HUNTINGTON - Two months ago, Tampa Catholic athletic director Don Dziagwa was approached by Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl committee members about potentially hosting a team for practices leading up to the game.
When the matchup was announced on Dec. 2, it was like an early Christmas gift for the longtime basketball coach and athletic director for the Crusaders.
Dziagwa would get the chance to host his alma mater Marshall University for the bowl practices leading up to the Dec. 20 matchup between the Thundering Herd and South Florida.
"If I had to pick a team to host, it would've been Marshall," Dziagwa said. "You can take every college football team in the country and I'd say, 'Let's bring Marshall down here.' It was really a neat situation. This is great having them down here."
As Marshall arrived for its practice on Monday, Dziagwa greeted head coach Doc Holliday before walking into the locker room to announce the news to everyone inside the facility at Tampa Catholic as the team got ready for its first practice session of bowl week in Tampa.
"The guys were all inside, the training crew and everyone, and I said, 'OK, I've got to get everybody's attention here. I just have to let you know that I'm a Marshall grad - 1977,'" Dziagwa said. "They were like, 'Oh, wow, that's great.' It's been quite a while since I've been at Marshall, but just watching the football team, I'm thinking that those guys walk on the same campus that I walked on and they have the same classrooms, Smith Hall and others, that we were in."
The Parkersburg native stayed in-state to go to Marshall from 1973-77, however, as did many within the state, his connection to the university predates his arrival to campus.
Dziagwa's connection strengthened while he was in high school when the 1970 Marshall plane crash occurred. At the time, his older brother, Bill, was a student at Marshall and the impact of the tragedy, plus the subsequent rebuilding of the team and community affected him greatly.
"I think to this day, we still feel a bonding of people who go to Marshall because of that," Dziagwa said. "Obviously, it makes us different than any other college that's out there. I think we have a connection, maybe, in regards to that with those who have gone to Marshall."
One of the things that Dziagwa thinks is the most special about Marshall's football program is its rise to its current status, as to where it was when he was a student with the team struggling following the 1970 tragedy.
"That, in itself, is such a great story, as you can imagine," Dziagwa said. "What the football program has developed into, the national championships they won at the I-AA level, and to see them rise and get better and better and better is really something. Now, they are playing in prestigious bowl games and it's really neat."
Dziagwa did his student teaching at the old Huntington High School and lived on Hal Greer Boulevard across from Marshall's campus.
Following his time at Marshall, Dziagwa went back to Parkersburg and taught for two years at Parkersburg Catholic before moving to Wheeling to work with Wheeling Central basketball coach Skip Prosser, who went on to collegiate coaching success at Xavier and Wake Forest. In 1981, Dziagwa's first head coaching gig came at St. Marys (W.Va.) High School.
In 1983, Dziagwa moved to Tampa to become the assistant coach at Tampa Catholic, a position he maintained until he was named head coach at Leto High School in 1986. Five years later, he returned to Tampa Catholic in 1991 as the head basketball coach and has remained in for 27 years.
All along, Dziagwa said that going from Parkersburg Catholic to his eventual spot at Tampa Catholic was poetic because they are both the Crusaders.
This week, however, Dziagwa gets to celebrate all the mascots that he has cherished through the years with the Herd in town.
Under his black and green Tampa Catholic Puma jacket, there will be a Kelly green Marshall shirt as he supports a school that helped him to where he is today.
STRONG ADDRESSES QB SITUATION...SORT OF: Joey Knight, who covers South Florida football for the Tampa Bay Times, said that, following Monday's practice, South Florida head coach Charlie Strong did not offer any more insight on the status of starting quarterback Blake Barnett for Thursday's Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.
Per Knight, Barnett was not in a protective boot when the team went to the Beach Invasion on Sunday and Strong told Knight that Barnett was 'wait-and-see' for the matchup as he works his way back from multiple injuries that kept him out of the regular-season finale against UCF. In addition to the lower leg injury, Barnett suffered a shoulder injury earlier in the season.
Knight went on to say in a tweet Monday that he "Wouldn't hold my breath on him starting," in regards to Barnett.
CENTER OF ATTENTION: Marshall junior center Levi Brown is one of the Herd's bigger personalities on the team and on Monday he got to do what every big kid-at-heart wants to when they get older.
Brown celebrated his birthday with a trip to the amusement park.
One of the bowl events scheduled for the teams on Monday was a trip to Busch Gardens in Tampa for an event known as "Ambusch Gardens."
WELCOME TO TAMPA: On Monday evening, Marshall's football team reconvened with those from the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl committee and welcoming committee members from the city of Tampa for an event at Florida Aquarium.
TUESDAY'S SCHEDULE: The Herd has a jam-packed early portion of the day on Tuesday.
After an 8 a.m. practice at Tampa Catholic, most of Marshall's player will head to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park for the Onbikes Player Build where both teams will build 100 bikes in a one-hour period for distribution to kids in the Tampa area.
Select players will also head to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg to visit kids who are in the children's units at the facility.
Marshall's band also will have an event of its own as the Battle of the Bands takes place at Treasure Island at 2 p.m.