Panthers Wow Brevard During Inaugural Football Season
By SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME // May 8, 2014
SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME
ABOVE VIDEO: Dr. Tony Catanese’s efforts to bring college football to Brevard County was an unqualified success as the Florida Tech Panthers averaged more than 4,000 fans per game during the team’s first season. “The loyalty of our students is nothing short of amazing,” said Dr. Catanese.
2014 PIONEER AWARD INDUCTEE
Panther Inaugural Season A Big Success
UNITING THE STUDENT BODY, COMMUNITY
When it came to bringing football to Florida Tech and Brevard County for the Panther’s inaugural football season, Dr. Tony Catanese was a man on a mission – and he scored big time.
Dr. Tony Catanese wanted to make Florida Tech a “complete” university. A number of students had told him 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.
Dr. Catanese also 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. “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.
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 couldn’t 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.
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 win, 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.”
Florida Tech placed eight members of its inaugural football team on the All-Gulf South Conference Team. Earning recognition was linebacker Chris Stapleton, who was chosen Co-GSC Defensive Freshman of the Year.
Tight end Gabe Hughes and wide receiver Xavier Milton were unanimous first team selections. Quarterback Bobby Vega, guard Ramsey Sellers, defensive lineman Skylar Sheffield, linebacker Justin Arcune, Stapleton and defensive back Manny Abad garnered second team honors.
“All of our players that received all-conference were deserving of the award,” head Steve Englehart said. “I know they are honored to be recognized among the best players in the Gulf South Conference.”
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 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.
With the first season of Florida Tech football completed, 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.
THE 2014 SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME Banquet and Induction Ceremony will take place at the Cocoa Beach Country Club on Friday, May 9 with a cocktail reception at 6 p.m. – and dinner and ceremony at 7 p.m.
FOR INFORMATION & TICKETS to the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame Induction dinner call 321-615-8111 or e-mail MaverickMultimedia@gmail.com