TAMPA — The University of Tampa hasn't staged a football homecoming weekend in 42 years. UT dropped its program following the 1974 season, ending the familiar tradition of alumni returning to campus for social events and tailgating, followed by the football game.
But UT has embraced a different kind of homecoming, spotlighted by its UT Athletic Hall of Fame inductions, plus contests in men's soccer and volleyball.
Men's soccer is taking another step with this season's homecoming game on Oct. 14. Spartans coach Adrian Bush has rallied the alumni, forming a nine-man committee of former players to raise money for an annual scholarship that will ensure the program's viability.
The first Jay Miller-Tom Fitzgerald Alumni Scholarship, representing a full scholarship for men's soccer, will be announced and presented during UT's game against Barry University.
"This is something we can do yearly and show that our alumni can have a huge impact in our program,'' said Bush, a Spartans player from 1990-94. "I think it's important for our current players to know not only the names, but also the faces, of the guys who built this program.
"There's a lot of history and tradition here. We have three (NCAA Division II) national titles and many players who have gone on to professional careers. If we have a weekend when everyone makes it a point to come back and also make a significant contribution to this program, everyone will have some ownership.''
Bush and assistant coach Maurice Loregnard are among the contributing committee members for the scholarship, named for Miller and Fitzgerald, the head coach and assistant coach for UT's first national championship team in 1981.
Other committee members are former players Erol Belli, Mike Heald, Will Hitzelberger, Sergio Jaramillo, Sergio Padron, Mark Putnam and Dave Schulz.
"I think this scholarship will become something that's really meaningful,'' said Loregnard, who played at UT in 1999-2000. "It's going to bring people back. It's nice to return to a place where you've given a lot of blood, sweat and tears. The scholarship is a really tangible way for the former players to be part of things moving forward. We all have a lot invested here and now it's another significant investment — literally.''
There used to be an annual men's soccer alumni game, usually held around the Labor Day weekend. But that tapered off because as Bush said, "Most of us had trouble getting out of bed after that.'' Also, the weekend proved problematic with holiday and family plans.
But establishing a homecoming weekend get-together — capped by the scholarship presentation — could provide a much more significant gathering of alumni.
"It will be nice to get the band back together through the different eras,'' Bush said. "We have alumni all over the world. Six of us are college head coaches. So you can drift away and not see each other. This is something we can all have on our calendars.
"I love the fact that our current players will be able to get to know some of these guys and maybe hear about some old stories of how this program was built. It's important to know about the people who came before you.''
One of those people is Al Smith, a standout on the 1981 national-championship team, who is among the 10-person UT Hall of Fame class.
Other inductees include Rodney Ehrhard (baseball), Sam Ellison (contributor), Hillary Epling (volleyball), Matt Goodwin (swimming), Deanna Henriott (softball), John Jones (men's basketball), Mike Leding (contributor), Sheena Walton (women's basketball) and Ericka Womack (volleyball).
A special category selection will honor the 2006 volleyball team, which won the program's first Division II national championship.
Additionally, the Sam Bailey Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to UT Hall of Famer Ozzie Timmons, the Brandon High School product and former Spartans baseball standout. Timmons is now a hitting coach in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, working with the Triple-A Durham Bulls.
The Hall of Fame class will be inducted Oct. 13 during a ceremony at UT's Vaughn Center, which begins with a reception at 6 p.m., followed by the dinner and induction at 7. For information, contact UT Hall of Fame chairman Gil Swalls at [email protected]