Do you hear that? It’s the roar of the crowd at Maritime Stadium! The UWF Argos had an explosive start to their inaugural season, winning against Ave Maria in a shutout showdown. At the first home game, they tackled Missouri S&T 45-28. They were bested by Valdosta State at the GSC opener, but they came back and stormed the field against #Florida Tech in the Inaugural Coastal Classic for a win. Dave Scott, the athletic director of the 15 sports at the University of West Florida, gives us insight into how this dynamic team was sculpted and the monumental impact that football has had on the university and the community at large.
Describe your recruitment process. How are players found and selected?
Our head coach started almost two years out. Then he brought on three more coaches after that first season. Then they were recruiting high schools in Florida and Alabama. These days, high school student athletes will also send video through Huddle to be reviewed. It’s all about creating those relationships and that’s great for the institution.
We’re into high schools that probably weren’t even aware that UWF existed. If you talk to some of our student athletes that were at the press conference, they came from high schools in the state of Florida that never heard of the University of West Florida. It creates more interest. All of a sudden there’s a kid that signs with UWF that people are like, “Where’s that school?”
National studies usually say that you will pick up somewhere between two and three additional students if you pick up that student athlete, so that helps create more interest in the University. Coaches get out and recruit, make those contacts with coaches, see kids, invite them to camp. I think this summer, we had 200 on a Friday and another 200 on Sunday in camp coming to get looked at from wherever if you want to get seen as a student athlete.
What is your process in deciding your starters and second string players?
That depends on skill level and their practices. Once they get here, coaches start training them, putting them through workouts, and then you start seeing who has the higher skill level. That’ll determine who starts, who’s second string, and who’s travel squad. With football we have roughly 115 student athletes. You only take 65 on the travel squad.
We’re young. Missouri S & T is a team that’s an established program that has a lot of juniors and seniors. I think our whole offensive line are freshman. So there’s a big difference between an 18/19 year old and a 23 or 24 year old in strength and development and skill level, so our guys are very fortunate. They’ve done very well.
Were you guys able to reach out and look at other teams and check out the competition?
Well, a couple things there. One, we reached out to look at programs when we were establishing a program to look at how people were doing. South Alabama had just started a program. Florida Tech had just started a program in Division II. We went in and had questions about how those people did it, so we could learn from that. We fortunately hired Coach Shinnick, from North Carolina Pembroke, who just started football in 2007.
We also reached out and looked at how some of our other conference schools operated because there’s a lot of logistics with football involved outside of the sport, like where we were going to play, how we are transporting the team. It’s just a large group. You’ve got to plan for 65 kids and probably 15 to 20 staff, so meals have to be planned. Everything has to be scheduled, so it’s just a little bit more deliberate than the other sports.
We reached out, not only in our conference, but to a lot of new programs to see how they did things, so that we can learn from that. We tried to learn from those things, implement as much as we could and we are still learning. We went through our first road game, our first home game, and from all indications we feel like most people felt it was a success, but there are still logistical things you’re constantly working on to try and improve.
Based on the players’ performance in practices, scrimmages, and the first few games, do you have any predictions for this season?
We are already exceeding those predictions. It’s a first year program, so we have a lot of freshmen and sophomores. They are playing against juniors and seniors, so they’ve been through it for one fall and the other teams have had many falls to get prepared for this season. We’re hoping that if we can come out of this year and keep people healthy and learn from it, then we’re really building toward the future and hopefully provide a product that the Pensacola community and our university is proud of and want to come out and support every week.
This is an exciting time, but also high pressure for yourself, coaching staff, and players. Do you think nerves have played a role in this inaugural season at all for the players?
I’ve got to say being on the field watching the team run out, at Wahoo Stadium for the first game, our guys went out there and I’d have to think that with the crowd as large as it was, with the excitement, their adrenaline just had to be really pumping and that fortunately it was a positive—because sometimes you can get over excited and not stay as focused on what you have to do on the field, but they were very focused. The team played very well offensively and defensively and we saw a positive outcome for that. Hopefully we can continue our momentum. But, the games are going to continue to get tougher as the schedule goes on. The schools we play are stronger and stronger.
Well, it sounds like they are kind of on the pro-level with controlling their nerves. That’s really great.
Yeah, I tell you that’s a lot of credit to our coaches. Figure most of these guys have never played in a college game before. So, you go from high school to college, it’s a big step up. Everybody’s a little faster. The game’s a little quicker. And I definitely think it helps to have Kaleb Nobles, who’s our starting quarterback who played at Valdosta State. He’s in grad school, so he’s been there. He’s started. He’s seen it. It helps to have his calming influence on the field to settle some of the other guys down and keep them focused. A big part of the season is going to be about staying healthy. We are very good in our skill areas, but if we get hurt too much in too many places, then you step into younger guys. It’s going to be important to stay healthy and hopefully we will stay competitive.
So, you guys are not currently playing on UWF soil. You are playing at Maritime Park in downtown Pensacola. Do you have an updated timeline on construction of University Park?
