Photos Courtesy of Shorter University

The remarkable journey of Shorter’s burgeoning football program can be summed up in two important words – relationships and foundation. 

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Shorter University Football as well as its first year competing in NCAA Division II football. Formerly a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the Hawks now prepare to enter the Gulf South Conference. After a three-year process of switching to Division II, the team is now eligible for post-season play as well as individual honors for players. Their season will kick off against Paine College Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at Barron Stadium. A highlight of this year’s schedule will be their on-the-road match up with West Texas A&M on Sept. 20 at the new Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington.

V3 Magazine sat down with Athletic Director Bill Peterson and Head Coach Phil Jones to get some insight on how a football program that started from scratch just 10 short years ago has managed to see such a tremendous amount of growth and success.

 With 40 years of experience working with athletes, Coach Jones has been the steady hand leading the program through an amazing transformation that has included its launch in 2004, an NAIA conference championship four years later, and the recent transition to a full Division II schedule. His extensive resume includes coaching stints at the University of Georgia; Southern Methodist University; and Gardner-Webb (N.C.), where he helped lead the team to two Big South conference championships. 

“We pray before each practice and discuss it daily,” Jones says. “Relationships, how they make you feel and give of yourself, are our foundation."

Peterson, who was hired by Shorter in 2007, has also been instrumental in the direction of the program and in helping to position Rome as a NAIA college football haven. The former head coach for Kennesaw’s Mount Paran Christian School, Peterson comes from a strong coaching lineage and was recognized by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as the 2005 High School Coach of the Year. His father, Bill Sr., was head football coach of the Florida State Seminoles from 1960-1970 and of NFL’s Houston Oilers in the early ’70s. 

Peterson strongly believes in the Hawks’ athletic programs, and is proud that two of his sons played football for Coach Jones. Passionate about working in collegiate sports, Peterson focuses on making student-athletes’ time at Shorter both special and life altering. He was invaluable in attracting the 2008 NAIA National Football Championship game to our city, where it remained for six years.

Back in 2004, Shorter began its inaugural season in an unusual manor, playing a full schedule their first year using nothing but true freshmen. Normally, schools ease into a new conference, allowing their students to mature and grow as athletes and football players before they take on a full schedule. The Hawks, however, played their first year with 18-year-olds who were fresh out of high school. Despite the challenges, Shorter earned three wins that year – a remarkable achievement.

“I didn’t know what to do, or how in the world this was going to happen,” Jones says. “So, I went home and prayed about it. I knew a football program has to have a foundation. You don’t have anything that lasts without a foundation. To me, the foundation of this program is relationships. We bring kids in with their parents, one-on-one in my office, and tell them that relationships are our foundation; relationships both with the Lord and with our school.” 

Jones takes little credit for the development of the football program, instead attributing the Hawks’ remarkable rise to his faith in God. He shares this faith with his players every day. 

“We pray before each practice and discuss it daily,” Jones says. “Relationships, how they make you feel and give of yourself, are our foundation. It’s a very simple thing. When you are in the huddle, there are 11 people, 10 more than you, and the way you feel about those guys in the huddle is what relationships are about. If there are three guys in the huddle that don’t buy into what we are trying to accomplish, then we will never be as good as we can be.”

By ensuring that all students understand the importance of building strong relationships and faith, Shorter University is preparing young athletes for more than just a game. Like all football programs, coaches, players and staff members strive to be successful on the field. But, achieving wins is not the only goal. The deeper mission is to help young players maximize their potential and become good men. 

In 2013, for example, the Hawks suffered a rash of injuries that impacted their season. “These kids never took a back seat last year and I am proud of how they handled themselves,” Jones says. “How they handled adversity is going to serve them very well in their lives, in whatever they may do.

“You hope to teach them not only from a physical standpoint, but a mental one as well,” he continues. “There are going to be tough times in life, and hopefully they will have learned enough to know that they can come back from those tough times and be stronger than they were before.”

And although the team did not enjoy the success they are accustomed to last year, Jones remains optimistic that 2014 will see the program return to its winning ways.

With Coach Jones and AD Peterson at the helm, the Hawks are practicing for much more than just tackling and blocking. Shorter strives for success in its mission to prepare student-athletes not only for battles at the line of scrimmage, but also for the spiritual battles they will face in life.  

Shorter  University is located in Rome, Georgia. 

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