Former football players step up with $40,000 in donations, send message to current students as vote approaches

Friday, March 16, 2007


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (March 16, 2007) - With ETSU students preparing to vote on a new athletic fee to help support the return of the university's football program, former players are opening their own checkbooks to send a message to current students.


"If we want football, we have to step up," said Troy DeCastro, a 1986 Southern Conference All-Academic selection.


So that's what DeCastro - along with 30 other football players - have done by coming together recently to present an envelope with $40,000 in checks to the Football Steering Committee. Those dollars are going toward the goal of $300,000 which must be in hand before March 31 to continue the planning stages of football's return.


When ETSU President Dr. Paul E. Stanton, Jr., announced the possible return of football in late December, two of the main goals that needed to be reached were the $300,000 milestone for the end of March, as well as a positive student referendum vote in April that would allow for an increased student athletic fee to fund operations of the new program.


The group of 30 players all personally felt the benefits of football at ETSU as student-athletes, and all agreed that football opens doors not only to players, but also to the university, community and students. For instance, a new football program will demand more resources and support from specific fields of study, such as exercise science, sports marketing and sports management, as these students get opportunities to work in a Division I football environment.


These former players said football's return would be a win-win for all involved.


"With football, these young men experience the opportunity for an education, and the community benefits through tourism and the ability to host events," said Bill Linebarger, who played at ETSU from 1968 to 1972, and now owns a successful dental practice in Johnson City.


Football also created memories and opportunities for these young men, but for Mike Smith, the current defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars, ETSU football also allowed him to experience a great deal of success in his chosen profession.


"My experience [with football] at ETSU allowed me to coach in the NFL," Smith said. "I want to see its return and that's why I gave to the campaign."


ETSU students - through their vote in April - will have the power to determine whether future football student-athletes experience the same opportunities as these former players.


"It's important for students to know that if they are willing to vote for football, a lot of people will start giving again - or for the first time," DeCastro said.


Students are being asked to agree to an increased fee phased in over a four-year period, beginning with a $50 change in 2007 and continuing with another $50 increase in 2009, not to exceed a total of $100 per semester. These dollars will combine with fundraising, ticket sales and other potential sources of revenue, to meet the financial need to fund the program.


"Students, with the yes vote, are pledging to not only support football, but all athletics," Linebarger said. "This becomes a long-term commitment that begins while they are students and continues to when they're alumni."


These football alumni feel that their donation will help, but that this is going to be a continued effort.


"I haven't talked to a single person who doesn't plan to give directly or indirectly," DeCastro said. "Not only are donations of cash and monetary gifts going to help, but people have to be willing to buy tickets and come to games."


All efforts including donations and ticket sales depend solely upon the vote of the students. The alumni, community and donors are giving, now it's the students turn.


"I want to be a part of the solution," DeCastro said. "I want students to know that there is a larger base of support today than there was in the past and that it is about more than football."

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