Kansas City, Kan. — Pete Shinnick sold the first recruits to West Florida on a picturesque campus situated a short swim from Pensacola Bay, an ambitious vision and the opportunity to build something memorable.
He surely didn’t sell them on the single-wide trailers for locker rooms.
“I had a desk and a phone and that was about it,” Shinnick recalled this week. “No players, no coaches. And I just started selling it. Our guys will get a new locker room and weight room in January, but back then there really wasn’t much.
“We sold the university and we sold the experience.”
That was a mere four years ago.
On Saturday, the program that began play just last season and upset top-seeded Indiana University of Pennsylvania in the Division II semifinals will play Texas A&M-Commerce for the national championship.
Hard to imagine for a school founded in the 1960s, plays its home games in a minor league baseball stadium and is better known for men’s tennis and women’s soccer.
“We went one complete year without coaching or playing football. That was one of the longest professional years of my life,” said Shinnick, who also built the North Carolina-Pembroke program when it returned from a five-decade hiatus. “As a football coach you don’t have much time in the fall, but that fall I did. But when we started, we felt we had a great university, a great town, and we were looking for the right mix of young men. We set high expectations for them, talked about how good we could be.”
The Argnoauts spent the 2015 season practicing and playing against each other, then played their inaugural game last year. They wound up winning five games, beating No. 16 Florida Tech along the way.
They were 7-3 this season to qualify for the playoffs, but even then were considered a longshot to advance. But they upset No. 16 Wingate in the opening round, beat West Georgia and West Alabama the next two weeks, then toppled the heavily favored Crimson Hawks on the road.
That earned them a trip to Sporting Park in Kansas City for the national title game.
“People want to know what the formula is and all that,” Shinnick said. “I just have great coaches and great players. We have developed a culture that we want and guys are buying in.”
Darius Price of Siena Heights, a senior defenisve back from Saginaw, was named to the NAIA All-America first team.
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