I have long believed that the University of West Florida needed a football team.
Pensacola gave the football world Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith. The city also has produced more than its fair share of football talent.
The wait will so be over as beginning in 2016, the school will field a football team in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II, West Florida announced Sept. 4. It will play in the Gulf South Conference, in which the school's athletic teams are now competing.
There will be no mistaking West Florida football for games in the Southeastern Conference. Most Division II athletes are a few pounds lighter or a step or two slower than the so-called Big Time programs are seeking.
Division II schools are allotted 36 total football scholarships as opposed to the 85 Division I Bowl Subdivision schools have or the 63 that the Division I Championship Subdivision can offer.
Thirty-six scholarships for a varsity football team might not seem like much, but for a young man dreaming of playing the game each of those scholarships the Pensacola school offers will represent another opportunity to play college football.
Northwest Florida is a hotbed for high school talent stretching from the Alabama-Florida state line east to Panama City. But most young men who take the field in local stadiums on Friday nights never again play organized football after they graduate from high school. Maybe the addition of a team at West Florida will open the door for some of those kids to play college football close to home.
Several local players would easily benefit from having a Division II school two counties away. I think of former Baker running back Cameron Domangue, and I have to believe he would have been a perfect fit at West Florida.
Domangue played a year or two at Division III Birmingham-Southern — which doesn't offer athletic scholarships — before transferring to West Florida to finish his education.
I've lost track of how many Okaloosa County football players have made their way to Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama or some other state to play football at a Division II school.
Now, if that kid works as hard in the classroom as he does on the football field, he might be able to get some sort of academic scholarship to help with the cost of his education. Moms and dads also will be able to drive an hour or so to Pensacola to see their sons play college football.
Having moved to Gulf Breeze in 1966, I'm old enough to remember those early years of UWF. The school opened its doors in the fall of 1967 and was a two-year school for juniors and seniors.
Football wasn't even a dream in those early days.
Soon, a whole new world will be open for local football players.
This year's high school sophomore class will be college freshmen in the fall of 2016. I'll be looking for some of those players on that first UWF football team.
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.