On any given day, you can walk around the Texas Wesleyan University campus and see students sporting t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “Undefeated Since 1941 –– Texas Wesleyan Football.” That’s right. Wesleyan hasn’t lost a football game in more than 75 years. The university dropped football at the start of World War II and has gone without ever since.
Now that’s about to change. Wesleyan officials handed out the “Undefeated Since 1941” football shirts for free on campus last year to spread the word. This year, the shirts are so popular that they are one of the best-selling items at TWU Bookstore, said store manager Danielle Smith.
Wesleyan plans to restore its football program by 2017. Newly hired coaches held a combine this summer, drawing more than 200 potential players to run sprints and display their blocking and tackling skills. Friends and relatives sat on the bleachers at L.D. Bell High School in Hurst on that hot Sunday in May to watch and holler as young men tried their best to impress coaches and land a spot on the team. The hopefuls ranged from as short as Brandon Reeves (5 feet 1 inches) to as tall as Grayson Schultz (6-foot-4), and from as lean as Nabeel Awan (127 pounds) to as massive as Jesus Durand (404 pounds).
Wesleyan assistant coaches used typical tactics, such as referring to the group of young men as “ladies” and yelling things like “stop your yawning –– I haven’t even had my coffee yet.” In contrast, Head Coach Joe Prud’homme stood before the players as drills began and calmly instructed them to listen and learn. Standing 5-foot-9 with short hair and a stocky build, Prud’homme played football through high school and discovered in junior college that his calling was to coach. His coaching style is far from conventional. He speaks with a calm voice and has a quiet demeanor.
“I’m not a big yeller,” he told me one day not long after the combine. “I’m much more into praise. I don’t think you get a lot out of yelling. I pride myself in being a teacher.”
One potential player eager to learn was a 22-year-old Tarrant County College transfer student. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Muhye Abu Hammattah looks like a jollier version of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The team’s new tight end said he is excited to be one of the older players because he can pass on his knowledge to his peers.
“You don’t want to play football to bust heads,” he said. “You play football to better yourself as a man.”
While in junior college, Hammattah played for the DFW Savages in the Minor Professional Football League just to stay in game shape. When he heard about Wesleyan’s new team, he saw an opportunity to play college ball.
“I just went to the combine, met the coaches, did my best, and will prove myself by how well I play for the team,” he said.
Roughly a third of the players at the combine were transfer students, like Hammattah, in their early 20s –– not your typical straight-out-of-high-school ballplayers. The rest were as young as juniors in high school, looking to get in on the ground floor by the time they are college freshmen in 2017.
Coaches issued gold-colored t-shirts to participants at the combine, at least until the shirts ran out. The players who missed out on a shirt ended up competing shirtless, inspiring many others to ditch their gold shirts and go barebacked. Many of them sported tattoos on their arms, necks, and backs. One thing is certain: Players at the combine looked far different from the clean-cut leatherheads of the late 1930s.
Wesleyan officials decided that bringing back football would provide extracurricular and entertainment opportunities for their student body. In addition to enticing athletes, the program includes cheerleaders, a band, dancers, and athletic trainers. And the program is expected to add to the campus culture without raising tuition rates or flooding the school with new students all at once.
Reestablishing a football team after a long hiatus isn’t unprecedented. Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, brought back its team that was put on hiatus in 1951 due to money problems. Southwestern announced the return of football (as well as women’s lacrosse) on Oct. 28, 2011, and began competing in the NCAA Division III Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference two years later. The school’s number of student-athletes jumped from 300 to 500 during that time. Wesleyan, with a current enrollment of about 2,200 students, might see a similar bump between now and 2017.
A few weeks after the combine, while getting situated in his new office, Prud’homme said he will rely on some of the same tactics he used while coaching at Nolan Catholic High School. Prud’homme coached Nolan’s football team to seven championships during his 24 years there.
“It got to be where the expectation was always that we would constantly win championships, no matter what,” Prud’homme said. “Something that special will be hard to duplicate, but I am sure going to try.”
In the fall of 2015, Wesleyan President Frederick G. Slabach and Athletic Director Steve Trachier researched the idea of starting a football team and created a task force, whose members surveyed students, faculty, and staff and recommended in January that a team be re-established. Prud’homme was intrigued.
“I called [Trachier] and said, ‘What are y’all looking for in a head coach?’ ” Prud’homme recalled. “I said, ‘You know, actually, this kind of fits where I am … and I’d be interested.’ ”
Trachier encouraged Prud’homme to apply.
“I think the challenge of building the football team and to build something from scratch is incredibly attractive to me,” he said.
Prud’homme has already signed incoming freshman Justin David William Arth as a quarterback for the Rams. Arth recently graduated high school at Creekside Christian Academy in McDonough, Ga., and nabbed an academic scholarship at Wesleyan. He looks forward to competing for one of the available athletic scholarships.
“Texas Wesleyan gave me a great opportunity to play football at the college level,” Arth said. “But what really pushed me toward Wesleyan was the accreditation of the business program and the feeling of home and belonging at Wesleyan.”
He wants to excel in football, perhaps even professionally, and fall back on his education at Wesleyan to establish himself in the business of athletics.
“I play football because I believe God has called me to be a light in this sport for Him,” Arth said. “My expectation in attending Wesleyan is to earn the starting quarterback job and break records, leading hopefully to a NFL career.”
Wesleyan’s blue and gold won’t be replacing TCU’s purple as the predominate college football color in these parts, but Wesleyan appears to be off to a running start at recreating a historic Texas football team.