After 75 Years Without One, Texas Wesleyan University Is Building A Football Program From Scratch.
Joe Prud’homme, head football coach at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, is pretty fired up these days.
Sure, three-quarters of a century have gone by since his school’s last football game. But when current university president Frederick G. Slabach decided to start the program back up earlier this year and tasked Preud’homme with getting things rolling, the possibilities for Prud’homme’s Rams started to seem boundless — or, well, at least less bounded than they were before, when there wasn’t a football team at all.
That’s been the case at Texas Wesleyan for 75 years now, when the program was dissolved in 1942 after the majority of the team’s players — almost immediately forrling the team winning a share of its conference championship during the 1940-1941 season — was drafted into military service during World War II, forcing the program into a hiatus from which is never recovered.
Starting a college football program essentially from scratch, as Prud’homme is attempting to do, is no doubt a challenge. But Prud’homme seems both up for it and uniquely qualified to do so. The coach comes to Texas Wesleyan after 24 seasons at Fort Worth’s Nolan Catholic High School, where he led the team to a 209-105-2 record en route to seven TAPPS state football championships.
Now, at the next level, he hopes to replicate that success. And, perhaps fortunately for him, he’s still got a little time to prepare: The Rams won’t actually start playing games for another year when Texas Wesleyan formally joins the NAIA’s Central States Football League, where it will compete against programs from schools across Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.
Of course, Prud’homme’s already been putting in work. Since his hire was announced in February, he’s been actively recruiting players to join his team, which will begin practicing this fall so the coaching staff and players alike can familiarize themselves with Prud’homme’s system.
In advance of the fall semester kicking off and those practices finally starting, we called Prud’homme last week and spoke with him about his vision the program, the importance of recruiting the right players and why he thinks football can help the Fort Worth economy at large.
Let’s start at the beginning. After almost 75 years without one, what made Texas Wesleyan want to relaunch its football program?
Basically, it was part of their plan. They have a very intentional plan on what they’re doing. When the president came in in 2011, the school wasn’t in great shape. It was financially in trouble, and the facilities weren’t in great shape, and when he came in, the first thing he did was renovate the facilities and get everything up to speed. Then he got the academics stronger and put a lot of effort into building that up. Then, the next step was the athletic department. So this is part of just trying to enhance the athletic part of the school. This is kinda his plan, and it’s unfolding just exactly like he’s wanted it to.
How do you feel that the school and community at large is reacting to the news of the football program coming back?
There’s been a lot of buzz, man. A lot of excited people. This is also the remodeling of Fort Worth. We’re in an older part of town that hasn’t had as much attention on it lately. And with the university expanding and growing and renovating, it just adds a lot to the whole area. They’re excited about it.
How much funding is going into the program and where is it coming from?
Well, I’m not at liberty to say that. But most of it is this: By bringing in the kids we’re bringing in, we’re generating a whole lot of what’s going to fund it, if that makes sense. We’re a tuition-driven school, so this is something that makes that happen, that makes it where its viable. Because if it were a situation where they were just having to scholarship everybody and bring them all in it would not be, financially it wouldn’t make sense.
So, no scholarships, but I see that you’ve recruited 75 players already. What’s your ideal number for the team?
We’re actually at 98 now, and if we could get to 100, I’d be happy with that. We’re actually probably gonna go over that number a little bit, to about 105. We’re signing seven players on Saturday, and that’ll be the last signing. A hundred is about right, and if we can get that many and they’re willing to work and compete, we’re gonna find some good kids out of that group. So, basically, we want to have 75 — that’s our goal. We’ve signed 105, and we’ll just have to see if everybody’s able to make it and shake it out.
Where are you getting these players? Are they just coming to try out or are you scouting?
We’ve been doing a lot of scouting and a lot of film work. There’s a whole lot that goes through email and texting and Twitter and talking to each other and them exchanging film with us and them wanting to be here at Wesleyan. A big part of it is they have to want to be a student first. If they’re not going to be a student, they’re really not gonna make it here. And that’s what I tell them. We don’t have a major college football. We’re not a big-business D1 school. Not that that’s the way it is in D1, but there’s so much more at stake there. Here, you have to be a student athlete, you have to want to get a degree and, if we can agree on that, let’s move forward to the football part. The wild part about that is people get confused and think, “Oh, that’s just academics. They’re not any good at football.” But there are a lot of great football players that are great students, really good students. They went to combines or to a tryout or something and get left behind because there’s so many great players and there’s so few spots, really, in Division 1 — and even Division 1-AA. There are a lot of kids, so we’re getting that next-level kid, for the most part.
Texas obviously has a long history in football. What do you plan to contribute to it?
What I want to contribute is a program that kids are proud of. I want a program where, when they see it, they wanna say, “That’s a classy group, and they do things the right way, and that’s why they’re successful on the field, off the field and in the community.” I want it to be something people look at and say, “Yeah, that’s a different way of doing business, but I think it’s a great way of doing business.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It’s gonna be an exciting brand of football. We’re looking for kids that are not only great students and great football players, but I want them with a chip on their shoulders. I want them a little upset that they got left behind. I want them to have something to prove, and we’re getting more and more guys like that . If we get enough of those guys together and their mindset is right… I’m really excited about what we’re gonna bring out, and what kind of product we’re gonna put out there.