We still have the master plan, which eventually puts a stadium on campus. We’ve built the field. We’ve built the infrastructure underneath. We broke ground on a facility Oct. 6. That will house not only an equipment room and a locker room for football, but also a multi-sport weight room. Upstairs will be FSU College of Medicine and College of Health, so it will be a shared facility. That will be some much needed space for us to grow and be able to take care of our student athletes better. Then we will have a facility there that will have a locker room. We will have a field. With the master plan, at some point we’ll put a stadium around that field.
Obviously we are having a great experience at Wahoo Stadium. We sold out 6,288 people. I think it really helped us reach out to the Pensacola community and cause that experience that our students love. Downtown makes a lot of sense and means that we don’t have to put a huge investment into the stadium right away and we can get some other things built.
But the next president will determine how far into that timeline we go, or if we push that out a little bit to meet some other needs that we have. Dr. Bense got us to this point and that was her thing—to get the program established. Fortunately, we have the field on campus, so it gives us a great practice area and eventually that will be our game field, but at some point to be determined in the future.
Perfect. And it’s such a beautiful field, too.
We’ve hosted a couple of scrimmages out there and Pen Air Federal Credit Union has seen the value in that. We’ve named it the Pen Air Field and they have made an investment of $1 million in the program and that will help us grow some things. I think you’ll see more people step up and help us move it forward.
That’s fantastic! I know you guys are really heavily donation based. How have the donations been, outside of Pen Air?
Good! We just continue to step up and people continue to give and that’s important. When we started football at the University of West Florida it wasn’t really about bringing another sport to our athletic program. One of the things we did initially was establish a visioning committee. A lot of people want us to have football and that group made some recommendations. In the end, Dr. Bense decided to move forward with football.
When you look at our peer and aspirant groups academically, I think all those but one had football, so it was part of the growth of the institution—a way to create some student life. To set us apart from some other institutions. It’s going to help us connect to people that we haven’t been connected to before and hopefully they get excited about our chemistry programs, our business programs, our English programs, and it gives them something to rally around and connect.
If you use inter-collegiate athletics correctly, we have 14 sports before football that have a lot of success and we hope that brings people to have more interest in those programs too. We have a lot of good student athletes that have been recruited to West Florida that represent us very well and we hope people want to be a part of that, either by helping young college students get their education or by helping us move the programs forward.
Enrollment is definitely at an all-time high, so we can already see the positive effects of that.
Well, and part of that discussion early on about starting a sport like football, especially in the South, creates opportunities to improve the brand of the University of West Florida. It creates an opportunity for affinity with the institution, so if people have that excitement it raises awareness about the University of West Florida. We are a great academic institution and have been and if that brings more attention to that, then that raises the awareness of your degree when you graduate. It makes your degree more valuable. People recognize that.
The economic impact of UWF Athletics was $6.1 million in 2010, but that was expected to increase with football. To get an idea of what the economic impact for football alone would look like, could you tell us about how much the first few games have brought in according to the projections?
I can tell you we sold out the first game, so that was 6,288 people. All those aren’t sold tickets because we held back 1,000 for students. Every football student athlete gets four, and we had some staff in there, so I would say it’s probably over 5,000 in somewhere sold tickets. And then we had corporate sponsors. I want to say we had over 28 corporate sponsors at many different levels. It’s been better than we could have expected. You set up the game and the plan and hope everybody decides to come. When you sell out, that’s a good position to be in from a business model because then your ticket creates an even bigger value.
I did not have the opportunity to go down Palafox before or after the game, but I know when we had the scrimmage, restaurants were overrun a little bit because they weren’t expecting the crowd. I’d say it would be a very positive impact to the downtown community.
It definitely will be a positive impact for our operating budget to make ends meet, but that is part of how football was set up. When we set up football, we were going to have to bring in a certain amount in ticket sales, a certain amount in donations, and a certain amount in corporate sales to make the formula work and we’ll probably know at the end of the season whether or not we hit those numbers.
Will the team be engaging with the community through volunteer work or community outreach programs?
Coach, prior to the season, made over 300 public appearances. The team has done some stuff with different schools and PE programs. And they’ve done some community service initiatives prior to and probably will again in the spring when they are getting more into the off-season. Once they get into season it becomes very regimented and for them to be successful, not only on the field but in the classroom, it’s important that they go to those study halls, they’re doing what they are supposed to be doing in their classes. It’s hard to squeeze in other things—even though they will. We have a Reading and Recess Program where our student athletes go into elementary schools and read, but usually a lot of the community service will be in the off-season when they have a little bit more time.
If fans are unable to attend the games in person, how can we all tune in?
We have a radio partner WPNN 103.7. All our games will be on radio. The first home game was on Blab TV. The Oct. 1 game was on American Sports Network, which is a regional Southern telecast, then Oct. 22 our game was on ESPN 3. The other two home games will be on Blab TV, so even if you can’t buy a ticket and come to the game, you’ll be able to see it streamed locally and then on the away games, listening to it on the radio on WPNN. Hopefully it gives people an opportunity to see Argonaut football. A lot of times, when we go to Gulf South Conference Games like Valdosta State, you can go to their website and watch it live-streamed on your computer. In fact, I know a lot of people who watch it on a computer and listen to it on radio, so you can hear the UWF commentary but still see the game.