Breaking New Ground
by Wayne Witt
More than 100 people gathered to celebrate as the University of the Incarnate Word started a new chapter in its history of athletics with a groundbreaking ceremony for the Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium.
"The university is close to his heart, and I’m close to his pocket," Dr. Louis Agnese joked about Benson, the owner of the New Orleans Saints, at the ceremony Jan. 17. The Bensons are the biggest donors for the football stadium, which is expected to cost between $5.5 million and $6 million.
At the ceremony, two UIW Cardinals uniforms were displayed and the mascot was on hand. Fr. Phil Lamberty, O.P., UIW chaplain, blessed the construction site.
UIW Board of Trustees member Bill Moll attended the event. “There are only two (uniforms) here because that’s all we have,” he joked. On behalf of the university he thanked the Bensons for the stadium.
The field house is expected to be finished by August, just in time for the arrival of the first recruits at UIW.
Recruits Make History
By Wayne Witt
Head football coach Mike Santiago praised the efforts of his coaches. “This staff of three guys,” he said, “has done the work of eight.” UIW Director of Football Operations Kyle Kennan, Offensive Coordinator Jim Marshall and Defensive Coordinator Todd Ivicic recruited potential players both from the office and in the “field” as they made home visits to tell athletes about the new UIW program.
“It took real courage for these 27 guys to sign with us,” Santiago said. “They had to have as much, if not more, vision than anyone around the UIW program. Just think, when they visited, they were looking at a hole in the ground and they had to visualize a stadium. We had two and only two uniforms to show them. They had no one already in our program to answer their questions. These guys are really special.”
Santiago also boasted about the image UIW portrayed to potential athletes.
“The program sold itself,” he said, “because Incarnate Word sells itself. The students on campus were phenomenal, the UIW admissions folks went overboard to help, and President Agnese even met with one of our weekend visit groups. This was a community effort.”
Before signing day, coaches created a profile emphasizing the academic quality expected of future UIW players. “Of course we want great football players,” Santiago said. “But we also want strong academic guys, and we want people of great character. We will always recruit to this initial profile. We evaluated more than 1,000 players, and these 27 are the ones who best represent the Mission of UIW. ”
On Feb. 6, the first letter of intent came via fax at 7:01 a.m., one minute after the NCAA-mandated time for signing.
Later, the Cardinals coaches said they received intent letters from several talented offensive linemen, which is perhaps the most difficult group to find and recruit.
At the end of the day, the feeling of success from a job well done filled the air.
Santiago beamed about the group of players who have signed to be the first football team at Incarnate Word and the legacy they will leave. “They will always be the first group, the Class of 2008. This is history, and they are a part of it all.”