A Brief History

Die-hard fans before the Stetson vs. Florida football game

Contrary to some opinions, football has a long and storied history at Stetson University going back 119 years. In fact, the first organized football game in the State of Florida was an intramural contest on Thanksgiving Day in 1894 pitting the team named after university president John Forbes and coached by C.B. Rosa against the defeated "Stetson" team coached by Harvey MacQuiston of the English department.

A few short years later on Thanksgiving Day in 1901, football made its return. Stetson University met the Florida Agricultural College on the State Fairgrounds in Jacksonville in what has been called Florida's first bowl game. Stetson University won the game 6-0 and went on to earn the title State Champion six times: in 1901, 1903, 1905, 1906, 1907 and 1909.

One of the biggest victories in the program's history came on Coach Cowell's watch in 1938. Stetson University had played the University of Florida just eight times since 1912 and had fallen behind in enrollment, as well as in football. The Hatters traveled to Gainesville, outplayed the Gators and brought home a 16-14 win. When the university's excited supporters returned to DeLand, they went straight to President William Allen's home and awoke him so he could join in the celebration, which he did, going as far as lighting the celebratory bonfire.

Finance issues and the second world war put the football program on hiatus from 1941 through 1945. After the war, President Allen ensured that football resumed at Stetson University. The last notably successful season for the Stetson University football team came in 1951. Head Coach Joe McMullen led the Hatters to an 8-1-2 overall record and a 35-20 victory over Arkansas State in the season ending Tangerine Bowl. The only blemish on the record that season came at the hands of the Florida State Seminoles by a score of 13-10. The end of football at Stetson University came after the 1956 season.

The times, as well as the students, had changed. They were still interested in athletics, but not nearly as much as in years past. Most of the schools the university had played in the past had abandoned their football programs and the larger schools like the University of Florida had grown too strong to compete against. In Stetson University's final season of 1956, other than Homecoming, no more than 60 reserved seats were sold to the general public. In a January 22, 1957, meeting of the Board of Trustees, the football program was terminated.

A Turning Point

Like all universities, Stetson University now finds itself in the most competitive enrollment market in the history of higher education. Recognizing the impact that this environment is having on Stetson University, the community undertook a concentrated study in several strategic areas to decide how to better position the university for future growth. There was one theme that seemed to resonate across the reports, and that was a need to improve campus vibrancy, pride and spirit. After thorough internal and independent studies, it was recommended that the return of Division I football to Stetson University was a viable option in accomplishing this.

President Wendy B. Libby mentioned this possibility at Hatter Saturday 2010, and the crowd erupted in cheers. This was the watershed moment that led to the very rapid accumulation of the start-up funds needed to get the program moving. In the summer of 2011, the university hired Head Coach Roger Hughes, followed shortly by the acquisition of the rest of his coaching team and the recruitment of Stetson University's first football team in over 50 years. In 2012, the university moved Homecoming back to the fall after having held it in the spring for over a decade in order to acclimate alumni to the change and host the first "Green and White" game in more than 50 years. On August 31, 2013, football officially returned to Stetson University when the Hatters faced Warner University and won 31-3.

During Homecoming 2013, Stetson's first Football Homecoming in over 50 years, the Hatters took on Davidson University and won 26-13. This year during Homecoming, Stetson will face Marist University.

For more information on Hatter Football please visit the athletics website.