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Argos Set To Defend National Title

Fan Day Scrimmage 2021
Morgan Givens/University of West Florida
The UWF Football team hosted a intrasquad Fan Day scrimmage open to the public at Pen Air Field on Aug. 26, 2021.

West Florida football buffs got a preview of the 2021 squad, at a “Fan Day” scrimmage Thursday night at Pen Air Field on campus.

When last we heard from the Argonauts, it was in December 2019 at the Division-II national championship game in McKinney, Texas when they stopped a late Minnesota State drive to win 48-40.

“The youngest program in the state of Florida – the national champions – the West Florida Argonauts,” from the broadcast on ESPN.

Just after the game, the nation heard from an ecstatic UWF Head Coach Pete Shinnick.

“Tremendous heart, tremendous brotherhood, tremendous unity on this group; couldn’t be prouder of ‘em,” he said. “This was an amazing game; Minnesota State played phenomenally. We’re a blessed team, I tell ya.”

After sitting out the 2020 season due to COVID-19, fast forward to Thursday, and the team’s last major scrimmage before the Sept. 4 season opener at Division-1 FCS member McNeese State in Lake Charles, Louisiana — a game that Head Coach Pete Shinnick says was scheduled three years ago.

“We felt like we would be far enough along in the development of our program, that that would be a great way to open the season,” said Shinnick. “Now, with that being said, I feel very good about that decision, and feel good that this team is built to play well against that type of program.”

The COVID-19 pandemic also provided some obstacles to be overcome in the run-up to fall camp. About a dozen players were quarantined – along with Shinnick.

“I did have COVID, yeah,” said Shinnick. “[And] we’ve probably [also] had about 10-12 guys.”

Fans at the scrimmage were treated to music, an appearance by the Argonaut cheerleaders – national champions in their own right -- and copies of the team roster. But the revelry around the field belied the serious business on it as the Argos prepare for their title defense.

“We took basically our top 60 [players], and went against our second-half group,” Shinnick said. “And what we were trying to accomplish was get some unity with our substitutions, as well as with our special teams, so that we were in sync. And that’s really what we were trying to do.”

In the first half of the two-hour-plus scrimmage, Shinnick had praise for the Argo offense and defense. Some struggles here and there were chalked up to what he called “complacency,” something Shinnick said would be worked on.

“Then we finished with a series of our defense going against [plays from] Mississippi College – because that’s just hard triple-option getting ready – and then our offense and our defense going against McNeese,” he said. “I like what I saw for the first time out doing that. I think you got a chance to see that we’ve got some running backs that can run, we’ve got some receivers that can catch. And we’ve got a couple of quarterbacks that can throw it; so it’s fun — it really is.”

Quarterback Austin Reed tossed three touchdown passes on his three possessions. As a redshirt freshman in 2019, he passed for 4,084 yards and 40 touchdowns with 11 interceptions, a quarterback rating of 149.4.

“I’ve seen great growth and development: Rudy Carleton, our new quarterback coach, and offensive coordinator, has done a fantastic job, he really has,” said Shinnick. “And the growth that I’ve seen, the development – very excited for him to go out and compete at a high level. I think he’s the best quarterback in Division II, and I look forward to seeing him play that out.”

As defending national champs, UWF has been named No. 1 in a number of Division-II preseason polls. But Coach Pete Shinnick downplays that.

“When we started the program we said, ‘Look – the only ranking that matters is the last one,’” Shinnick said. “Two out of the four years that we’ve been doing it – we were ranked No. 2 coming into 2018, that did us absolutely nothing, OK? And we weren’t ranked in ’17 and ’19 and we ended up playing in the national championship [game]. We know people will be looking at us. It will mean something to beat us, but we’ve been preparing for that.”

After the season opener against the Cowboys, UWF will come home to face the Southwest Baptist Bearcats on Sept. 11, in the first-ever game played on campus at Pen Air.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.