The team’s final scrimmage ahead of Thursday’s spring game was completed with new coach Kaleb Nobles providing a strong summary for his players.
“I love you all,” he said.
It’s been a smooth transition from the UWF’s first coach, Pete Shinnick, to a man who was the UWF’s first quarterback in its inaugural 2016 season.
The Argos set the Thursday blue-green spring game specifically the night before classes end on Friday afternoon and spring break begins on UWF’s campus.
“Our boys are very excited to get Spring Ball ready before spring break,” Nobles said. “So when you leave here, on Friday afternoon after class, you go straight to spring break.
When the players return, there are still six weeks of school, including final exams, before the focus shifts to the 2023 season opener and a new era with Nobles as the 28-year-old head coach — one of the youngest in NCAA football history — taking the seventh place UWF season.
There is one more milestone. This has essentially been 10 years since the UWF officially committed to adding a football team to its sports program.
It was the boldest of leaps and led to historic successes as he reached a national title game with Nobles as quarterbacks coach and director of operations in 2017 and later won the national title with UWF in 2019.
“It was a tremendous responsibility for Kaleb as a young assistant,” said Gordon Sprague, chairman of the UWF Football Founders, who has led efforts to make football a reality at the UWF. “Kaleb handled hotel arrangements, food, travel and all that, and I think the only thing I missed for the first four years was going to two games.
“But then you could see the leadership qualities. Take responsibility and listen in meetings. A good leader listens and he does.”
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This was a time of hiatus for Sprague, known by his nickname “The Flash” for his earlier hobby of car racing on the side.
Nobles was playing in Valdosta State when the UWF began preparing for football’s arrival in 2013. The current pen air field was undeveloped land. There was no soccer facility or even equipment to wear.
“Thank God we weren’t trying to play here (on campus) at the time,” Sprague said. “I think it would have been a disaster. Playing at Blue Wahoos Stadium (until 2021) was unique, to say the least.
“Being here now is a great relief for a lot of people because before that every game was an away game. People don’t know what it takes to mobilize, in addition to the players, the food, the sports staff and all the equipment to get them downtown to play a game.”
A special friendship has developed with Nobles and Sprague from past experiences. In 2016, Nobles followed the Argos game at Valdosta State by taking Sprague to the stands at VSU to meet his father, Buddy Nobles, a renowned high school coach in Florida and Georgia.
“That was the last game my dad saw me play in person,” Nobles said. “There are a lot of things going on behind the scenes that people like Flash take care of. I’m very grateful for our relationship and for knowing him over the years.”
The two now have an extended partnership with Sprague’s involvement with the Football Founders and Nobles taking charge of first spring training ahead of his first season as head coach.
“There’s no way we could have been here without a guy like Flash,” Nobles said. “His commitment to making UWF a better place is special and obviously UWF football has been a big part of his involvement.
“A lot of the things he’s done people have seen, which is great, but he does even more behind closed doors, which we really appreciate as a team and as employees that people don’t see. And that’s the kind of person he is. He’s a great man.”
Sprague was part of the interview process with Shinnick as the front runner in January 2014. The two quickly became friends.
He sees many similar qualities in Nobles, a generation younger but with the same type of drive and player relationship skills.
Sprague began his football connections in the state of Florida, his alma mater, as the first million-dollar donor to the Seminole Boosters in 1998. He and legendary FSU coaching legend Bobby Bowden were longtime friends.
“Like I said to Kaleb, I have to be with Coach Bowden and Pete Shinnick and (Nobles) will be last,” Sprague said, referring to his own age. “He had the right background… he was here, played here, was operations manager here.
“He comes from a football family. He knows the game, he understands player relationships and he has a number of coaches on his staff who were formerly head coaches. He has all the right qualities you are looking for.
“And now he’s taking over to usher in a new era for UWF football. It will be fun to watch him do it and I’m glad I got to know him over those years.”
Bill Vilona is a former Pensacola News Journal sports columnist and now senior writer for Pensacola Blue Wahoos. He can be reached at [email protected].
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: UWF Spring Football Game
IF: Thursday, 6 p.m
WHERE: pen air field
WHO: UWF players split into two teams
PERMIT: Free. Fans are allowed onto the pitch after the game to meet players and get photos and autographs.
EAT: There will be concession food trucks on the stadium grounds.