For 23 years, from 1970-1992, the Miami Dolphins called St. Thomas University their training camp home.
At this time next year, football will return to the school’s campus.
St. Thomas president David Armstrong announced Wednesday that the private, nonprofit, Catholic university in Miami Gardens, will add football to its roster of sports. A marching band will come with it, too, with scholarships available for both.
“It’s perfect. We are here, in the mecca of football: South Florida,” Armstrong, who took over as the university’s president Aug. 1, said in front of a packed gymnasium that included coaches and student-athletes from the school’s other 16 varsity sports teams, the university’s board of trustees and a group of former Miami Dolphins greats that included Nat Moore, Jason Taylor, Larry Little, Dick Anderson, Sam Madison and OJ McDuffie.
The Bobcats will play in the NAIA as part of the Mid-South Conference. Practice fields and game-day sites for home games have not been determined.
What has been determined: A coaching staff will be in place by December, practices begin in the spring and the Bobcats open their inaugural season against Thomas More College on Sept. 7, 2019 — two years earlier than the Board of Trustees initially projected to be able to support football.
While 12 months seems like a short timetable to build a football team from scratch, Armstrong said being in a hotbed for high school football will help expedite the process of building a roster.
“I don’t think we could have done this if we were out in the middle of nowhere,” Armstrong said. “Because we’re in South Florida, because we’re in Miami, we believe we can get traction right away.”
Added Taylor, the Hall of Fame Miami Dolphins defensive lineman: “You’ll have plenty of kids who will want to come and play. I look forward to seeing them grow and would not be surprised if in their first year or the year after that they’re competitive and winning.”
That’s a necessity considering the school is planning to initially use the school’s operations budget to fund the team and that there were talks just a year ago about St. Thomas and Barry University, another Catholic university in South Florida, potentially merging as they dealt with budget issues. The idea came off the table in October.
Armstrong on Wednesday said finances should not be a problem surrounding the football team if everything works according to plan. The goal is to have 20 new student-athletes enrolled for football and 10 more for the marching band by midyear. The revenue the school generates from those players will fund the coaching staff.
By the fall, Armstrong said, the football team will have about 100 players — some on scholarship, some not — and there will be 40 members of the marching band.
“We have a dream. We sell that dream. Students buy into that dream and then through the revenue generated by the students that come to the floor, we build our budget,” Armstrong said. “It’s a very conservative approach, but it’s been very successful.”
Athletic director Laura Courtley-Todd, who has seen all of her programs except for track and field (which started last season) advance to national tournaments, said she had conversations with Armstrong before he took over at St. Thomas has had to hold onto the announcement for a little more than a month.
The news is official now. And in 12 months, it will be reality.
“The students have been asking for the expansion,” Courtley-Todd said. “Now, it’s time to deliver.”