Texas Wesleyan Football Program to Influence Neighborhood Improvement

After a 75 year absence from the gridiron, Texas Wesleyan University has a new football coach and it's a familiar name for high school football fans in Fort Worth.

Seven-time state champion coach Joe Prud'homme, who spent the last 24 years at Nolan Catholic High School, will lead the Rams.

And the Rams hope to lead another comeback, not on the field but rather in the community.

"There's really something about football that helps people engage with an institution better than almost anything else," said Fred Slabach, president of TWU.

The prospect of collegiate football in southeast Fort Worth has residents and business owners in the Polytechnic Heights neighborhood excited.

"We're a bunch of football freaks here," said Louie Ruiz.

Football fans like Ruiz aren't just excited for the on-field action, but what it could do to spur more redevelopment and economic growth.

Ruiz and his sons hope the East Rosedale Street makeover, dubbed Rosedale Renaissance, will make its way south down Vaughn and throughout the neighborhood.

Texas Wesleyan joined the city, county and council of governments on the $6.5 million project.

"We're really appreciating everything they're doing, we're 100 percent behind them," Ruiz said.

Ruiz has worked in the neighborhood for the last 28 years, with a restaurant and then his real estate and property management office.

He says the neighborhood was rough back then, but is on the way up. He says property values are up too and credits TWU for it all.

"If it wouldn't have been for them, I think this neighborhood would have been gone a long time ago," he said. 

The $22 million in improvements to the TWU campus, the street fixes and the United Methodist Church Central Texas Conference Service Center opening up, and even the football program, are helping to lay the foundation for more progress in the area.

"The potential, the sky is the limit," said city councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray.

Gray represents the Poly neighborhood and sits on TWU's board. She credits TWU's investments, the Renaissance Square development on East Berry Street to the south, and public-private partnerships for sparking the interest and potential in the area.

"This is our jewel," she said. "This is our diamond in the rough and we need to be making sure that we shine it up. And now it has great opportunity for revitalization and we see that coming on now."

There will be even more along the TWU campus in the future and that may also one day include a football stadium on campus.

"That would be a huge spur for economic revitalization for our area as well," Slabach said.

While that possibility remains a few years away, the area remains excited to see what Ram football will bring in the fall of 2017.

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