to do better.”
Marsh knows there will be some excitement, but when the Argos take the field in 2016 it will be real.
“There is some excitement now as we have had seven of our kids go to their camp,” Marsh said. “But when they start play and you can see yourself in that uniform and see everything going on, then it will have a totally different vibe.
“I expect it to only grow and get stronger and I feel they are off to a great start.”
The start in 2016 is very important and it will start on the road against Ave Maria, a NAIA level Catholic college in Ave Maria, Fla.
Then UWF will have their first of five home games at the Community Maritime Park when Missouri S&T (science and technology) comes to town on Sept. 10.
But the biggest indication for the program could come on Sept. 24 when the Argos travel to Valdosta, Ga. To play Valdosta State at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. The Blazers made it to the final eight in the Division II playoffs in 2014 and lost to another GSC squad in West Georgia.
"We really feel fortunate to get the non-conference games we're getting," said Shinnick. "Those will be very difficult, and there is lot of competition in those first three games of the season.
"Everybody's trying to get games in Division II, so to get two Division II opponents in Chowan and Missouri S&T was huge, and then the ability to stay in Florida against Ave Maria was also very important to us. So I feel great about our non-conference schedule."
The buzz around the UWF football program is a very interesting one to say the least as tickets are expected to be in high demand for the inaugural season.
“We love to hear about this interest,” Shinnick said. “It is a good situation to be in when it comes to starting a new program. Now it is our job to represent the university the best we can with quality students and athletes, which is something UWF already has a reputation for.”
2015 Intrasquad Scrimmage ScheduleSept. 12 University Park Field 11 a.m.Oct. 3 University Park Field 11 a.m.Oct. 17 Maritime Park Stadium 11 a.m.Oct. 24 University Park Field 11 a.m.Nov. 7 University Park Field 11 a.m.
2016 UWF Football ScheduleDate OpponentSept. 3 at Ave MariaSept. 10 MISSOURI S&TSept. 17 at ChowanSept. 24 at Valdosta St.*Oct. 1 FLORIDA TECH*Oct. 8 at Mississippi College*Oct. 15 at Delta St.*Oct. 22 SHORTER*Oct. 29 WEST ALABAMA*Nov. 5 at North Alabama*Nov. 12 WEST GEORGIA**denote Gulf South Conference Games