Thomas University officials announced they have established the nation’s first football program designed specifically to assist veterans in their transition from the military to civilian life. TU’s program will serve veterans and those currently serving in the Reserves and National Guard. In TU’s new program, these service members will be students on TU’s campus in Thomasville, Georgia, earning undergraduate degrees and members of the newly formed Night Hawks football team.
“We see it as a win-win situation for everybody,” said Stephen Ferguson, TU’s Vice President for Military and Corporate Relations. “We know that service members learn how to operate as a team. We’re going to use that training and apply it to football as a team sport. This is more than just football. This is about preparing veterans for the next phase in their lives and using football as the vehicle to do that. Meanwhile, these veterans will set an example for our other students about the importance of dedication and teamwork.”
In addition to mentoring from coaches, including prior-service staff, TU will integrate its outstanding, nationally recognized counseling program to provide both mental health and career counseling services. TU’s Clinical and Rehabilitation Counseling program is the only dually accredited program in Georgia and one of just 13 nationally with dual designation through the Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
“The best programs recognize that the transition from military service to civilian life includes multiple social, physical, psychological and economic challenges,” said Dr. Pauline Patrick, Chair of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Division at TU. “It is necessary to focus on and provide services for the ‘whole’ person. TU’s Veteran Transition Program will provide counseling, tutoring, structure, mentoring, education and other support services to assist these veterans.”
Also during the press conference, TU administrators introduced the first head coach of the new team.
“We are thrilled to have Orlando Mitjans, Jr. as our inaugural head coach for this exciting program.” Rick Pearce, TU’s Athletic Director, said. “Mitjans brings over 20 years of coaching experience, including positions at The Citadel and West Point. Additionally, he completed NFL internships with the Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Rams and New York Jets.” Mitjans said, “I am truly honored and very excited to be chosen as the head coach for this unique program focused on serving our military community.”
TU has a record of supporting service members and their families. Its Center for Military Life supports the military community from enlistment through the transition to civilian life. TU is an Air University Associate to Baccalaureate Cooperative (AU-ABC) and a General Education Mobile (GEM) partner. TU is also an equivalent provider of the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) contracting curriculum and has earned Military Friendly Spouse School designation. For the last three years, TU received the Top 10 Military Friendly designation.
TU is part of the NAIA Division I Sun Conference and will begin its football season in fall 2023.