Whenever I have to explain where I’m from to anyone outside the panhandle of Florida, I usually say “a small town outside of Destin called Niceville,” which is usually followed by a somewhat confused look as they think I am joking.
I promise it is a real place.
A small city sitting right next to the Gulf of Mexico and sandwiched between Pensacola and Panama City Beach with just over 14,000 residents, Niceville epitomizes southern small town American culture. Everyone seems to know everyone, getting a Walmart and Chick-fil-a was one of the biggest things to happen in years, and the Mullet Festival is a popular tradition celebrated every November (the fish, not the “business up front, party in the back” hairstyle).
Among all these great small town characteristics, a certain quality sticks out that truly makes Niceville a special little city on the map, and that would be Niceville Football. High school football anywhere, especially in the South is very im
portant. At Niceville it is a little different. Apart from the popularity of high school football, the culture around Niceville and the opportunities it has given kids to play football in college to help get an education separate it from most high school football programs in the area.
Niceville Football has had a lot of success throughout its history especially over the last four years. Niceville has made the playoffs 18 out of the last 27 years, and has not missed the playoffs since 2008. Since 2005, they have won four Regional Championships, made it to the State Championship twice, in 2009 and 2013, and won the State Championship in 1988. Over their last 53 games, they have won 42.
Coach John Hicks, who has been coaching for over 35 years and at Niceville for the past 25, holds a 123-43 record as head coach at Niceville. Hicks has developed a program that is based on consistency, accountability, and hard work that is structured
around how a college program operates, from the offseason training to the film sessions and practice schedule. No detail goes unnoticed while Hicks runs the show.
The recent success of the program has led to increased attention and national recognition. Florida High School Varsity listed Niceville as the 37th best football program in the state of Florida over the last 10 years, which is out of over 400 programs. In 2014 Niceville played its season opener on ESPN against Clay-Chalkville in Hoover, Alabama, which was watched on a national stage. Next year they are traveling to Texas to play another perennial powerhouse, Austin-Westlake. Their successful past and current tradition is truly unique and not matched by many other schools in the area, let alone the state.
All this success does not come without the players, obviously, which is another reason Niceville football is so special. Each year the program develops talent that translates to the football field and is noticed by college recruiters. Since 2009, Niceville has had players attend Oklahoma, USF, West Point, the Naval Academy, Troy, E
astern Kentucky, Kentucky, Auburn, Miami, FSU and countless other smaller programs. In all there have been 36 players sign to play football at the next level just over the last five years.
“It is a credit to the athletes and all the hard work they put in and how they perform on the field. You don’t just magically get a scholarship,” said Niceville assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Adron Robinson.
In an interview with Northwest Florida Daily News, head coach John Hicks praised the work of Robinson in helping the athletes find homes at the next level. “He is relentless in promoting our kids. He does the groundwork, I like to say, and he’s good at getting our athletes exposure.”
I have experienced Niceville Football first hand. It is a reason I am here at UC today, and there really is something truly special about putting on that helmet and running out into Eagle Stadium with over 10,000 people screaming and hollering to watch you play football. There may be many other schools similar to Niceville, but they will never be Niceville.