Homecoming a 15 year celebration
Ricardo Tillman and John Underhill stand at the goal line waiting to return the first kickoff in the history of Jacksonville University football.

Playing an established Davidson College team that had career victories over teams such as Florida and South Carolina, a group of mostly red shirt and true freshmen anxiously await the start of JU football.

That scene took place in front of a crowd of 4,890 on the afternoon of Sept. 7, 1998, and that first game was such an event that Sen. Tillie Fowler, Gov. Lawton Chiles and former Miss America Leanza Cornett attended as the Dolphins beat the Wildcats 19-14.

Quarterback Gary Cooper and WR Ricardo Tillman led the Dolphins on offense and Justin Yowell and Christian Conley on defense.

Now, as JU is in its 15th season on the banks of the St. Johns River, a group of those young Dolphins will come together once again to celebrate their playing careers and reminisce about good times.

More than 150 former Dolphins are expected to return to campus this weekend for a social mixer at Miller’s Ale House at Regency Square on Friday from 6:30 p.m. until midnight. The festivities will kick into high gear again Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. at The Preferred Group tailgate party located in “The Grove” adjacent to the D.B. Milne facility and each freshman class of Dolphins will be recognized on the field at half time.

“We have chosen to honor our former players based on their freshman classes in respect of the ‘Valley Boys’,’’ said former player Chris Kuck, now with The Preferred Group. “The ‘Valley Boys’ were the first official signing class of JU and began practice in the fall of 1997 in the area just to the west of where the Dolphin Softball complex is now. They practiced for an entire fall schedule and a spring schedule knowing that they had over a year until their first game.”

Following Saturday’s game, the party will move inside to the Kinne Center for a post game dinner. The dinner is sponsored by the Preferred Group and will include bar-b-que pork, grilled chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs and all the appropriate side dishes. Cost of the dinner is $8 for adults and $4 for children under 10. Beer and wine, for adults of legal age, will be available at an additional cost.

“We have a chance to bring some alumni back to campus who haven’t been here for over 10 years,’’ said former JU equipment manager Tom Leonard, who organized the weekend festivities. “We want to make Homecoming something special from this day on, something that people circle on their calendars and tell their families ‘I am going back to JU to see my teammates and friends and watch my Dolphins play’.’’

With a win, JU would go to 75-75 all time, the first time since 1999 the Dolphins have been at .500. The last time they were at even was a 7-7 record.

Kickoff for Homecoming is set for 1 p.m. with CW17 televising the game and 92.5 FM broadcasting.