Coming off a 5-6 inaugural season and two and a half weeks before starting the 2017 season at Missouri S&T, Head Coach Pete Shinnick delivered his “State of the Team” address on Wednesday.
It’s been almost a year since the UWF football program kicked off against Ave Maria, and Shinnick says he and the coaching staff have been gauging themselves compared to what it was like last fall; what was it like last spring, and where the program is now.
“One of the fun things that we’ve been able to see is – we’ve just gotten better each time we’ve shown up and started,” Shinnick said. “So obviously from the fall of ’15, we’re a much better team, but even from spring 2017 when we walked off the field, to starting up nine days ago, we’re in a further-along place, and our guys know that.”
One of the key changes for this year’s team is a new defensive coordinator, Darian Dulin. The Argos will continue with the base 3-4, three down linemen and four linebackers, but Shinnick says more is planned for the back end of the defense.
“You’re going to see a lot more matchups, coverages, which I think will play to our strength right now,” said Shinnick. “Our secondary’s playing very well; we’ve got some guys that can run around. You’re going to see us just mix that up, match that up a little bit more than we did in the past.”
Offensively, the big challenge in both the spring and pre-season has been finding a replacement for quarterback Kaleb Nobles, who graduated and is now on the UWF coaching staff. Gray Jackson, who saw playing time in 2016, is at the top of the depth chart.
“Gray went into the spring as the starter; he came out of the spring as the starter [and] did not do anything to lose that position,” said Shinnick. “It’s not something that we’re in a hurry to make a decision on; it’s not something that we’re ready to announce. We like the competition.”
The numbers indicate a veteran team will be wearing Argonaut green, blue and white in 2017. Eighty lettermen are returning, including nine starters each on offense and defense. On the offensive side of the ball are wide receiver Antoine Griffin and running back Chris Schwarz.
“We understand that we have to come together as a team a lot more than last season, said Griffin. “Last year was our first year; all the jitters are out, everybody understands the competition level we’re playing against this year.”
“Coming into fall camp we’ve been a lot more consistent throughout knowing the plays and understanding the playbook and the system,” said Schwarz
Speaking for the defenders were defensive tackle John Williamson and linebacker Reggie Barnes.
“Having a season to play together, the 11 games we played [in 2016], I think we grew a lot in that time,” said Williamson.
“I think we’ve earned a lot of trust and discipline,” said Barnes. “We trust each other to do the right assignments. We gave up some big plays last year, and I was just not being disciplined. So, those are the two biggest things we’ve overcome.”
Barnes and Griffin have been named to the pre-season all Gulf South Conference team, along with linebacker Andre Duncombe. Head Coach Pete Shinnick is also all smiles over the 2017 recruiting class.
“Because we’ve really added, I think, a quality group of student-athletes,” said Shinnick. “You continue to recruit; you’re always trying to find that guy. But, I’m happy with who’s on our team right now that we’ve brought in.”
One major change Argo fans will note. The high noon kickoffs at Bayfront Stadium has gone the way of the leather helmet and the wishbone.
“Well, it’s hot at noon – for everybody,” Shinnick said. “We got a lot of feedback from our fans that the night games were more enjoyable. I think downtown Pensacola likes our night games, likes that time set. People can eat downtown, come over to the game, and go there afterwards.”
The first four UWF home games this season (Midwestern State, Chowan, Valdosta State and Mississippi College) will begin at six p.m. The final two home games (Delta State and North Alabama) have four p.m. start times.