|Unlikely source bringing football to San Antonio|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 13 November 2008 15:09|
It has spent 15 years, since the Alamodome was finished in 1993, courting the NFL, but the nation's seventh-largest city can't get the nod. San Antonio fans don't even have a college football team of note.
That will change next August when the city's first scholarship team in a generation is fielded by a rather unexpected source: a small Catholic university that once had a reputation as a finishing school for girls.
The University of the Incarnate Word is a 127-year-old liberal arts school that was a women's college until 1970. It won't bring big-time NCAA football to San Antonio, but the Division II school will field a squad of recruited players in a gleaming new stadium built with the help of an NFL owner.
It hopes to join the Lone Star Conference, a small-school conference with a history of producing some NFL talent, in its second season.
ople saying, 'When do you start playing?'''
The city's outward pining for a football team began decades ago when taxpayers funded the 65,000-seat Alamodome, big enough for an NFL team. But none ever came, not for good anyway.
The facility hosted three New Orleans Saints ``home'' games in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina tore open the Superdome, and while the city didn't get the hoped-for NFL franchise, it did get Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife, Gayle, in San Antonio more often and closer to the university.
The Bensons were already Incarnate Word boosters, but Agnese saw his chance when they moved to a condominium overlooking the campus after Katrina.
The high-energy university president came to the school in 1985 when enrollment was so low it faced possible closure. Basketball was the only sport to speak of, and ``we used to get rained out in the gym,'' Agnese said.
In the two decades since, Incarnate Word's enrollment, academic programs and sports teams have grown dramatically, but in a football-loving state like Texas, the 6,700-student university needs the gridiron game, Agnese said.
``It was something that needed to happen here,'' he said, adding that football is a critical part of the college experience. ``Football was important not because of me but because of what it means to the students.''
The Bensons agreed to support the effort and help build the facilities. The 3,000-seat stadium and field house are named in their honor.
Coach Mike Santiago, who previously coached Stephen F. Austin State University, was hired before there were any facilities to show recruits.
``I was really amazed when I got here at the excitement of people in town,'' he said.
For the first year, Santiago and his assistant coaches worked in a small room and could only show future players a pair of dummy uniforms and a flood-prone soccer field with the promise that a stadium would arise.
``There was nothing here at all. I was looking at pieces of paper,'' said Dakota Mawyer, an 18-year-old linebacker who decided to play for Incarnate Word anyway.
Initially, with no students to coach, Santiago found himself spending much of the first year answering questions about where the outlets in the field house should go, whether the tile was the right shade of red and whether the helmets should have sparkles. (They do.)
He and the assistant coaches decided to go after high school students rather than community college transfers, so the Incarnate Word Cardinals currently consist of 75 redshirt freshmen. Twenty-eight are on scholarship, and the coaches are now scouting high school playoff games for their next class.
rey in northern Mexico - something that required permission from the NCAA since it involves international play.
Santiago thinks there will probably be kinks that day, as students, alumni and the community fight for limited space in the stands and on campus.
``I probably think about it every day,'' he said. ``I expect a lot of emotions, not just for me, but for the players because we've built this together.''
Running back Trent Rios was the first player to sign with the team, and he said the players know what they're working toward even as they labor in practices with no games until next fall.
``We can build new traditions,'' the 19-year-old said.
San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger said Incarnate Word football will also be good for a city that still longs for an NFL franchise.
``We're a very sports-minded town,'' he said. ``We also have a lot of interest in football here and we don't have anyone to cheer for. Having our own college team here is a very progressive step.''
On the Net:
University of the Incarnate Word: http://www.uiw.edu/