The St. Thomas University Bobcats, who are less than one month away from the first football game in program history, are fielding an inaugural team consisting primarily of freshmen.
“We didn’t bring in a lot of transfers,” Bobcats coach Bill Rychel said.
The opening game is set for Sept. 7 against Thomas More. Kickoff is for noon at Monsignor Pace.
Wychel, who is from Cleveland, has been in South Florida for more than eight months, recruiting players and doing everything needed to prepare for the season.
He welcomed 195 athletes for the first practice last week, and those young men are essentially sharing the equivalent of 24 scholarships. In other words, full rides will be rare for the Bobcats. Instead, many players will get fractions of scholarships to defer the yearly cost of attending St. Thomas, which is roughly $44,000 including room and board.
The Bobcats coaching staff, which includes Alex Gray as the defensive coordinator and Nathan Scola running special teams, watched a lot of film in order to figure out which players to recruit.
But now that they are on campus, there is no depth chart yet. Players are competing in individual drills and through team periods. Rychel expects some players to be better in person than what he saw on film.
He also suspects that there will be athletes he thought would be ready for the NAIA level immediately who may need more time to develop.
Either way, Rychel will not cut any player. The goal is to develop each athlete. Besides the varsity, Rychel will field a developmental squad that will play a five-game schedule against junior colleges and/or prep schools.
Rychel said putting the team together has not been stressful.
“It’s fun,” he said. “Everyone in the country comes to South Florida to recruit football players. We get to have these players in our backyard where they have an opportunity to play college football closer to home.”
Rychel said 98 percent of the players on his team are from Florida and about 90 percent are from South Florida.
Splitting the available scholarship money is a challenge Rychel accepts.
“It’s like a salary cap in the NFL,” Rychel said. “If a player gets a grant from the university, that counts toward the equivalency. It’s a big puzzle that we piece together.”
Rychel said the goal of the administration is to build a turf-field stadium on campus, likely within the next four years. A second turf field —for track and field — is also planned.
A new locker room has been built. New weights have been bought. A new weight room and more meeting space are also in the planning stages.