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Former ETSU players donate to football program

Staff Report • Mar 17, 2007 at 1:27 AM

JOHNSON CITY - With East Tennessee State University 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 that must be in hand before March 31 to continue the planning stages of football's return.

When ETSU President Paul Stanton 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.

"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."

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."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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