Emmitt Smith Field – Escambia Gators
Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.71
Emmitt Smith Field 1310 N 65th Ave Pensacola, FL 32506
Year Opened: 1958
Welcome to the Swamp
Escambia High School is one of the Pensacola area’s largest high school with an enrollment of 1,800 students, and currently serves the west side of Pensacola and the Perdido Key area of the Gulf Coast.
Since opening in 1958 EHS has been one of the more successful programs in the area. Currently competing in the Class 6A District 1 of the FHSAA, the Gators have made the state playoffs over 20 times and have made four state championship games in their history (1984,1985, 2009, & 2019), winning titles in ‘84 and ‘85. Much like the Florida Gators’ colors, the Escambia Gators’ colors are also blue and orange.
The Gators play at Historic Emmitt Smith Field, named after the Pro Football Hall of Famer and the NFL’s all-time leading rusher who played here in the mid 80’s. The field, which originally opened when the school opened, was renamed after the school’s most famous alum in 2003.
Besides Emmitt Smith the school has a pretty distinguished list of alumni that includes WWE stars Roman Reigns and the Usos, former Alabama running back and All-American Trent Richardson, golfer Joe Durant who’s won four PGA tournaments, and four MLB players – All-Star Jim Presley, former Braves pitcher Preston Hanna, Kevin Saucier, and Ken Wright.
Food & Beverage 2
The basics are sold here with one concessions stand on each side. Prices are pretty cheap as well with hamburgers ($4), hot dogs ($3), nachos ($3), popcorn ($2), canned drinks and bottled water ($2), and chips ($1) all on offer. On the home side of the stadium they have a grill outside where they cook burgers and hot dogs fresh, which is obviously a plus; they also sell Chick-fil-A sandwiches for $6 and have a hot box with Domino’s pizza slices selling for $2 each.
Emmitt Smith Field is an older stadium that was built in 1958, but is unique in that because of the way it is built you cannot really tell how old it is. It is not the typical high school stadium with a concrete structure that rises above the field level – instead, the stadium here was built in between two grassy hills, in such a way that both grandstands are below ground level, so from the street you can’t even really tell there is a stadium here.
The field faces north and south with the home side on the east and the visiting side on the west. Both end zones are open, with the high school and gymnasium providing the backdrop for the north end zone, while the school’s softball and baseball fields provide the backdrop on the south side. There is no concourse to speak of; on both sides you enter on ground level and have to walk down the hill to get to your seat. Because of this there is no cover if it is raining, and without the ability to go under the concourse you are just out of luck if a frequent Florida thunderstorm pops up – the press box, concessions stands, and bathrooms are the only areas not exposed to the elements.
The stadium features about 20 rows of metal bleachers on each side, but the home side features a couple hundred chairback seats near the 50-yard line (this is the seating for season ticket holders and teachers). It can get heated sometimes when a rival Pensacola school plays here; because of frequent fights that have broken out in the stands in years past between opposing schools they did not build a way to walk between the home and visiting sides of the stadium.
There is not really much of a neighborhood here to speak of – the high school is located in a residential area on the west side of Pensacola in the Myrtle Grove and Brownsville communities. This is not exactly the safest area of the city, though you should be fine as long as you don’t venture too far off school grounds. Just use caution and be aware of your surroundings, and always keep your doors locked in the parking lot.
The good thing about coming to a game at Escambia High is that you are in Pensacola, where there is plenty to do if you are here for the weekend. Escambia High is located about 20 minutes north of Pensacola Beach and about 20 minutes east of the beaches in the Gulf Shores-Orange Beach-Perdido area. The waters are warm enough to swim well into November, so if you come to an early fall game here there is a chance you could go swimming on the beach and then go watch a high school football game.
Also, from EHS you are only about 15 minutes from downtown Pensacola. The nightlife scene here is very nice as Palafox Street is lined with over 50+ bars and local restaurants, and the Seville Quarter in downtown looks like a mini Bourbon Street with a packed crowd on a nightly basis. As Pensacola is the oldest settlement in the US one could also stroll the downtown area for hours viewing the different historic houses and museums.
