West Florida football doesn’t have a very long history. Two seasons. That’s it.
Yet in that short time, the Argonauts seemingly fill volumes in the West Florida history books on a weekly basis. And here they are, set to take on Gulf South Conference-rival West Alabama in the DII Football Championship quarterfinals.
“It’s crazy,” defensive lineman John Williamson said. "This is my third year now. I don’t think anybody really expected this. We didn’t even know if we were going to get into the playoffs and to then come this far, I mean, we’re loving every second of it. Every practice we get to do is a blessing for us. It’s certainly been an experience.
“It’s certainly put our name out there in a way that it has never been before. It’s really cool to see.”
2267 days ago our leadership had a dream to change the landscape of the University. Today we take the next step with our first ever @ncaadii playoff game. #Arete #GoArgos #BeatWingate pic.twitter.com/vCwUTW9H0p— UWF Football (@UWFFootball) November 18, 2017
It’s not like the Argos were major slouches out of the gates. West Florida went 5-6 in its inaugural season. The Argos beat the first opponent they ever played (Ave Maria, 45-0). They then defeated the first DII football opponent they ever played (Missouri S&T, 45-28). They even racked up a signature win against a nationally ranked team (No. 16 Florida Tech) at home on the first day of October.
But before that first season began, it was a year of practice. Practice, practice, and then some more practice.
“We practiced for an entire semester, just like a regular season. Then, we had five [intrasquad] scrimmages I think. It was pretty awful, to tell you the truth,” Wliiamson said with a laugh. “Just going out to practice everyday and not being able to see the bigger picture. Looking back on it now, it was pretty beneficial to us.”
For all the good that came out of that first true season, it ended on a sour note. The Argos went out losing to North Alabama 51-3 and West Georgia 69-0 in consecutive weeks.
Enter 2017. A year of experience under their belts, the Argos were ready for the next step.
“I think really it's playing that first season together, retaining most of the team, and having that year to grow and bond with each other through games,” Williamson about the difference a year makes. “Because there’s nothing like a real game. Having that, having some new coaches come in and changing up our defense just a little bit, I think all of that has played in enormously.”
That defense is ever improving. Williamson has become one of the premier defensive threats in the GSC. His 10.5 sacks led the conference.
“That’s great,” Williamson said. “I certainly worked to accomplish something like that, but to see it play out is certainly a great feeling. It’s surreal, for sure. I really caught on with the sacks at the end of the year, so to get that is a pretty awesome accomplishment.”
Remember those two late season losses to close out 2016? So did West Florida. The Argos got their revenge, defeating North Alabama 30-7 a week before upsetting No. 24 West Georgia 34-29. Two weeks later, in the second round of the playoffs, the Argos headed back to Carrollton, Ga. to face West Georgia once again, and came out on the right side of a gritty 17-14 victory.
That's what the GSC has become. It's quietly becoming a DII powerhouse with teams like Valdosta State and North Alabama missing the postseason. Last season, North Alabama was the national runner-up. This season, the conference stuffed the bracket with four teams, the most of any conference.
“It’s like Coach [Pete] Shinnick was telling us,” Williamson said. “Every week towards the end of the season is like a playoff game. Playing these teams over again, it gives us a great outlook because we’ve seen them already, we know the travel plans. Playing away has actually helped us because we had already played away during the season. Definitely hoping this one goes a little different than the first time we played West Alabama.”
It hasn’t been all defense, however. One of the biggest additions to the starting lineup is redshirt freshman Mike Beaudry. Beaudry earned GSC Freshman of the Year honors in his first season behind center.
“Having the hardest worker on your team as the quarterback gives you a great feeling,” Williamson said. “He’s been ballin’ this year. He’s been playing great and has helped this team incredibly all season.”
That last playoff game didn’t start out as planned for the young quarterback. Beaudry threw for three interceptions in the first quarter. But the defense never wavered. They responded by holding West Georgia to 244 yards, with four sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception.
“We never had panic,” Williamson said. “We came in with the mentality of wearing the hard hat, bringing the lunch pail and going to work. We didn’t pay attention to the offense. When we got our call to go onto the field, we took care of business. I think that was the plan, to stay focused on us and not worry about anything else.”
The Argos are hoping their Cinderella season continues this weekend. While hard work and practice can get them there, Williamson won't rule out a little luck.
“I got a good luck bracelet I always wear,” Williamson said. “I’ve been wearing it all year and I’m not taking it off any time soon, that’s for sure.”
A perfect 2-0 in postseason play, one win for each year of the program's existence. That’s not a bad start to the history books at all. And now this West Florida team believes that this is only the beginning.
“Yes sir, I think so,” Williamson said. “It’s not cocky, but we’re definitely confident in ourselves and our abilities. But we’re just going to play West Alabama and see what happens next.”