By Shane Meling

It may be hard to believe, but the University of the Incarnate Word football program has been playing games for four seasons now. The seniors of the “Forever First” group of recruits are entering the final days of their playing careers.

“Forever First” Seniors Andy Seaman (61) and Ty Warnasch (75)

The program’s first official signing day came in February of 2008 when 27 players became the first members of the Cardinal football program. There are only 11 players left from that initial group plus six more who joined the squad prior to the start of the 2008 practice season. With only two of the players having eligibility left for the 2013 season it is literally the end of the first era of Cardinal football.

The last four years have been a time of many firsts; the first game, the first score, the first win, the first season and many others. The “Forever First” group officially began play on Aug. 29, 2009 against the Monterrey Tech Borregos Salvajes. Some 6,235 fans passed through the turnstiles and were treated to a thrilling game. Junior quarterback Thomas Specia scored the first touch- down on a 52-yard run to spark a 42-39 victory.

The first year saw the Cardinals go 5-5 with three of the current remaining “Forever First” players; Chaz Pavliska, Alan Ford and Dakota Mawyer, earning All-Independent honors.The following season the Cardinals joined the Lone Star Conference (LSC). The team finished with a 3-8 record, but all three wins came against top LSC competition and they nearly upset nationally ranked Midwestern State on the road before falling in overtime.

Since joining the Lone Star Conference, the Cardinals have continued to earn the respect of their opponents even though the scores may not always be in their favor. Much of that respect is due to the hard work and perseverance of the “Forever First” class that remains with the program today.

“Forever First” Senior Trent Rios

“We can look back and say we started all of this,” said linebacker Mawyer.

The Cardinals record book is filled with the names of players who began with the program in 2008 and are still with the team. Whether it has been running, catching, passing, blocking, tackling or kicking, the group has made an impact that will be felt for years to come.

On the offensive side of the ball, running back Trent Rios should be the team’s leading rusher for a fourth consecutive year. It is an accomplishment that is very rare in college football. He will finish his career with numerous school records including rushing yards in a game, rushing yards in a season, rushing yards in a career, touchdowns in a game, touchdowns in a season, touch- downs in a career, all-purpose yards in a season and all-purpose yards in a career, just to name a few. While he has been outstanding on the playing field, Rios has been just as distinguished off the field earning a pair of First Team CoSIDA Academic All-District VI citations in his career.

Rios reached a milestone on Sept. 14, 2012 when he surpassed 2,000 career rushing yards. Making the moment even more special is where he was when he surpassed 2,000 yards, Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX.

Playing at Cowboys Stadium is another first for the Cardinal football program. Getting a chance to play there is something that none of the UIW players will ever forget.

While Rios has been the player to set numerous records, one of the big reasons has been the offensive line. The group of Jayson Hierholzer, Jake Roby, Charles Segura, Andy Seaman and Ty Warnasch started 21 straight games together on the offensive line covering the entire 2010 and 2011 seasons. All five players are a part of the “Forever First” class.

“Forever First” Senior Alan Ford

Of the entire offensive line, Segura is the one who has gotten the most recognition in his career. He has been named to the Lone Star Conference All-Academic Team on two occasions and was a First Team Capital One Academic All-District VI selection in 2011. The most impressive honor that he has earned was the 2010 UIW Student-Athlete of the Year which shows the exemplary person he is both on and off the field.

On the defensive side of the ball, Dakota Mawyer and Chaz Pavliska have etched their names in the UIW Record Book. Both players are four-year starters who have been the heart- and-soul of the Cardinal defense from the moment they stepped on the field. They have each earned all-Lone Star Conference honors and in a nice twist of fate, each player recorded his 200th career tackle in the same game.

While the “Forever First” class is coming to the end of their time on the field, they have laid the foundation for the future of UIW football. This ending is just the beginning of bigger and better things to come in the future. The class has guided the program from its infancy stages and now it is time to turn over leadership to the next group of players.

“When I look back on how far we have come in so little time, all I can do is praise God for allowing me to be a part of some- thing so special,” said the program’s first secondary coach Nick Debose. “The reason I came to UIW was to be a part of building a college football program. We have done much more than I ever could have imagined.”

“Forever First” will long be remembered as the group of players that helped put the Incarnate Word athletic department in position to join NCAA Division I and the Southland Conference. Future Cardinals will forever have a debt of gratitude to this class and the class in which they went about the business of starting a program.

The names of this first class should never be forgotten: Devan Avery, Alan Ford, Dominic Hamilton, Jayson Hierholzer, Caleb Kocian, Eric Massoni, Dakota Mawyer, Saul Meza, Trent Rios, Jake Roby, Andy Seaman, Charles Segura, Alex Torres, Ty Warnasch, Robert Williams and Aaron Willis. They have prepared the way for a bright future.