Obviously the home side of the stadium is rocking with students, alumni, boosters, and teachers. The Gator program stretches back for years so there is a large number of people who can remember the days of watching Emmitt Smith break national records here, and then over 20 years later they remember coming with their kids to watch Trent Richardson break other records.
Escambia is also one of those schools that because of its success and its size it will often play larger schools from other areas around the southeast – it is not uncommon for the Gators to play schools from Miami, New Orleans, Jacksonville, or Atlanta. In the most recent game I attended, the Gators played a school from Mississippi, while the next week the Gators traveled to Georgia for a game. Because of this the visiting side can be a different story from game to game, with almost no one sitting on that side when the visiting team is from far away, which is often the case when the Gators play an out of area school.
When a Pensacola area school plays here, however, expect the place to be packed and the atmosphere to go up. It can almost get too rowdy sometimes when other area schools show up here, and there have been fights between the two fanbases in years past.
EHS is located on the west side of Pensacola, so if coming from out of town your best bet is to take I-10 Exit 7A at Pine Forest Road, then travel south about 8 miles to the Fairfield Street intersection. Take Fairfield about 2 miles west until you reach 65th Street, and the high school is located about a half mile south down 65th Street on the left. It is really easy to take a wrong turn and end up in a rough neighborhood, so I advise using caution, especially when leaving the game. Pensacola can also have horrendous traffic, especially on Friday afternoon, so take that into consideration as it could take 30 minutes just to get from the school to I-10.
Once in the stadium it isn’t very big, and everything is spread out so you are free to walk around, as long as you stay on your side. They even have school security here making sure nobody will sneak over; this has been a major issue in the past according to a police officer I talked to. There is plenty of room for everybody but you will be out of luck if it starts raining as there is no cover whatsoever.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets are $8 and like all the high school football games in the area, can only be purchased on the GoFan app. I consider this a great return on investment; though the stadium is really nothing special it is still a historic place being named after a Pro Football Hall of Famer. Plus with being in such a high level of high school football, the level of talent is great with some of the players on the field eventually signing with D1 programs, so who knows you could be watching the next Emmitt Smith or Trent Richardson play.
One extra for the field being named after perhaps the greatest running back to ever play football – during his four years at Escambia (1983-1986) the Gators won two State Championships and were ranked the top high school football program in the State of Florida, and one of the top ranked programs in the country. Emmitt broke numerous records in high school including rushing for 106 touchdowns and 8,804 career yards, which ranks in the top 10 for most yardage in the history of high school football. He also rushed for over 100 yard games in every game his junior and senior year, including rushing for at least 100 yards in 45 of the 49 games he played.
Emmitt Smith would follow up his standout high school career with a standout career at the University of Florida, becoming a two-time first team All-American, a Heisman finalist, an induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, and would be recognized as number 3 on the list of the Top 50 players to ever play for the Florida Gators.
Smith would later become the first junior to ever get drafted straight from college into the NFL in 1990 when the Dallas Cowboys selected him in the first round. Over the next 15 years Emmitt would become one of the best players in the NFL, winning 3 Super Bowls and being elected to 8 Pro Bowls. His 18,355 career rushing yards rank number 1 for the most rushing yards ever by an NFL player, and his 164 rushing touchdowns rank number 1 for most touchdowns ever scored by a running back. For his stats and accomplishments he would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010, and was named the greatest running back to ever play in the NFL by the NFL Network.
The school also pays homage to another one of its most distinguished alums, WWE star Roman Reigns. Before he was main eventing WrestleManias and acting in movies with his cousin “The Rock”, the multi-time WWE Champion was known by his real name Joe Anoai, and was a standout defensive lineman during his senior year here after transferring from Pensacola Catholic High School. He would later be an All-ACC selection at Georgia Tech and have a brief stint in the CFL before trying his hand at wrestling. His twin cousins Jimmy and Jey Uso would later become WWE stars as well, and they also played linebacker at Escambia.
During pregame Roman’s wrestling theme plays over the loudspeakers, as the team comes from the locker rooms in the gymnasium, comes down the hill in the north end zone, and then runs out onto the field. This was a nice tribute to how Roman used to make his entrance when he would enter the ring from the crowd – this is something not a lot of people would notice, but as a huge wrestling fan I thought this was a nice added touch.