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UWF Football to enjoy home cooking in '22

Pen Air Field goargos com.jpg
goargos.com
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Pen Air Field, at the University of West Florida

There’s a change of venue on the horizon for the University of West Florida football program, which has spent its first five years playing in downtown Pensacola.

“We want to take this opportunity with the mayor and city today, to announce that UWF football will be moving back to campus in the fall of 2022 at Pen Air Field,” said Athletics Director Dave Scott, kicking off Mayor Grover Robinson’s weekly news conference with the announcement. “We’re very excited about that.”

The five-game home schedule begins September 3 against Warner University of Lake Wales, Florida.

“We want to thank the mayor, his support, the city of Pensacola and the Blue Wahoos organization for five great seasons,” Scott said. “Just a great venue and environment there, but part of starting football at UWF was about enhancing student life.”

The excitement on campus over the upcoming games is ramping up, said Scott, feeding off last September’s game on campus between the Argos and Southwest Baptist – won by UWF 63-14, with more than 5,000 in attendance, sitting in makeshift bleachers -- or in folding chairs – after turning the pregame hours into a campus party.

Afterward, West Florida head coach Pete Shinnick had praise for those who made the inaugural on-campus game possible – and for the Argo fans.

“Amazing event here on campus,” said the coach. “We’re very blessed to call Blue Wahoos [Stadium] our home, but to be able to come here and have this type of crowd, this type of experience — couldn’t ask for a better way for this thing to go.”

Shinnick had praise for those who made the on-campus game possible and for the Argo fans.

“We do a pre-game meal four hours before kickoff; and to just see the amount of people four hours before kickoff, here on campus, that in and of itself is just worth everything that we’ve worked for and what we’re trying to do. It was just fantastic,” he said. “And then two hours before kickoff you’ve got people waiting to get into the stadium. Amazing environment.”

“We certainly have enjoyed UWF, [which] brought a national championship, had our first playoff game, and had a variety of things we’ve done downtown,” said Mayor Grover Robinson. “But certainly we knew this was one of the things that had been wanted to happen for a long time, with UWF and moving there.”

Bayfront Stadium is, first and foremost, the home of the Blue Wahoos, the Double-A team of the Florida Marlins. Since Major League Baseball took over the minor leagues, the Wahoos’ season has moved deeper into September. The Southwest Baptist game last year had to be moved to campus, because of the Wahoos’ final regular-season home stand.

“And obviously, where we’re going with the baseball schedule, it just forced us to be a little bit faster,” said the mayor. “But I think overall, you’re excited at the chance to see more people at the games, and where you wanted to go anyway.”

That, and other factors, said Athletics Director Dave Scott, makes this a good time for the move.

“That puts a few games in jeopardy every year and our schedule is typically three to five years out,” Scott said. “So if doesn’t give us that opportunity to be flexible. And then artificial turf creates some challenges for us from a sense of creating the consistency of a playing surface; and the cost to be able to do that, in and out, every year.”

The game last fall, he said later on Monday, gave them a lot of answers as to questions about whether holding the games on campus was feasible.

“It gave us some comfortability in a direction that we could move in that direction at some point in the future. I don’t think it was on our minds at that time,” said Scott. “Obviously, we learned some things that we need to do better, and we just felt it was a great, electric, campus environment, and we probably had more students than we’ve ever had.”

Work is already underway at Pen Air, to make it as fan-friendly as possible this fall, starting with increasing the bleachers around the field.

“We’ hoping to do at least 3,000 to 3,500 [seats]; put some on the home side and fill in maybe, around the field a little bit to create sort of an intimate atmosphere up close to the field,” Scott said. “Trying to get some with the season ticket holders to have some fixed seating; we have about six months to work it out.”

After Warner, UWF will host Delta State in the Gulf South Conference opener, along with North Greenville, Mississippi College and West Alabama. The full schedule can be found at goargos.com.