Florida Atlantic University begins the 2011 this weekend at Gainesville against the Gators, the first of five straight road games before returning to Boca Oct. 15 for the opening of its new, 30,000-seat on-campus stadium. It's a milestone not only for the university but for the entire city—and one that some probably thought might never happen given the program's humble beginnings.

Check out the Sept./Oct. issue of Boca Raton magazine for a behind-the-scenes look at how head coach Howard Schnellenberger (who has announced that he will retire at the end of this season) and his staff built the football program from scratch. In the following bonus excerpts from the story, Schnellenberger discusses the program's early stadium struggles, as well as why the Owls play such a challenging early-season schedule:

Finding a stadium in 2001: “The most trying part of that first season was finding a place to play. ... The Fusion, which was a pro soccer team in town back then, was going to play at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. In my mind, we were all set to play at Lockhart. But the stadium owner decided that they weren’t interested in having us tear up their soccer field, because they had just invested $2 million in it.

"The only alternative was to play at what was then Pro Player Stadium [home of the Miami Dolphins]. It was going to cost $60,000 to rent the lower bowl, which consists of the 35,000 seats below the upper deck. But then, after the first game, we got a bill for $40,000 for clean up, police, ticket takers, etc. It cost us more than $100,000 to play there, and we never drew a crowd bigger than the 26,000 that attended the opener. We weren’t drawing enough to even cover the cost.

"But God, in his divine wisdom and mercy, threw a lightning bolt in the middle of the North American Soccer League, and they folded. So we were later able to move to Lockhart Stadium."

Playing major schools on the road to start the season: "These are games that bring money to the program. A lot of people feel bad for us when we lose those games, and a lot of people think I’m a flaming idiot for scheduling them. But maybe now that we have a [state-of-the-art stadium] to call home, we won’t have to play as many of those games in the future."

 

2011 FAU FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

Sept. 3: at Florida

Sept. 10:  at Michigan State

Sept. 17: Open

Sept. 24: at Auburn

Oct. 1: at Louisiana-Lafayette*

Oct. 8: at North Texas*

Oct. 15: Western Kentucky*

Oct. 22: Middle Tennessee*

Oct. 29: Open

Nov. 5: Arkansas State*

Nov. 12: at Florida International*

Nov. 19: at Troy*

Nov. 26: Alabama-Birmingham

Dec. 3: Louisiana-Monroe*

* Sun Belt Conference games