Florida Tech Coach Reflects On Bowl Win, Inaugrual Season

By  //  December 1, 2013

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Looking back on inaugural FOOTBALL season

ABOVE VIDEO: Florida Tech head football coach Steve Englehart discusses the Panthers’ 2013 season with Space Coast Daily’s Matt O’Hern. 

MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – When it came to bringing football to Florida Tech for this inaugural season, Florida President and CEO Dr. Anthony J. Catanese was a man on a mission.

DR. ANTHONY CATANESE, below, introduces Steve Englehart as Florida Tech’s football coach.

DR. ANTHONY CATANESE introduces Steve Englehart as Florida Tech’s football coach.

Well, several of them, to be exact.

The first part was that he wanted to make Florida Tech a “complete” university. A number of students had told Dr. Catanese in the past that they wanted to come to the school, but because it didn’t have a football team, they were going to miss the full college experience.

Not only do the Panthers now have football, they have a full complement of 22 varsity sports that tops even some of the more recognized programs in the state. After all, Florida only has 18.

“You’d be amazed how many people around town tell me, ‘OK, now that you have football, we really think Florida Tech is for real,’” Dr. Catanese said.

FOOTBALL GIVES TECH INCREASED IDENTITY IN COMMUNITY

Part two of the mission involved proving that a technological university, where half of the students are engineers, could field a quality football team without having to compromise its stringent academic standards.

Dr. Anthony J. Catanese

Dr. Anthony J. Catanese

“I wanted to prove that we could play football and have smart kids on the team,” Dr. Catanese said. “Coach (Steve Englehart) did a great job. I told him we weren’t going to lower standards for you to recruit. His entering class this year had a high school GPA of 3.6, which is pretty good.”

The third part of the mission was simple.

Dr. Catanese wanted to bring something to the community, something that would help give the school even more of an identity among its neighbors. You can’t beat football for doing that.

“I think the community has a lot more interest in Florida Tech,” he said.

FOOTBALL BRINGS EVERYONE TOGEHTER

Item number four was something that helped wrap the whole thing up into a nice little package that has meant so much to so many – esprit de corps.

florida-tech-football-180

Part of Dr. Tony Catanese’s mission involved proving that a technological university, where half of the students are engineers, could field a quality football team without having to compromise its stringent academic standards.(Florida Tech image)

“It’s amazing how football brings you together,” Dr. Catanese said. “It’s been that way everywhere I’ve been. When I did this at FAU, it was even more complicated because we had seven campuses. Football is what kind of united the seven campuses.

“I think, to an extent, that’s happened here, too. It’s united the alumni, the students and the community.”

In order to help bring the sport to Florida Tech’s many international students, Dr. Catanese asked Coach Englehart to put on a football boot camp, so the students can get a better feel for America’s most popular sport.

That has helped bring a new set of fans to Panthers games, which have averaged roughly 4,000 fans per contest at Palm Bay High School’s Pirate Stadium.

“The loyalty of our students is nothing short of amazing,” Dr. Catanese said.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

With all of those goals met, Dr. Catanese said he believes the mission he set out to complete has been accomplished.

Florida Tech (5-7) ended its inaugural 2013 season with a 32-20 victory over fellow first-year program Alderson Broaddus (4-7) in the first-ever Eastern College Athletic Conference Division II Futures Bowl at AB Stadium. (Florida Tech image)

Florida Tech (5-7) ended its inaugural 2013 season with a 32-20 victory over fellow first-year program Alderson Broaddus (4-7) in the first-ever Eastern College Athletic Conference Division II Futures Bowl at AB Stadium. (Florida Tech image)

Game day on campus has a nice buzz to it, with people tailgating and then either walking to, or taking a trolley to Palm Bay High School.

As for the results on the field, the president could not be happier as the Panthers went 5-7 in their initial regular season and won the first-ever Eastern College Athletic Conference Division II Futures Bowl.

“It’s amazing how football brings you together,” Dr. Catanese said. “It’s been that way everywhere I’ve been. When I did this at FAU, it was even more complicated because we had seven campuses. Football is what kind of united the seven campuses.

Dr. Catanese recalled speaking with linebacker Justin Arcune just before the team’s final regular-season game against Webber International, where Arcune told the president he was sorry the team wasn’t more successful.

“I said, ‘Justin, listen to me …. You won the inaugural game. You won our first homecoming football game. You won our first conference game. If you win this final game (against Webber International), as far as I’m concerned, it’s a perfect season,’” Dr. Catanese said.

“And of course now, with the bowl game … it’s a nice beginning. It took us four years to get a bowl game at FAU, and that was with Howard Schnellenberger. This is great.”

HIGH EXPECTATIONS FOR NEXT SEASON, AND BEYOND

Dr. Catanese believes Florida Tech will become a very good team once it gets a little older and more experienced, and he’s not alone in that line of thinking.

Howard Schnellenberger's tenure as a coach spanned more than five decades in the NCAA and NFL.

Howard Schnellenberger’s tenure as a coach spanned more than five decades in the NCAA and NFL. (Florida Tech image)

Schnellenberger, who was the head coach when Dr. Catanese brought football to FAU, was a guest of the president for Florida Tech’s inaugural game against Stetson and came away impressed.

“Schnellenberger says in two or three of years, this is going to be a nationally recognized team, and that’s a guy who has a pretty good history of predicting things,” Dr. Catanese said.

As the first season of Florida Tech football winds down, it can’t be called anything but a success.

Not only has Dr. Catanese accomplished his mission, he kept his promise to the rest of the student body to not use tuition to help fund football. The future of the program looks bright, and is just one more reason for the community to be proud about what Florida Tech has to offer.


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