Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Dreams come true

Four years ago hundreds of football players came to FAU in hope of building a program that would eventually move into Division I-A. Today eighteen of those players remain as seniors and that goal will be realized as FAU begins a two-year transitional move to I-A September 4th in Hawaii.

For the first full year these players scrimmaged against each other never having another team for comparison. Year two saw the team open up with a loss to a Division II school on its way to a 4-6 record. In FAU’s third year things looked like they would be taking awhile as the team struggled to a 2-9 record.

“They kept the faith after the 4-6 and 2-9 season when doubt could have taken over. [The players] worked, achieved, and validated their hard work,” says Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger.

That validation came when FAU surprised everyone but itself as it went 11-2 and appeared on ESPN 2 in the Division I-AA semifinal against Colgate. That was enough for Coach Schnellenberger and Athletic Director Craig Angelos to initiate the move to I-A.

“This is huge the fact that it was our goal,” says four year starting quarterback Jared Allen. “It was one of the things the coaches sold us on ‘hey you’ll have a chance to play I-A football.'”

Schnellenberger is not new to building programs. In the early 80’s he put the University of Miami on the map, winning the school’s first of five national championships in ’83. Then he turned around the program at Louisville, taking them to consecutive bowl appearances in the ’90’s. But this was different. FAU had to be made from scratch. So the idea of ‘Football in Paradise’ was born.

Some people laughed at the idea, and still do, of FAU competing with the likes of Miami and FSU, and UF but that has become a reality. Schnellenberger never swayed from his prediction of a national title appearance in 7 years and the dream lived on. This could have been the most difficult of programs to build that Schnellenberger has taken over. “It’s like giving birth to a son, instead of adopting one,” says the coach. “It comes with more personal pride because you can watch it grow from infancy to adolescence then to adulthood.”

The players have taken their beatings over the past three years but that has just motivated them. “Getting beat up all the time you get a punch in, you’re like, hey I scored a touchdown. But now that we’re older it’s about winning and losing and we want to win them all,” says linebacker Chris Laskowski.

Pretty fitting from the player who said he was sick of moral victories before the team went on a 10 game winning streak last season. It also sets the tone for this season.

“Yeah we think we can play with anyone. We are definitely sick of moral victories. We expect to win,” added Allen.

The dream is coming true for these players, but it is the dream they had when they arrived four years ago. Now the dream has changed. They are playing for respect and FAU.

With the depth and talent on this team FAU will put up a fight against any opponent. Along with the 18 red-shirt seniors the true seniors increase the class size to 30 and that equates to a lot of experience.

“30 seniors have played in 34 football games,” says Schnellenberger. “That is more experience than any team in the country. Hawaii is the strongest team we play and that experience helps us match up. The players feel they can beat anyone and that is how I want them to feel.”

That experience also makes the FAU 2004 football team the most talented to try and jump from I-AA to I-A ball. Schnellenberger thinks it is and he compares them to them to the 2002 University of South Florida team that jumped to I-A and sent 5 players to the NFL.

So is this team without motivation? Coach Schnellenberger laughed at a reporter who asked him what his team was playing for this season. Last year they were two wins away from a national title in I-AA. This year they’re not really in I-AA or in I-A.

The team will enter the Sun Belt conference next year so they are not eligible for the I-AA playoffs, a conference title, or a bowl bid. The seniors who have been around for everything will leave with no material evidence of what they did here. Except for their record and pride.

“The old national championship was called the Mythical Championship because there was no playoff,” says Schnellenberger. “We will claim a Mythical Championship if we could win all of our conference games.”

They will play Hawaii, a WAC team that believes they can win their conference. They will play North Texas, a team that won the Sun Belt Conference title last year and is set to repeat this year. They will play FAMU, a team that has decided that the jump to I-A is too tough and is applying to be reinstated in I-AA. Finally they will play FIU, another team with dreams of jumping to I-A this year.

All of these games will be on the road except for FIU. That is more motivation for these seniors. “I like playing on the road, beating a team in their home,” says Laskowski. It is almost ironic that the players have been through all the ups and downs but they continue to be given such tough schedules to endure.

A conference title for beating all of the Sun Belt opponents is what FAU will earn even without the trophy, so players are looking forward to that. Mythical or not it will be worth it.

The seniors have played their hearts outs for FAU and no one is prouder than the coaching staff.

Schnellenberger says, “I’m extremely pleased the football team bought into the dream, the belief that they could play I-A ball. I’m proud of them.” In ten years when people look back on FAU being an I-A team and playing Miami they will think of these seniors who started it all and remember what they did.

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