More Than A Game

USD football player Austin Rodriquez '13 hangs our with young Levi Hickey at a mentorship program for autistic children


The sticker on Paul Tremblay’s desk is a memento, a small token of appreciation bearing the logo of the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. It’s also a reminder.

“It reminds me how lucky I am every day,” says Tremblay ‘11, USD’s hulking All-Pioneer Football League defensive lineman. “It was really an honor and a privilege to spend even a few minutes with those amazing kids.”

Tremblay was among the USD contingent that visited the hospital last October before a game against Butler University. The sticker was a gift from a feisty little boy sporting a Mohawk haircut in defiance to the scar on his head left from a recent operation.

“He was awesome,” Tremblay recalls. “You could tell in his eyes that he was a fighter.”

The same could be said for members of the USD football team. After all, it’s one of the university’s
marquee varsity sports, yet the only athletic program that doesn’t provide scholarships for its athletes. The result? Toreros are accustomed to battling for every inch.

“Every one of them is playing football for the love of the game,” head coach Ron Caragher says. “They’re just as driven as scholarship athletes — except our guys have to come up with money to pay for their housing, their schooling and their meals.”

Their dedication on the gridiron has followed into the classroom; 37 USD players earned PFL Academic Honor Roll status last season. In addition, Caragher’s emphasis on community service has sparked the team to make a significant impact well beyond Alcalá Park.

“We want to nurture these young men in all areas, not just on the football field,” Caragher says. “When you’re a student-athlete, you’re held to a higher standard. I’m constantly impressed with our guys. They’ve done a tremendous job of being involved in the community and they’ve really bought into the idea that good things always come when you reach out and help others.”

The team’s community activities include running a mentorship program for autistic children and offering free youth football clinics. Caragher has also been instrumental in organizing weekly trips such as volunteering at the Salvation Army homeless shelter and giving talks at juvenile group homes and local elementary and middle schools.

Wide receiver Godfrey Smith ’11 — a fifth-year senior from Oakland — is among those who regularly visits with kids whose role models can be few and far between.

“It’s just a chance to talk to them and show them how we’re examples that you can do positive things no matter what situation you came from,” Smith says. “Little things like that can uplift their day, and your day as well. You feel good helping somebody else. And if you feel good, you play good.”

Of course, that adage didn’t always translate into on-the-field success last season: The injury-plagued Toreros finished with a 4-7 record, their first losing campaign since 2000.

“Nobody liked what happened last year, but these guys see it as a challenge,” Caragher says. “It all starts with attitude, and I think the team has a great attitude.”

In the off season, the team used the proverb “iron sharpens iron” as a rallying cry to redouble their efforts in restoring the program’s winning ways. Most of the Toreros stayed in San Diego to participate in grueling daily workouts during their summer “vacation.” Without the benefit of scholarships, the players did whatever they could — including sharing their apartments and couches —to help their teammates.

“I think it brings us together because everybody is equal,” Tremblay says. “Everyone came here on their own merit to work hard and be a part of a team. But this program is more than just a football team, it’s a family.” — Nathan Dinsdale