After a 75-year time out, football is returning to Texas Wesleyan University.
The private, coeducational university in southeast Fort Worth, currently celebrating its 125th anniversary, said Feb. 10 it will re-establish its football program with competition expected to begin in the 2017-2018 season.
The university plans to hire a head coach and staff in February and immediately start recruiting a leadership class of 75 red-shirt athletes that will begin training and conditioning this fall, with scrimmages and practices beginning in spring 2017.
The Texas Wesleyan Rams will compete in the Central States Football League, which is governed by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Texas members of the league include Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas College in Tyler and Wayland Baptist University in Plainview. Other members are Arizona Christian University in Phoenix, Bacone College in Muskogee, Okla., Langston University in Langston, Okla., and Lyon College in Batesville, Ark.
President Frederick G. Slabach said the reintroduction of the football program is the next step in the university’s 2020 Vision Strategic Plan.
“This has been one of the worst kept secrets in school history but that’s OK. We’re very excited about this announcement,” Slabach said. “It’s a major step forward for Texas Wesleyan.”
Slabach said the university is finalizing an agreement with a local high school for practice and for games.
Texas Wesleyan is also looking into the possibility of building a stadium on campus through a collaborative partnership in the near future.
“For the first year or two we will play our games in a local high school facility, but in the long term, we plan to have our own stadium on campus,” Slabach said, adding that the university already owns a substantial amount of property on the west side of the campus large enough for a stadium.
Texas Wesleyan’s football program began in 1934-1935 (it had previously competed from 1902-1914 as Polytechnic College), and competed against rivals such as Austin College and John Tarleton Agricultural College (now Tarleton State University). During the 1940-1941 season, the team won a conference co-championship. The team suspended play during World War II, as many of the students left school to join the U.S. Armed Forces.
The reintroduction of the football program includes expansion of the band and cheer programs as well as the university’s athletic training program.
Renovations will begin in March on the Brown-Lupton Student Center to become a weight room and athletic offices for the new football program.
The university recently renovated and expanded the number of beds in some of the dormitories to accommodate up to 100 additional students, both athletes and non-athletes, who are expected to enroll as a result of the re-established football program.
“In the next couple of years we will need to add more residential facilities on campus but for the next year or two we have the capacity in the dorms,” said Slabach.
Texas Wesleyan has a current total of 2,647 students, including 1,984 undergraduates.
In making the announcement, Slabach and Athletic Director Steve Trachier did not give a price tag for the new football program, but Slabach said student fees will not be increased to pay for any part of it.
“We want this to be totally self-funded,” he said.
Sixteen football scholarships will be available to athletes initially, Trachier said, and the university expects to offer additional music scholarships as the football program expands.
“We won’t be competing for the same type of athletes as TCU or SMU will be recruiting but we do know there are literally hundreds and hundreds of very good football players at the high school level that have been overlooked in the recruiting process,” Trachier said. “We want to be a destination for those good athletes who are also good students. At Texas Wesleyan, it’s school first, sports second and safety always.”
Plans are also underway to develop a new women’s lacrosse program with competition expected to begin in the 2017-2018 season.
“Texas Wesleyan is on the move,” Slabach said. “Over the last few years we’ve spent more than $20 million on campus enhancements and major revitalization of southeast Fort Worth. We have tripled our applicant pool, we’ve increased our endowment and we’ve increased our undergraduate enrollment by 25 percent. We’re on a roll.”