TAMPA — It isn't as obvious as when USF when to his alma mater, Notre Dame, last season, but Florida State still holds a special place for USF coach Skip Holtz, whose first college coaching job was as a graduate assistant on Bobby Bowden's staff in 1987-88.
On his first day in Tallahassee, Holtz met his wife, Jennifer, then a Garnet and Gold Girl hosting recruits on visits to the Seminoles. The matchmaker that day was Sue Hall, who spent 24 years as Bowden's secretary and went on to serve as wedding coordinator for the Holtzes' 1992 ceremony in Port Charlotte.
"Skip loved to fish. I live on a lake," explained Hall, who still lives on Lake Talquin in Quincy, west of Tallahassee. "We spent many hours down here brim fishing, bass fishing, frying fish, eating. Everything we did, Jennifer came along, too, and it became a wonderful friendship, courtship, and the next thing you know they're getting married."
That friendship explains why this summer, only months before Saturday's 6 p.m. USF-FSU showdown at Raymond James Stadium, the Holtzes had a slightly smaller collection of Seminoles at their Tampa home — about 80, gathered for a retirement party for Hall, who was inducted into the FSU Athletics Hall of Fame this month.
"They were so gracious, and we had a wonderful time," said Hall, who was nominated for the Hall of Fame by Jennifer Holtz, who saw how much work her husband required of his secretary and said Hall deserved enshrinement for doing the same for Bowden for so long.
Bowden and Skip's father, Lou Holtz, go way back to 1961, when Bowden, as coach at Howard College, visited Iowa, where Holtz was a graduate assistant. The two were close enough that Lou and Beth Holtz spent their honeymoon at the Bowdens' home in Tallahassee, nearly 50 years ago.
Jennifer Holtz said Hall ("she's like another mother to me") and her husband, Charlie, (who died in August after 56 years of marriage to Sue) were a great model for a young couple — and that they now try to be the same to current USF players, some of whom didn't grow up in two-parent homes.
"Hopefully they're learning how to catch a ball and score a touchdown, but they're also learning how to be a husband and a father," she said. "I'm not by any means saying we do it 100 percent right, but here's a man who lets his wife be a part of his program. Sue and Charlie taught us a lot."
Jennifer is a proud FSU graduate ("I love that program. I love Coach Bowden. I love Sue Hall"), but she has been busy converting old sorority sisters to green and gold for the weekend and enlisting the help of Gator friends. This weekend won't be the first time she has cheered against the Seminoles. In Skip's final year on his father's staff at Notre Dame in 1993, FSU was ranked No. 1 in the nation when it visited No. 2 Notre Dame.
"Notre Dame won," Jennifer remembers.
QUOTABLE: LB Vince Williams on teammate James Wilder, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound back running back from Plant High: "When he first got here, James didn't even run like he does now. He used to (tip-toe) a lot. We'd be like, 'James, you're huge, man. Why are you tipping like that?' … (Now) He's mauling folks. I guess he got his confidence now because he's killing people. That's how we knew you could run before, man. He's just transformed."
Information from the Orlando Sentinel was used in this report.