Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00
Pen Air Field Campus Dr Pensacola, FL 32514
Year Opened: 2021
Arete the Argonauts
Located on the banks of the Escambia River in north Pensacola lies the University of West Florida. The medium-sized university of about 12,000 students opened in 1963 and is currently the largest four-year university in western Florida. Nicknamed the Argonauts, UWF has been a member of the D2 Gulf South Conference since 1994.
The Argos football team is fairly young, entering its 5th season as of 2021. The Argos made it to the National Title game in just their second year of playing, a feat that is unheard of in college athletics. Since the NCAA was founded in 1906 no program has ever made it to the National Championship in their second year of playing. Though UWF would lose that game in 2017, just two years later the Argos wound up winning the title, also becoming the fastest program to take home a National Championship. In just five short years UWF has become a D2 powerhouse, and the program is only continuing to rise.
Because the university does not currently have an on-campus stadium, the Argos play about 15 miles away in downtown Pensacola at the beautiful Blue Wahoos Stadium, home of the Double A’s Pensacola Blue Wahoos. However, with a baseball game being scheduled on the same day, UWF was forced to construct a makeshift stadium around Pen Air Field, the on-campus practice field that opened in 2016. This game is notable as being the first on-campus home football game in the program’s history.
Food & Beverage 3
Because this is not a normal stadium there are no permanent concessions on-site, but that didn’t mean the university didn’t go above and beyond by bringing in outside food trucks and vendors to serve the fans. As soon as you enter the grounds there are four different food truck options to choose from – Sonny’s BBQ truck that sells items such as ribs and pork sandwiches; Joe’s Caribe that sells Caribbean, Latin, and Mexican flavored dishes; an ice cream truck that sells all different types of ice cream and sundaes; and the Greeks Food Truck that sells exotic Greek-flavored foods. The university also has a tent set up where they sell regular ballpark items such as hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, and popcorn. There is also a separate tent that sells alcohol of all kinds.
Needless to say, the various food trucks made up for the lack of concessions, and the fact that you could try all these different types of foods is a plus and something you normally wouldn’t find at a D2 football game or some D1 games for that matter. Just make sure you have cash as none of the stands here accept cards – with no ATM on site this could pose a problem as there is a no re-entry policy. Also, one drawback of building a makeshift stadium is that there are no permanent water fountains on the property; as this was a warm and muggy Florida evening, being able to stay hydrated is a must, and the only way to get any water would be to pay $3 in cash. This is something the university could consider if they ever host a game at Pen Air Field again.
The $2 million Pen Air Field opened in Spring 2016 and serves as the official practice facility for the Argos. The field faces north and south with the south end zone housing the Darryl Gooden Center, which is where the coach’s offices, weight rooms, and lockers are located.
When Pen Air Field was opened it was not built to host official football games, but the University did everything they could to make sure this was a top-notch experience for the first-ever home football game on campus. And though the waterfront stadium and downtown setting of Blue Wahoos Stadium make for a great experience, it just doesn’t beat a college football game being played on campus.
It is a pretty cool setup here as this is just a basic practice field that was transformed into a temporary stadium. Scaffolds with areas where the announcers and tv crew sit were brought in and set up behind the west sideline, while on the east side of the field they brought in temporary metal bleachers that extended about 70 yards parallel to the field. One drawback to the seating is the fact that only season ticket holders could sit in the bleachers – the students had to either sit on blankets on the grass or stand on the west side under the scaffolds, which was the designated student section. In the north end zone is a permanent scoreboard that just shows the score, but right next to that is a large 20-foot videoboard they brought in just for the game.
Directly behind the bleachers are the various food trucks and the bar area. UWF also did a good job promoting the brand and bringing in potential students; they had multiple tents set up from different clubs and organizations promoting their groups – it was like orientation day at UWF. The campus bookstore also has a large tent with a broad selection of t-shirts and gear for sale.
Pensacola is a cool city with plenty of things to do for people of all ages. Unfortunately, UWF is located on the north side of town away from the city’s main attractions, but across the street from the campus is a shopping center that features a Target, Kohl’s, and Chick-fil-A, but not much else. For food around campus, I recommend trying Foosackly’s, which is a cheap fast food restaurant that serves only chicken, or Dodge’s Store, which is located in a gas station that has excellent fried foods. For hotels in the area I recommend trying the Davis Highway exit off I-10 about 5 miles south of campus; there are plenty of hotels at this exit.
Although the campus is not close to everything, you can still get to everything the city has to offer in 30 minutes or less. About 15 miles south of campus is Historic Downtown Pensacola – if interested in nightlife and going out you can find hundreds of bars and restaurants lined up along Palafox Street and in the Seville Quarter. The beaches of Pensacola Beach are about 20 minutes south of campus as well.
