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Fennelly: USF's Big 12 pitch infused by Selmon faith

ST. PETERSBURG — He grew up in Tampa. He's 35, and he sells orthopedic implants and trauma products. Played some college football. And when he's out and about, at a store or restaurant, it happens. He'll hand over his credit card or maybe his driving license. Someone sees the name.

Lee Roy Selmon.

"Like the expressway?" They'll ask. "Like the restaurant?"

No. Like the man.

"It's always nice," Lee Roy Selmon Jr. said. "I'll come across people who'll tell me, 'Oh, I saw your dad play, I met him once … he signed an autograph … he shook my hand … he smiled at me.' "

And they tell him what a good man his father was.

USF, as part of its pitch for Big 12 expansion, included local leaders in its presentation last week. Some very big names. But the most powerful name was Selmon.

Lee Roy Jr., a USF alum and former Bulls defensive lineman, spoke about USF in a video. He fought for USF, like his father before him.

"My dad was a believer," Lee Roy Jr. said.

Lee Roy Selmon, a truly gentle giant, died after a stroke five years ago, Sept. 4, 2011. He was 56. His kindness still fills hearts.

Who doesn't miss Lee Roy?

He played for Oklahoma when the Big 12 was the Big 8. He was arguably the greatest Sooner of all. Selmon later became the first great Buccaneer and first Bucs Hall of Famer. He gave to this community on and off the field in every way he could.

And he helped the drive to build a football program at USF and later served as the school's athletic director. The athletics building is named for him.

So it was so touching, and fitting, that USF made a Selmon part of its Big 12 pitch.

"It's a name that signifies grace and dignity and everything that's right about collegiate athletics in so many ways," USF athletic director Mark Harlan said.

"Anything I can do for USF, I jump at the chance," said Lee Roy Jr., who played defensive end for the Bulls. His final season was 2004. He cherishes the photo of him and his dad on senior night.

"I was happy to help out USF, a university that meant so much to my father."

I'm not sure USF can get into the Big 12. It's a long shot.

Lee Roy Selmon would have believed.

He believed and trusted in everything he did. He believed in God most of all.

Lee Roy Jr. doesn't talk at length in the video presentation made for the Big 12. A lot of other voices were involved. But in the interview he did for the USF video, he spoke of his father.

"I talked about how much he loved USF, how much USF loved him, and how he helped lay down some of the bricks and pavement for football."

The Selmons remain part of the USF family. Lee Roy's widow, Claybra, works on university initiatives and helps oversee USF's Selmon Mentoring Institute, which helps USF student-athletes learn life skills in partnership with local business people and leaders. Her three children help when and where they can

Five years later, it's still hard to believe Lee Roy Selmon is gone. He had his stroke on a Friday. The next day, USF upset Notre Dame in South Bend. I remember walking up a tunnel after the game and seeing the "Touchdown Jesus" mural on the Notre Dame library. There were so many prayers for Lee Roy that day.

"It wasn't the Lord's plan," Lee Roy Jr. said. "His plan was to bring (Lee Roy Sr.) home, and his plan is perfect. We didn't say goodbye. We said, 'See you later.' My dad's legacy revolved around love and giving. His faith in Christ, his teachings, really shined through him."

Lee Roy Selmon Jr. hopes USF makes the Big 12. He remembers when USF was just beginning to develop a football program and what his father said at the time.

"When he saw there was an opportunity, he said, 'An opportunity is all you need in life.' He said all you can do is plant the seeds, which is an act of faith. … If you nourish them, they'll grow. Twenty years later, USF is reaping the rewards. My father would be proud."

Here's to a believer we miss every day.

Here's to Lee Roy.

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