Area high school alums creating football tradition at West Florida

PENSACOLA, Fla (WJHG/WECP) - We all have big dreams growing up.

"I wanted to go somewhere big," Daryl Wilson, UWF sophomore nose guard/Bay alum said.

"I dreamed of playing at FSU, but things don't always work out that way," Austin Johnson, UWF junior linebacker/Rutherford alum said.

Life has a way of surprising us.

"When they offered me, I honestly didn't know what it was," Wilson said.

"I never thought I'd be at West Florida until I ended up here," Johnson said.

And nobody dreamed that West Florida would make it to the Division II National Championship. Well, almost nobody.

"At the banquet at the end of the season, we didn't even know we were going to make the playoffs," Wilson said. "It's just been surreal."

"ESPN showd me some love in the last game," Johnson said. "They said my name. I think we're the only people who knew we'd make it this far. Honestly, it was just a step by step process. We just took it week by week."

Literally, they've played four straight weeks on the road in the postseason because West Florida didn't even know they had to apply to host.

"It was kind of hard for me to believe until Coach Shinnick would just tell us that something special is happening here in Pensacola," Stephen Matthews, UWF sophomore defensive lineman/Blountstown alum said. "It was just something I thought he was saying, but everyone started believing it."

Win or lose against Texas A&M Commerce, this has been a storybook season for the Argos, with some familiar characters appearing along the way.

"We really played against each other," Johnson said. "We all knew of each other before we came here I think that helped us have an early bonding before we really built this program."

The UWF tradition is being sculpted right now with homegrown pride.

"That's the part that intrigued me, that made me want to come here," Wilson said. "You get to start something. It makes you want to play for them harder. The bond is stronger, and that means you'll do anything for each other and take you father."

Six thousand miles in one postseason, to be exact.

"You'll look back and tell your kids and grandkids about it," Wilson said. "It's just a beautiful thing."

And like most good stories, it's almost unbelievable.

Saturday's national championship game against Texas A&M Commerce kicks off at 5 central in Kansas City.