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By Craig Haley, FCS Exec. Director - Archive - Email
Mercer, Stetson football laying the foundation
Stetson's Roger Hughes, left, and Mercer's Bobby Lamb will launch their programs in 2013.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - On the morning that Stetson University introduced Roger Hughes as its head football coach, somebody rushed off to a local store to purchase a football for his introductory news conference.

That scenario was similar in the 11th-hour preparations before Bobby Lamb's introduction as the head coach at Mercer University.

Alaska and Hawaii weren't even U.S. states when both universities last had football teams, so as they make their way back to the playing field in 2013, they continue to build from scratch, literally realizing along the way what they have and don't have yet.

Both programs will play in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League of the Football Championship Subdivision.

They'll have plenty of footballs by then.

"It's an unbelievable undertaking because you start thinking of what you need," Lamb said. "Of course, it's easy to order the helmets and the shoulder pads. But, you know, you have to order the shoestrings for the shoelaces, you have to order the buckles for the helmets. It gets crazy because you have to order a set of chains, and you never had a set of chains so you might as well get two in case one of them breaks. Then you have to order the vests for the guys that are holding the chains.

"So it just keeps going on and on and on. I've been over my checklist over and over, making sure we haven't left anything out. But I've sure we have and we'll discover that one day when it gets here."

"Obviously, we have a lot to do yet," Hughes said. "I would say that things are progressing (and) we're going in the right direction. As a coach, you always want things done two weeks ago. But given the amount of infrastructure that we have to add, the facilities we have to build - which we're in the process of building - and, obviously, establishing the relationships with the high schools to recruit a class, overall I think it's going pretty well."

Neither head coach has a player on campus nor a stadium to call home yet, but the building of a roster and facilities are well underway.

Mercer, an 8,300-student private university in Macon, Ga., played in the first football game in Georgia in 1892, but discontinued its program in 1941. The university voted to reinstate the sport on Nov. 10, 2010 and hired Lamb over two months later to coach the Bears program.

Most recently, the 49-year-old Lamb spent nine seasons as Furman University's head coach from 2002-10, compiling a 67-40 record, which included the 2004 Southern Conference championship and four trips to the FCS playoffs.

Charlotte Football
 Mercer and Stetson plan to join the FCS and remain there. Meanwhile, the University of  North Carolina at Charlotte will reinstitute a football program as an FCS independent in  2013 with a plan to move to the FBS in the future.

 Some facts about the 49ers program:
 Location: Charlotte, N.C.
 University enrollment: 25,063 (graduate and undergraduate)
 Head coach: Brad Lambert
 Stadium: McColl-Richard Field (15,300-seat stadium under construction to be completed in August)
 Program discontinued: 1948
 Return to football: Aug. 31, 2013 versus Campbell

Stetson, a 2,300-student private university in DeLand, Fla., began playing football in 1901 - its roots can be traced to the first organized football game in Florida - but the sport was dropped in 1956. Stetson announced on March 14, 2011 that it was reinstating the sport.

The 51-year-old Hughes, the head coach at Princeton for 10 seasons from 2000-09 - a 47-52 run which included a share of the 2006 Ivy League title - was named the Hatters' head coach last June 27.

By returning to football, both universities will grow in so many ways, including financially, academically through the increase of applications and with alumni and community support.

Hughes and Lamb have shared ideas while their programs build through many of the same stages, and face similar obstacles. They also have reached out to the coaches of other recently new programs, including Dale Steele at Campbell University, which returned to football in 2008 as a PFL member, while they embrace this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be an architect of a program.

"It's one of the things that attracted me here, the fact that you have an ability to put your stamp on something," Hughes said. "Think about it, when you go into a new coaching situation, you usually spend two or three years trying to change the culture. Here I don't have to, I just had to develop one. So all the energy that you put in can really go toward positive things rather than telling people, 'I know you used to do it this way, but we're not doing it that way now.'"

"When I first walked in," Lamb said, "I wrote this on the board (in his office), 'Mercer Football is a process ... don't hurry.' So one thing we can't do is hurry. We know it's going to be tough in the early goings. We know we're going to try to be as competitive as we can."

Both universities reside in states that are fertile in high school football talent. Hughes understands the non-scholarship level, having coached for 18 years in the Ivy League, where student-athletes usually rely on academic aid and loans. Lamb knows Georgia, having come from Augusta and a family of football coaches in the state.

But it's not like either coach has been able to rely on a full staff of assistants. Their staffs should be completed this summer, but for now Lamb has only young defensive assistants Grant Cain and Justin Brown after he lost two coaches to other programs, while Hughes has given plenty of responsibility to his two-member unit, director of football operations Nolan Behrns and defensive assistant Brian Young.

The dream of joining a new program has been the selling point to potential recruits. All Hughes and Lamb need are blank sheets of paper to emphasize to high school seniors how their depth charts are blank.

Each program already has over 60 commitments from high school seniors and all the players will be redshirts this fall while they practice and develop their strength and conditioning (due to NCAA regulations on non-scholarship athletes, neither university is allowed to announce the members of its commitment class until the players have been admitted and placed a deposit).

"They're going to get a chance to play very early in their career and they get to have a huge impact as a freshman," Hughes said. "Someone here is probably going to be a four-year captain, someone here in the offensive line room is going to have a chance to set the culture of the offensive line room as a freshman."

"There's no depth chart. They've got a chance to develop it," Lamb said. "When I was at Furman, I redshirted 95 percent of my players anyway, so we certainly talked to them about that and they have a chance to develop athletically, academically and socially. And then they will be the front of the line come 2013. We didn't guarantee anything, but we gave them an opportunity to come here and the possibility of being a four-year starter. And certainly playing time is pivotal to these men in this day and age."

Another group of recruits will join each program next year. Of course, the negative in that is Mercer and Stetson will put only redshirt freshmen and true freshmen on the field during their inaugural seasons - facing teams with seniors, juniors and veteran players.

"It's going to be a tough road to haul in the first couple years and we've got to develop that," Lamb said, speaking from his make-shift office, the university's old rifle range.

"Thank goodness they took the rifles out," he laughs.

Hughes laughs that sometimes he sits at his office desk and is extremely excited about the program's process, but other times he puts his head in his hands and asks himself what he has gotten into.

So it may not be all smooth sailing for either program, but trying to conquer the challenge is part of the fun.

With the addition of Mercer and Stetson, the PFL will grow to 12 schools next year. The plan is to have two six-team divisions, but that idea will likely be scrapped by the league if, as expected, the NCAA expands the FCS playoffs to 24 teams for 2013 and the PFL is awarded an automatic bid for its champion.

Easy non-league schedules would help Mercer and Stetson next year, a calendar year in which they can play 12 games instead of the usual 11 on the FCS level.

Either way, one of the two new programs will enjoy a PFL victory. They will complete the regular season by playing each other at Mercer.


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