Trent Chmelik spent the offseason recovering from a knee injury and a broken finger that sidelined him for most of his redshirt junior season at Florida Tech.
Stronger, more focused and injury-free, the former Countryside standout wanted to cap off his college career by regaining his starting job at quarterback.
He will not get that chance.
On Monday, Florida Tech eliminated its football program as part of the school’s cost-cutting measures due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Panthers are the second football program that was discontinued nationwide within the past month and state-wide in the past six months.
Urbana, a Division II program in Ohio, ended its program in April when the school closed for good because of declining enrollment and financial woes, in part because of the virus. Javion Hanner, a former star at Zephyrhills Christian, played for Urbana this past season and still is searching for a place to play. In December of 2019, Jacksonville discontinued football, citing financial reasons.
The decision at Florida Tech was abrupt. Players were told this past Sunday to be ready for summer camp on June 1. A day later, they found out via video conference the program no longer existed. Gulf South Conference commissioner Matt Wilson did not know about the Panthers’ plans until about an hour before they were announced.
“I’m extremely saddened by this,” Chmelik said. “This has been my home for the past four years. This hurts deep.”
Besides Chmelik, there were 11 other players from the area expected to return from last year’s roster.
Florida Tech said it would honor scholarships for the next four years if players wanted to remain as students. Those who still want to play have to go through the recruiting process again. Landing with another program will be difficult considering fall camps could be starting within the next two months. Most scholarships and roster spots are already filled up.
Hanner knows. Since Urbana closed, he has been active on social media, posting highlight tapes in hopes of playing somewhere else. He has a few offers and some interest but has yet to sign with another school.
“I have some offers, but the process is tough trying to find what would be the best fit without visiting or anything,” Hanner said.
Former Countryside standout Riley Metheney can somewhat relate. In 2014, he committed to Alabama-Birmingham, only to be left in recruiting limbo months later when the school dropped its football program (it has since been reinstated).
After starting his college career at Robert Morris, Metheney transferred to Mesa Community College in Arizona. He didn’t stay long. In 2018, the Maricopa Community College County College District ended the football programs at four colleges — Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix and Scottsdale — because of financial constraints.
Metheney transferred again, this time to West Florida to finish his college career. This past season, he helped the Argos win their first Division II national title.
“I think the UAB situation was completely different because I was still being recruited out of high school,” said Metheney, who is now a project engineer at Power Design. “The only situation I can relate to is my time at Mesa when the district eliminated football due to ‘financial’ reasons.
“Trent and Thomas (Roman) have already logged four years at FIT and to have their last season stripped away because of COVID-19 is heartbreaking. Words can’t describe how heavy my heart is for them, and some other players I’m mutually friends with at the school.”
Florida Tech’s decision not only ended a football program but also a rivalry. For the past four seasons, the Panthers played West Florida in a regular season game dubbed the “Coastal Classic”. That game was supposed to be the regular season finale for both teams this year.
“The Gulf South Conference is the best conference in D2 football,” Metheney said. “We had our own in-state rivalry like FSU vs UF. It’s discouraging that our schools will never face each other again. The rivalry was special. With how talented the state of Florida is, it’s daunting that this (the rivalry) will only be remembered as a memory.”
After Florida Tech’s program was disbanded, Chmelik spent a few days pondering his future. He already has his bachelor’s degree and wants to work on his master’s.
Ultimately, he decided to give up playing football and remain as a student.
Florida Tech’s returning locals
QB Trent Chmelik, R-Sr., Countryside
RB Matt Davis, R-Sr., Chamberlain
LB Chris Daniels, So., Tampa Bay Tech
LB Matt Geiger, R-Fr., Land O’ Lakes
LB Thomas Roman, R-Fr., Countryside
LB Dominic Marino, So., Mitchell
OL Geordie Holcombe, So., Armwood
OL Cameron Heid, So., Mitchell
OL Javon Livingston, R-Jr., Riverview
OL Evan Kulyk, Jr., Clearwater Central Catholic
WR Carson Kaleo, R-Jr., Steinbrenner