It may seem impossible to simultaneously be in the largest city in the contiguous United States and be in a place that makes you feel you are in the middle of nowhere.
However, once you realize that in the case of Jacksonville, Florida, "largest" refers to area,
the notion becomes plausible. Once upon a time, the University of North Florida could also have qualified as one such place. Nestled between and away from two north-south roads whose north-bound lanes were the only ones that had a meaningful destination, the university was in a very quiet location when it was founded in 1969. That was still the case in 1984, when it started admitting underclassmen.
The frontier nature of UNF has changed in recent years. The road along the western edge of campus is now the eastern half of Interstate 295 that encircles downtown Jacksonville. Whereas exiting the campus from the west once merely took you to the aforementioned north-south road, it now can also take you to a quite substantial "town center" style shopping area. To some extent, the school is now in the middle of stuff.
And yet, when I exited off Interstate 295, entered the UNF campus and oriented myself towards the cluster of athletic facilities at the northern edge of the university's boundaries, I did have a brief sense of being in the middle of nowhere as I found myself on a two lane road with a thick forest of trees to either side. North Florida is certainly not "in the city" in the same fashion as, say, Florida A&M University is in urban Tallahassee.
While my journey to UNF was a short one, the trip for the Rattlers of FAMU was a bit longer, 200 miles from the west along Interstate 10 before the zig-zag through Jacksonville. And whereas I had no difficulties arriving at UNF Arena, after doing so, I was informed by the public address announcer that the visiting team had experienced "travel difficulties" and as such the start of the game would be delayed 15 minutes.
I spent some of that additional time examining and pondering the sheet of paper given to me at the door which doubled as a schedule and scoresheet. From this, I noted that this was the Ospreys' first home game in nearly three weeks. Eight days earlier they had been in Tallahassee (where they lost to Florida State) and two days earlier they had played one of FAMU's fellow HBCUs (Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach). I also noticed that whereas UNF's roster is an all Florida and Georgia affair, FAMU's only has four players from those two states. Another nine players come from eight different states, while one, forward Onyekachukwu Odi, is from Nigeria.
Once the game began, the Ospreys provided plenty of entertaining action for the home fans. Less than two minutes into the game, senior David Jeune had a rousing dunk. 30 seconds later the star of UNF, Parker Smith, wearing number 3 and nicknamed PS3, sunk the first of his four superhoops for the evening. His most amazing play of the game though, was not one of those. Instead, it was a full-court inbound pass to Charles McRoy and then OMGDUNX.
Halftime came with the Ospreys leading by nine. The women's tennis team was honored for being champions of the Atlantic Sun Conference with the corresponding jewelry awarded to the players.
Sloppy play by the Rattlers caused the score gap to widen rapidly in the second half; by half-way through it, the Ospreys' lead was up to 23. If there is such a thing as an easy night in this game, the Ospreys had one.
I documented the cheers of North Florida fans in a piece last yea
r. I observed the same behavior this time, with the only "new" addition being a random "SWOOP, there it is!" (the students may not know Tag Team, but the derived cheer lives on, I suppose). Crowd participation in the cry of "SWOOP!" and the corresponding arm motion after each successful Osprey free throw attempt was quite extensive; I estimate 60% of the crowd took part at any given opportunity. The students in sections nine and ten (located behind one of the baskets) were quite energetic, on their feet and raucous for the entire game in a cheering effort that would be recognized by coach Matthew Driscoll after the game.
Having checked in at home, the Ospreys returned to the road with a game at Minnesota two days later. They don't return to their ensconced campus until New Year's Eve when they start conference play by taking on the Bison of Lipscomb University.