After more than 50 years away from college football, the Stetson Hatters will make their return to the gridiron on August 31, 2013, against Warner University in a newly renovated Spec Martin Stadium in DeLand.
Kickoff for the inaugural game is scheduled for 7 p.m. The Hatters are scheduled to play six of their 11 games during the 2013 season at home.
The game against the Royals, who will also be playing their first game as an NAIA football program, will cap more than two years of planning and preparation for Stetson head coach Roger Hughes, who last led a college team into a game in 2009 as the head coach at Princeton.
“If you don’t have butterflies in your stomach when you step onto the field for any game, you’d better get out of coaching,” Hughes said of the emotion he expects to feel before that first game. “There will be a great sense of satisfaction because we started with nothing and built it from the ground up. I am also going to be wondering how the kids will perform. It will be the first time since we started practice that they will have a chance to play someone else. That is going to be exciting to see.
“I also want to see how the city of DeLand will respond. I have a great idea, and I think it is going to be a great celebration.”
The season opener against Warner will be the beginning of an 11-game slate that includes a full Pioneer League schedule. The Pioneer League, which will include 12 teams from nine states, including first-year members Stetson and Mercer in 2013, will send its champion into the NCAA FCS championship tournament for the first time next season.
Following the season opener against Warner, the Hatters will play at least two other non-conference foes before embarking on the conference schedule. Stetson will travel to Palm Bay to face Division II Florida Tech in what will be the Pirates’ first game. That game is also set for a 7 p.m. start at Pirate Stadium.
Following an off week, which could become a fourth non-conference game is an opponent becomes available, the Hatters will host Division III Birmingham-Southern on Sept. 21 at Spec Martin Stadium. That game is also set for a 7 p.m. start.
“Hopefully, those early games will give us a chance to compete,” Hughes said. “We had opportunities to play money games against vastly superior opponents, but I didn’t know how that would help the program. At some point we certainly want to be good enough to do that. Early on, our conference is going to be hard enough with eight conference games.
“A lot of teams starting out will play JV programs but I didn’t want to do that. In a lot of ways, our schedule is ambitious from the standpoint that we will be playing 11 varsity games and not a reduced schedule. We want to give the kids a chance to compete against some teams that will be going through some of the same growing pains we are.”
The Hatters first season of competition in the Pioneer League will commence on Sept. 28 when one of the perennial league powers, the Toreros of the University of San Diego, visit DeLand.
“We played San Diego when I was at a previous spot and they have a great program,” Hughes said. “It will be a great opportunity for us to get our names out by playing them. It will be a great challenge for us and it will be a great wake-up call for our kids when they see how fast the game will be. After that we will have seven games left to adjust to that speed and improve as we go along.”
The rest of the Pioneer League schedule includes home games against Dayton (Oct. 12), Campbell (Nov. 2) and Davidson (Nov. 9). The Hatters will travel for games at Butler (Oct. 5) in Indianapolis, at Marist (Oct. 26) in Poughkeepsie, NY, and will close with consecutive road games at Jacksonville (Nov. 16) and at Mercer (Nov. 23).
Both of those games should turn into regular rivalries for the Hatters.
“Those are big games,” Hughes said. “We have spoken with Mercer about creating a rivalry and that makes sense because we are both starting out as new programs and going through similar things. Jacksonville is a natural geographic rival being in such close proximity to us. They have been at the top of the Pioneer League for several years. San Diego and Jacksonville gives us two opportunities for our kids to see how the best teams in the league do things, and this is how we will have to do things to compete with them.”
The 2014 schedule will look almost identical to the 2011 slate, with just home and road games flipped. Both seasons include two open dates that could be filled with an additional game, especially in 2014 with just five home dates currently on the schedule.
Those early non-conference games will be against teams from three different levels of play, giving Stetson a chance to build up the level of play going into league play.
“With Division III, they are non-scholarship, like we are,” Hughes said of the games with Birmingham-Southern. “With Division II (Florida Tech) it gives Us a chance to play a scholarship football program.
“I thought those games were a great way to segue into the conference schedule because it gives us a chance to see where our weaknesses are. You definitely get your weaknesses exposed when you start playing other people. It will also challenge us because, down the road, we want to be able to play more established FCS teams such as Ivy League and Big South teams, so I wanted to give the kids a flavor of what is to come.”
While there are still more than 300 days before the Hatters take the field against a true opponent for the first time, Hughes said he already has a good idea of what he will say to his team before that first game.
“I am sure there will be tears and every emotion known to man coming out,” Hughes said. “But, I will tell them to relax because this is what we have worked for. Now, let’s go have some fun.”
Stetson Football Tickets To Go On Sale
Fans looking forward to watching the Hatters return to the gridiron for the 2013 season will soon have a chance to secure their tickets to watch Stetson’s six home games at Spec Martin Stadium.
The attached season ticket brochure provides ticket prices as well as a detailed map showing each area of the stadium and information on how to reserve your tickets for the return of Stetson football now.
Don’t wait and miss out on your chance to be a part of history. Tickets for the 2013 season are expected to sell out quickly and, once they are gone, your chance to see the Hatters make history will be gone as well.
Tickets will be available to the general public starting on Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Hatters’ Homecoming Green-White scrimmage. Online sales will begin on Monday, Nov. 5.