A pair of NFL scouts visited the University of West Florida football practice this week, took in the new surroundings and complimented the quickly built stadium.
“I had to say, no, this is all temporary for now,” Argos coach Pete Shinnick said, laughing. “But they thought it looked good and they thought it was a permanent stadium. But I love it. I think it’s going to be loud and crazy.”
Six years after starting a football program from scratch, the 11th-ranked Argos (Division II Coaches Poll) begin a new era Saturday at 6 p.m. their first game against Warner University.
There will be seating for 4,000 with blue and black backed seats on the home sideline, bleacher seats on the away sideline. Plus, enough room to seat nearly 2,000 more on other grassy areas around the field.
There will be a large video board near the scoreboard, along with food trucks, two other concession areas, hospitality tents and other additions to provide a home stadium experience.
“It’s like our first year of football again,” athletic director Dave Scott said. “I know the feeling we get from selling tickets is that it feels a lot like the first year. Lots of renewed momentum.
“People are excited. They want to have the opportunity to have that same seat every year.”
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As of Wednesday, seats were only available in three sections on the visitors’ sideline. That side of the field will also include students from UWF and the Argos band.
UWF had a tryout a year ago. Their first home game on September 11 was moved to Pen-Air Field due to a scheduling conflict with the Blue Wahoos’ baseball season.
An estimated crowd of more than 5,000 people, most of whom brought their own folding chairs or blankets to sit on, filled the area around the field.
For that game, bleacher seats only existed for approximately 1,000 on the visitors’ sideline. But it still turned into a field experience.
“I knew we were in for a special day when we came back as a team from the cafeteria, from our pregame meal, and the area in front of (UWF) Field House was full of people,” said Shinnick, who has been a member of the UWF. head coach since he was hired in 2014 to begin steps for the first season in 2016.
“This was three hours before kickoff,” Shinnick said, recalling last year’s home opener. “I saw more students here than when I walked around campus during the week.
“It was an electric atmosphere and I thought, hey, this could be a lot of fun. Seeing it fill up and having people everywhere was great. And I think this (all the games on campus) is going to be a completely different environment.”
The decision in February to play all games on campus was made out of necessity. The Argos had reveled in playing at Blue Wahoos Stadium and in the unique setting that the bayfront ballpark provided with football. Blue Wahoos staff and ushers helped with game operations and the partnership was a good one.
But when Major League Baseball took over operations from Minor League Baseball in 2021, the season for the 30 Double-A teams, including the Blue Wahoos, was extended through the third week of September to more closely reflect the season. of MLB.
An additional week was then added to the 2022 schedule for the postseason playoffs, which will now be held annually.
In this year’s case, the Blue Wahoos, as winners of the first half of 2022, could host a Southern League championship playoff game through Sept. 25.
The UWF realized that the only safe dates for next season’s home games at Blue Wahoos Stadium would be in October and November.
“We knew we would eventually come to campus,” Scott said. “But we weren’t working on a plan until February to make that happen, because we had a pretty good situation (at Blue Wahoos Stadium). It was great for us to start there and it meant a lot to our development.
“But now, in February, it’s like, okay, we have to have a plan. And it feels like this could be a piece that helps take the institution to the next level, a stadium instead. We think this could be a catalyst to help the University of West Florida grow even better.”
Tony Nguyen, deputy athletic director of operations, worked on a fast-track basis over the last seven months to ensure the Sept. 3 opener could happen.
“I started looking at vendors and other things just to set everything up,” he said. “And once we knew it was coming (to move to campus), we really started working on the bleachers, the portable toilets, the concessions.
“We had an idea that (change) could happen. And I think when people come to our first game they’ll be like, wow, this is a pretty amazing place even though it’s a temporary place.”
“We like the way it looks and I know we will make adjustments throughout the year. And next year will be much better.”
During their five years at Blue Wahoos Stadium, the Argos created many memorable moments. The first game was a special memory. In the 2019 season, Argos went undefeated at home with a pair of upset wins. It led to an overall NCAA Division II playoff bid and the UWF won five games en route to becoming NCAA all-time champions.
The Argos are the fastest starting football team in college history, at all levels, to win a national title. What’s more, they made it to the Division II title game in 2017 in just their second season, which had never been done before.
Saturday is another of these milestones in the progress of the program. The Argos’ initial opponent, the Warner Royals, are an NAIA member team from Lake Wales, located between Orlando and Lakeland.
“I really think the energy is going to be different, because at Wahoos Stadium, everybody was a little bit far away except behind the end zone (first base side),” Shinnick said. “Now, we are going to have fans on both sides, very united. I think it’s going to be a different level of energy and a different level of noise.”
The video board was leased from the same company that the Senior Bowl uses for its annual game in Mobile. For restrooms, there will be 19-21 Porta Potty rentals, along with men’s and women’s sideline restroom trailers.
The concessions will feature food trucks from Chick-Fil-A, Domino’s Pizza, Sonny’s Barbecue, King Popcorn, a snow cone truck, along with Aramark Concessions.
Follow-up sessions will be held in the parking area in front of the UWF Field House. The “Argo Walk” will take place on the tree-lined grass opening from that area to the Darrell Gooden Center of Argos, where the football team is based.
The announcers, stats team and video camera operators will be on a scaffolding platform erected behind the last row of seats on the home sideline. The away team will dress in the Health, Leisure and Sports (HLS) building near the Gooden Center.
“A lot of work and planning went into this,” Scott said.
The Argos played four regular season games in 2021 at Blue Wahoos Stadium. They hosted an NCAA D-2 playoff game on November 20 for the first time. On that day, however, it turned difficult in an upset 33-30 loss to Newberry in the first round of the playoffs.
“Little did we know when we walked off the field that day, it would be the last time we played there,” Shinnick said. “I give our administration an enormous amount of credit.
“We had people build prominent venues here, so we can play home games, and it all happened in a six-month period. And now we’re starting to talk about the possibility of a stadium on campus and what that might look like.
“I am very grateful for the leadership of our president, Dr. (Martha) Saunders to be able to get some things in motion, so that we can be here, and this will be our home.”
Bill Vilona is a retired sports columnist for the Pensacola News Journal and now a senior writer for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. He can be reached at [email protected]
I WANNA GO?
WHO: Warner Royals vs. UWF Argos
WHEN: Saturday, start at 6 pm
WHERE: Pen-Air Field on the UWF campus
TICKET INFORMATION: www.goargos.com.
INTERNET CURRENT: www.flofootball.com (subscription required).
RADIO: ESPN-Pensacola (99.1 FM, 1330 AM).
PARKING LOT: $10 (cash only) at various lots near the course. There is a free lot in the University Commons area of campus.
RESTRICTIONS: Only clear bags are allowed at Pen-Air Field. No backpacks.