The campus is also located in a rural swampy area of the city right on the Escambia River. There are plenty of woods and wetlands; nature lovers could spend all day walking or riding their bikes on the beautiful trails. The campus rec department rents out kayaks and bikes for those who want to get a glimpse of Florida’s protected wetlands, where you can encounter alligators, bears, deer, and all kinds of wildlife in the woods surrounding the campus. They also have a nice 21-hole disc golf course that goes throughout campus.
Before 2016 this area of the panhandle didn’t have a college football team to call their own, with the closest in-state school (Florida State) located over 3 hours away. That all has changed and in just five short years the Argos has become Northwest Florida’s college football team. The school receives constant exposure in the city, more than most D2 programs do. Just shopping around the local Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart expect to find a section of Argos gear right there next to the Florida State stuff, so fan support in the city is growing. The school even receives constant press from the newspaper, and the local ESPN radio affiliate broadcasts the coaches’ shows every week.
During UWF football’s first five seasons the Argos have averaged 5,660 fans at Blue Wahoos Stadium – the stadium only holds 5,085 people meaning UWF sells out almost every game. The fact that so many fans turn out for a game off-campus, I could only imagine how many fans would show up for a game on-campus – as I arrived on campus fans were scattered around drinking, grilling, and watching games on TVs under various tents throughout the parking lots near the stadium. It seemed like the students were tailgating right outside the UWF Field House next door, home of the Argos basketball team, while other fans were set up at different lots around campus. All in all, everyone seemed pumped up and excited, being that this was the first home game since winning the 2019 DII National Championship – at over 6,500 people this game did break the school attendance record for the largest crowd in program history.
UWF’s campus is located on the north side of town, about 15 miles north of downtown. I-10 is your best bet for getting to Pensacola, then taking the Davis Highway exit north to campus. Davis Highway is one of the busiest streets in the city and they are always doing construction on this road, so be careful as it can get confusing. Traffic also backs up substantially, especially right off the interstate, so take that into account if coming from out of town.
About a mile north of the interstate Davis Highway splits off to the left and turns into University Blvd; you can take this road about 3 miles and drive right into campus. The whole campus is one big circle with the athletic facilities on the west side, with Pen Air Field directly behind UWF Field House.
Return on Investment 2
General Admission tickets cost $23 and can only be purchased online. I considered the prices kind of high for this level of college football, but you are getting to see the defending D2 National Champions, who were ranked number 1 headed into the game I most recently attended. Because the bleachers are taken up by season ticket holders and alumni, the GA tickets are standing room only, so that is a drawback as well. The level of play on the field is quite good though as the Argos roster is filled with transfers from D1 programs. Just scanning the roster for UWF for the 2021 season expect to find players who have previous experience playing at power 5 programs all over the country.
Parking is $10 and there are plenty of parking lots on campus, with the ones closest to the stadium charging for parking. But you should be able to find plenty of free parking – you just have to walk a little.
One extra for just the fact that the Argos have been to two D2 National Championship Games in just the first five years of their existence. Some schools have played for a hundred years and never won a championship, so the fact that UWF did it so quickly is quite special. If you want to view the 2019 D2 National Championship Trophy, it’s on display in the lobby of the Darryl Gooden Center just south of the playing field.
Another extra for the Argos regular home field Blue Wahoos Stadium, also home of the Double-A Blue Wahoos.
With its gorgeous bayside setting, the stadium has been voted the best view in minor league baseball but is also in the running for the best view in all of D2 football. The football experience on campus is great, but everyone in the area needs to experience a UWF football game downtown.
The game I last attended, was also a special day as the game took place on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. As Pensacola is a pretty big military town there was a cool pre-game ceremony they did – the UWF Band played the National Anthem and right towards the end of the song the Navy did a flyover. Because there was no American flag on display the Fire Department had a truck in the south endzone hanging a giant flag from the top of the ladder. I remember getting goosebumps looking up at the Flag as the Anthem was getting ready to commence, watching the planes approach and the fireworks getting ready to go off. Then as the Argos ran out of the tunnel onto the field, I just knew I was a part of something special, the first-ever football game on the University of West Florida’s campus.
The UWF 2021 home opener was nothing more than a test run. With the matchup on the field, there was little doubt as to who the better team on the field was, and the Argos completely dominated the action from start to finish. However, this game was more than just the action on the field – it was about if the campus can support an on-campus football stadium.
After the turnout and atmosphere at a makeshift stadium, I can only imagine how it would be in a few years if the Argos can create their own on-campus home. Plus, with the 2022 Minor League Baseball schedule being announced already there is already a scheduling conflict for UWF and the Blue Wahoos next year, so look for Pen Air Field to host another game next season, and hopefully one day they will have permanent bleachers constructed around the field.