By Heather Moss
LOGOS STAFF WRITER
On Nov. 9, UIW coaches recognized 47 football players as they accepted the title “Forever First” and all the challenges entailed with starting a new program.
It was about four years ago when these young men took on the task of starting UIW’s football program, a longtime dream of Dr. Louis J. Agnese Jr., UIW’s president. These players, many of them incoming freshmen at the time, agreed to start up the program knowing there was no stadium much less a football field to go to for their first practice.
Any dreams they had of entering an established program were just dreams; they were the foundation and future.
The entire first year consisted of practices and many inter-team scrimmages. Two of the Forever First men, Robert Williams and James Perez, agreed, “It was hard.”
“That first year sucked,” said Williams. “Just practicing and not playing any games, you really didn’t have anything to look forward to and we just played against each other. I mean, it got tiring, but we knew it was getting us ready for the next season. We knew we were here to start something and build on that. That part was amazing.”
Many of them persevered through that season and the next year on Aug. 29, 2009, the Cardinals took the field against Monterrey Tech’s Savage Rams of Mexico and against all odds came out with a 42-39 victory at Benson Stadium
That game was one of the best memories for a few of the Forever First players. Thomas Specia, then a transfer, came in his junior year as a quarterback and scored the very first touchdown in the history of Cardinal football at that game. The men made more than just memories. They made history.
“We didn’t think we could win. Nobody thought we could win against Monterrey Tech and that was just a great experience for all of us” said Specia, now a graduate assistant with the football program.
Trent Rios, the Cardinals’ running back, agreed. “The initial first win was really great. We were building a new program and that’s not something any of the other teams were doing.”
Over the years the Forever First group met many challenges. Most of these guys came from winning high school football programs to, well, quite a few losses.
Andrew Mocio, named to the first-team honors of the Lone Star Conference this season, said, “I found that it’s a lot harder to start a successful program. A lot of guys did come from winning programs [in high school] and it just goes to show that it’s a lot harder to win in college. I mean, we all knew what we signed up for, so I don’t think anyone regrets it.”
Specia said, “We knew we were going to start up a program. We knew it was going to be challenging. We weren’t necessarily going to win that many games, but the experience of starting the program made it all worthwhile.”
Many of the Forever First players looked back on the past and though losses were a huge part of their growth, they mostly recalled friendships as one of the greatest things they took away from the program. This was expressed by many of the players.
“It was an honor to be part of the Forever First,” said Rios, named honorable mention and All-Academic in the LSC. “We haven’t won as many games as we would have liked to, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It wasn’t just about football. It was about the friendships we made.”
What does the future hold for these Forever First men? What does the future hold for the program?
“I’d like to see some conference championships under our belts, but in 10 years, maybe a national championship,” said Rios. “Myself and a lot of the other team members are going to be here to support [the Cardinals] all along the way. We’ll have our own little alumni section with the other tailgaters. We’ll always feel a part of it.”
Some of the guys hope to be a part of a Big Bowl division. Others look forward to the program finally being recognized and known.
Mocio said when they would go places, “people would say who or where’s that?” But Mocio believes that in the future, UIW football will be nationally known and he’ll be able to say, “we were a part of that.”
The event was special for not just the players, but the parents and the community. Aside from the coaches, players were given opportunities to speak and every player that spoke thanked the faculty and staff of UIW, the community surrounding the team and their parents for standing by them and cheering them on, even in the losses.
The players signed a large poster that was placed in Benson Field House and a commemorative plaque was also placed on the wall, displaying a picture and names of the Forever First team.
Even though the Cardinals, and 14 remaining players of the Forever First team, lost their last game on Saturday, Nov. 10, Saul Meza, the kicker, expressed his feelings towards the program.
“The experience itself was amazing,” Meza said. “The people that I met, the time and effort we put in, really did pay off. Not everything went our way, but in the end, I’m proud to say I was a Cardinal.”