Saturday is graduation day at the University of West Florida, but two senior football players were honored at an early graduation ceremony on Wednesday.
“Two of our students will not be able to attend graduation on Saturday, because they will be making history in Kansas City,” said UWF President Martha Saunders, kicking off the ceremony for defensive tackle Ronald Bell and linebacker Reggie Barnes – starters on an Argonaut squad that takes on Texas A&M-Commerce for the Division II national football championship.
“Reginald and Ronald, we know you came to UWF to get a top-quality education, and you have done that,” Saunders said. “We want to celebrate that accomplishment today.”
After the President’s remarks, it was time to hand out the diplomas. Ronald Bell graduates with a degree in Environmental Management, while Reggie Barnes is awarded a General Business degree.
For Bell, a Tampa native and Fayetteville State, North Carolina transfer, the move to UWF helped to fulfill a promise to his family.
“My parents sacrificed a lot to get me here, so I think I owe it to them and myself to get my degree,” said Bell. “[And] it was an opportunity to complete my degree and further my playing career; I couldn’t turn that down.”
Barnes transferred to UWF from the Air Force Academy in the fall of 2015 – He says the emphasis has always been classroom first, playing field second.
“My parents always stressed academics since I was a little kid,” said Barnes. “I thought it was a great opportunity here, and wanted to be a little closer to home, so that was nice. I’m from Tampa, so it all worked out.”
Argonaut Head Coach Pete Shinnick was also on hand for the ceremony, in the atrium on the ground floor of the UWF Administration Building.
“We come here to give these guys a great opportunity to be successful later in life,” Shinnick said. “In order for them to do that, earning a degree from a prestigious university like the University of West Florida is all part of that process.”
When he came to UWF in 2014, he set a high academic bar for the players – a minimum 3.0 grade point average.
“It’s still what we want, we were close last spring,” said Shinnick. “We haven’t quite hit the 3.0 as a team GPA, [but] it’s something we’re always shooting for.”
Reggie Barnes and Ronald Bell play their final college game on Saturday. Both reflected on that game.
“We’ve made it this far; we’ve come too far,” said Bell. “I don’t expect to lose; I expect to win.”
“It’s amazing; I couldn’t ask for anything more for my senior year,” said Barnes.
As for the other 15 seniors listed on the Argonaut roster, they’re scheduled to graduate next spring.