Former Idaho State football players whose graduation years range from the 1960s to 2015 gathered for a tailgating event Saturday before the ISU homecoming football game Saturday outside Holt Arena in Pocatello.
Josh Friesen/Idaho State Journal
POCATELLO â€” Young and old. Last yearâ€™s grads and yesteryearâ€™s grads. Those who donned the pads for current Idaho State head football coach Mike Kramer and those who played under ISU legend Babe Caccia.
It was Saturday â€” homecoming for Idaho State, and the Bengal football squad downed Sacramento State 42-34 in Holt Arena. But outside before the game, different generations of Bengals were connecting, reminiscing and describing what the university still means to them at the Idaho State University Football Alumni Team tailgate.
The Football Alumni Team, or F.A.T. as they call themselves, is an organization composed of former Bengal football players and supporters of the football team that helps improve school spirit at games. F.A.T. is also a fundraiser, with donations and contributions going toward the F.A.T. Football Endowed Scholarship.
F.A.T. chairperson Don Neves, who quarterbacked the Bengal squad in 1964 and 1965, looked amongst the crowd Saturday afternoon and saw a special connection that spanned generations. Former players, family members and friends mingled. The grill was fired up. Beverages were being passed around.
And everyone was decked out in orange and black.
â€śThereâ€™s a brotherhood when you participate in athletics,â€ť Neves said. â€śPeople associate with each other, and I still associate with the guys that I played with. â€¦
â€śIâ€™m close with guys from the 1981 championship team. Iâ€™m close with the guys that graduated last year. â€¦ Itâ€™s a big deal. Itâ€™s a big deal to me to see this and see that people are enjoying it and thereâ€™s spirit here.â€ť
Bus Connor and Gerry Belko helped lead the Idaho State menâ€™s basketball team to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 1953. Though the Bengals fell in the first round to Seattle University, Connor and Belko established a Bengal basketball program that would go on to NCAA tournament appearances for the next seven consecutive years.
Even through their years apart â€” Connor lives in Boise and Belko is in Salt Lake City â€” the timeless and lighthearted chiding remained.
â€śHe just shot every time he got the ball,â€ť Connor said. â€śI donâ€™t know what youâ€™d call that. Iâ€™d throw it to him and heâ€™d shoot it.â€ť
â€śAnd it went in!â€ť replied Belko.
â€śIt went in once in a while,â€ť Connor responded.
The back-and-forth continued as Connor remembered back to ISUâ€™s postseason game against Seattle.
â€śSeattle had two twins called the Oâ€™Brien twins,â€ť Connor said. â€śThey were great players. One scored 35 (points), but I checked the guy in front and held him to 34.â€ť
Added Belko, â€śThereâ€™s so many great stories. I could just take his resume and tell you a story about each one of those things.â€ť
Connor also played football and ran track at Idaho State before being a part of Boise State athletics for 27 years â€” eight of which were spent as the Broncosâ€™ head menâ€™s basketball coach. Despite Connorâ€™s longevity in Boise, thereâ€™s only one school where his heart truly lies.
â€śIâ€™m not a Bronco,â€ť Connor said. â€śIâ€™m a Bengal.â€ť
Like Connor and Belko, Louie Hurst also has made his mark on Idaho State athletics. A kicker and an all-conference defensive back, Hurst played for the Bengals from 1968 to 1972. He played his first two years in the Spud Bowl â€” now Davis Field on the southeast corner of campus â€” before playing his final two years inside the newly built Holt Arena. Hurst kicked the first collegiate field goal inside the Dome.
And though Hurstâ€™s wife, Chris, is a University of Idaho graduate, even she had on Bengal gear.
â€śItâ€™s like a great big family reunion,â€ť Louie said. â€śThere are guys I havenâ€™t seen for 40 years. And they show up and itâ€™s like we just met yesterday. Itâ€™s a great feeling because weâ€™ve all been there â€” the blood, sweat and tears. â€¦ It becomes a real tight-knit family in a hurry.â€ť
Though Kamino Ward, Tavonte Jackson and Christian Diehm graduated from ISU just last year, they still understand the heritage and honor that comes with being a former Bengal football player.
Ward and Jackson both played cornerback for ISU in 2014 and 2015. Diehm redshirted in 2011 and played on the offensive line in 2012 and 2013 before becoming the full-time starter at center in 2014 and 2015. The trio was instrumental in the Bengalsâ€™ record-breaking 8-4 campaign in 2014 when ISU narrowly missed out on the postseason.
Ward, Jackson and Diehm havenâ€™t had much time to soak in what it means to be a part of the Bengal alumni fraternity. They canâ€™t wait to continue connecting with those who are seasoned in the experience.
â€śI look forward to the future â€” like 10 years down the line coming back and just being able to come to this spot exactly and hang out with everybody,â€ť Diehm said. â€śAll they have to know is what years I played. â€¦ Itâ€™s simple.â€ť