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Argos suit up for spring football

UWF Football vs. Newberry - NCAA Playoffs First Round
Morgan Givens
The UWF Football team hosted Newberry College in the opening round of the 2021 NCAA Division II Playoffs at Blue Wahoos Stadium on Nov. 20, 2021.

Football’s “second season” — spring practice — is kicking off at colleges nationwide in the coming weeks, including this week at the University of West Florida.

The Argonauts went 9-2 last season as defending Division-II national champions but fell to Newberry College 33-30 in the first round of the playoffs at Bayfront Stadium. Head Coach Pete Shinnick enters his sixth season, looking to build upon the positives — and address the negatives — of 2021.

“[We] got a share of our [Gulf South] conference championship, which we’d never done before; so there were a lot of positives, and we want to remember those,” Shinnick said. “And then when you lose your last game, you always want to remember what that feeling’s like so that as you prepare, you’re putting your team in the best situation possible so that the 2022 season is better than 2021.”

Job one for the Argonauts is finding a new starting quarterback. Austin Reed entered the transfer portal last month, after leading West Florida to a pair of national championship games — and winning the latter in 2019.

“We have four on the roster; we’ve already had one practice,” Shinnick said Wednesday. “I liked what I saw out of them in practice one, so we’re excited about the direction we’re headed with that position.”

But Shinnick is quick to add that there are other areas of the team, on both sides of the ball, that must be addressed during spring drills.

“We did lose a handful of guys on defense; so when we’re going into this it’s like, ‘Alright, we know we’ve got guys to replace,’” he said. “The quarterback spot is one of them, and then there’s other guys that are returning that we’re looking to build on; them developing and becoming the best versions of themselves to help us get to where we want to get to.”

College football’s transfer portal swings both ways: As Austin Reed departs, a number of players are coming to Pensacola through it. Shinnick says a couple are already here, and work is underway to bring in others.

“We’ve been pretty good at finding guys that have come in and get the right fit for us,” said Shinnick. “It’s worked well for us, and obviously you lose a couple of guys to the portal, but I think the guys we’ve gotten — and the guys we’ll continue to get — will make up for that.”

While COVID-19 remains a concern, Shinnick believes the program has weathered the pandemic quite well and the administration and athletics department have put them in a great spot.

“As far as masking and that type of thing, I think we’re pretty close to being at the end of that; so nothing really is being disrupted from that standpoint like it had early on when we were dealing with COVID restrictions,” the coach said.

Shinnick SW Baptist.jpg
Dave Dunwoody
WUWF Public Media
West Florida Head Coach Pete Shinnick, after the UWF-Southwest Baptist game last September at Pen Air Field.

Beginning this season, West Florida’s five home games will be at Pen Air Field on campus, rather than their longtime home of Bayfront Stadium. By all accounts, the trial game at Pen Air last year against Southwest Baptist was a resounding success.

Shinnick looks forward to what he calls a “complete change” for the team.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do and a lot of plans and a lot of decisions that need to be made; I think with all the complications that we were running into downtown, this becomes the natural fit for us to be up here on campus,” Shinnick said. “We’re excited to be playing at Pen Air Field — it’s gonna be fun.”

Some former Argonauts could go pro, with the new United States Football League beginning play next month, along with the NFL draft. One of them is defensive back D’Anthony Bell.

“D’Anthony got the opportunity to play in the NFL Players’ Association bowl game, as well as the East-West Shrine Game,” said UWF Head Coach Pete Shinnick. “So he’s had the opportunity to get in front of NFL scouts. We have a ‘pro day’ this Friday where we’ll have about 10 NFL teams on campus. There’s going to be about 12 other seniors that will be getting a look.”

UWF’s spring practice culminates with the annual intrasquad scrimmage on April 14 at Pen Air Field.