ROME, Ga. — There are already significant factors that makes the 2014 football season the most important one ever for the Shorter Hawks.
While the upcoming campaign will mark the 10th anniversary of the program’s existence, it will also be Shorter’s first as a full NCAA Division II and Gulf South Conference member that open the door to postseason play and honors. Those alone have paved the way for what the Hawks hope will be a positive celebration.
But now the season got even bigger – make that Texas-sized bigger – as Shorter finalized an already tough schedule by securing a date for the Hawks to play in the 80,000-seat AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys and this year’s NCAA Final 4, facing Lone Star Conference and Division II power West Texas A&M in the annual Lone Star Football Festival on Saturday, Sept. 20.
“I get excited just to think about seeing the kids have an opportunity like this, to play in a stadium like that,” Shorter Athletic Director Bill Peterson said about the game that highlights a 10-game schedule, all of them – for the first-time ever – against Division II programs.
“From here on out they will all be tough,” Peterson said about the challenges the Hawks have eagerly awaited, noting that after opening the season with three non-conference tests in September, Shorter embarks on a grueling seven-game GSC run in a conference that some call the SEC of Division II. “Great things are happening, but we know it won’t be easy.”
“I do like this schedule,” head coach Phil Jones, who has been at the helm of the program since it began in 2005, said about what the Hawks will face this fall. “You have to give coach Peterson credit for diligently working on our schedule. He put a lot of thought and effort into it.
“This is somewhat of a turning point for us,” he pointed out. “It will tell us where we are and the progress we need to make.”
The Hawks – they have just started their Spring drills that end with a scrimmage Friday, April 4 at 7 p.m. at Barron Stadium – will kick off the milestone season on their home turf at Barron when Division II Southern Intercollegiate Conference member Paine College comes to Rome to begin its inaugural season lining up against Shorter for the first time in a Thursday night opener on Sept. 4.
The next week on Saturday, Sept. 13, the Hawks head to North Carolina for a non-conference rematch with South Atlantic Conference foe Mars Hill, a tune-up for what will be the longest road trip the program has even taken.
On Saturday, Sept. 20, the Hawks will in the major spotlight when Shorter steps inside the massive AT&T Stadium for a first-ever meeting with the Buffaloes of West Texas A&M as part of the Lone Star Festival that for the last three years has featured showdowns between other GSC and LSC teams. The contest will start at either noon or 1 p.m. (Central).
In addition to being the new home of the Dallas Cowboys and the annual AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, the state-of-the-art stadium that is the most technologically advanced sports and entertainment venue in the world – it features two monumental arches, the world’s largest HD quality video board, an expansive retractable roof and the largest retractable end zone doors in the world – will host the 2014 NCAA men’s basketball Final Four and already served as home to Super Bowl XLV in 2011, 2010 NBA All-Star Game and 2009 and 2010 Big 12 Championship football games.
“This is something they’ll never forget,” Jones said about how Shorter has been blessed to have the opportunity, while at the same time adding that the Hawks will have their hands full with a team that finished No. 11 in the final Division II poll after advancing to the quarterfinals of the national playoffs for the second straight year.
“West Texas has always had a good football team,” said Jones. “The only thing we know about them is what we’ve seen on film.”
That high-profile game caps the Hawks’ non-conference slate of foes and ushers in a welcome off-week, a break Shorter did not have last year when Shorter played a grueling 11-game schedule in consecutive weeks.
“That’s a huge, high factor for us,” Jones said, knowing full well that when the break ends the Hawks will turn their attention to another round of Gulf South tests.
Starting with a Thursday night, Oct. 2 meeting at Barron Stadium against Mississippi College, a former GSC from 1972-96 that has rejoined the conference after transitioning from a Division III to II program, Shorter will alternate its road and home tilts for the rest of the season, visiting Delta State (Oct. 11), Valdosta State (Oct. 25) and North Alabama (Nov. 8) and staying home in Rome to host West Alabama (Oct. 18), Florida Tech (Nov. 1) and West Georgia (Nov. 15) in the regular-season finale.
“This is what you’ve got to do to become a competitive NCAA Division II program,” Jones said about the strength of the schedule the Hawks have in front of them, “and we’re excited about it.”
2014 Shorter University Football Schedule
Thursday, Sept. 4 Paine 7:30 p.m. Rome, Ga.
Saturday, Sept. 13 Mars Hill TBD Mars Hill, N.C.
Saturday, Sept. 20 West Texas A&M^ TBD Arlington, Texas
Thursday, Oct. 2 Mississippi College* 7:30 p.m. Rome, Ga.
Saturday, Oct. 11 Delta State* TBD Cleveland, Miss.
Saturday, Oct. 18 West Alabama* Noon Rome, Ga.
Saturday, Oct. 25 Valdosta State* TBD Valdosta, Ga.
Saturday, Nov. 1 Florida Tech*# Noon Rome, Ga.
Saturday, Nov. 8 North Alabama* TBD Florence, Ala.
Saturday, Nov. 15 West Georgia* 11 a.m. Rome, Ga.
*Gulf South Conference