Homecoming game brings back Gaucho greats

Saddleback College Gaucho linebackers 1987

Don “Butch” Butcher’s prayers in this photo taken in 1987 must have not been in vain as he went on to develop four conference Defensive Player of the Year recipients at Saddleback in Jeff Pease (’92), Scott von der Ahe (’93), Joe Cesta (’96), and Jimmy Ellingson (’03). (Photo courtesy of Seamus Callanan/Gaucho Football Alumni Club)

By MaryAnne Shults, Tameem Seraj, Tim White/Contributing Lariat Alumni

Fans, families and alumni joined together to celebrate “46 Years of Gaucho Football” at the Saddleback College stadium for the annual Homecoming game and festivities on Saturday evening.

“Homecoming is, in essence, the reunion and bringing back of all of the people that attended [or are] affiliated with Saddleback College to come back and celebrate the times they had at Saddleback, and of course, the institution,” Saddleback College’s President Tod Burnett said.

Saturday’s football game truly was a homecoming for many former Gaucho greats with the emergence of the Gaucho Football Alumni Club. For approximately 50 former players and coaches, this was the chance to reminisce about their gridiron days at Saddleback and to share their pride for being part of the college’s football program.

“Our model for the club is ‘Gauchos helping Gauchos’,” Seamus Callanan, the club’s founder and president, said. “It’s for the love we have for the program and the school, and especially for the coaches who made such an impression on us.”

During halftime, the football players and coaches were individually recognized, introducing themselves and sharing the years they played, the position, and often with some witty anecdotes. They represented a wide timeframe, from the first years of Saddleback football through the late 1980s.

“This is stuff I love to do,” said Dean of Kinesiology and Athletics Tony Lipold, referring to coordinating the Homecoming game recognition. “These guys help out and support us.”

Many of the former players confirmed this sentiment, saying their two years as part of the Gauchos team were their most memorable, even those who went on to play for four-year schools or even professional football.

“Great school, great fun,” said Russ Winninghoff, an offensive tackle from the 1977 team said to the crowd. “It was the best time of my life.”

Proudly wearing their national championship gold rings, Greg Heneghan and Jeff Platta, along with Charlie Wright, said football today is different than when the Gauchos won the national championship in 1985, but they were quick to first give praise to the coaching staff during that glory season.

“Kenny [Swearington] was all about ‘uni-form.’ It was all about being one team-team building,” Wright said. “It was 11 people doing one specific job.”

The formation of the GFAC was the concept of Callanan’s, a defensive back and captain of special teams in the ’77-’78 season. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.

The objective of the club is “to reunite old friends, reminisce, share laughs and tell old stories…to have fun,” according to the club’s Facebook Group page. Anyone with an affiliation with Gaucho football is welcome to join and participate, according to Callanan. In just three months, the club’s Facebook presence has grown to over 325 members.

Callanan’s father started the Trojan’s Football Alumni Club at University of Southern California and he modeled the Gauchos club the same way.

The first formal get-together of the GFAC was in August when over 200 football alumni met at a former player’s home in San Clemente to celebrate a 40-year reunion, according to Callanan.

“We will continue to reach out via email and social media,” Callanan said. “And beginning November 2, we’ll have a tailgate party at each home game.”

Adding to the Homecoming festivities were an assortment of family-style games, hosted and manned by members of the Associated Student Government, which also offered free food as well as Gaucho gear for fans including felt pennants and thundersticks in Saddleback’s scarlet and gold.

“Obviously face painting is always a popular thing and this year we decided to do Gaucho pong because there is a younger crowd,” said ASG’s director of publicity and public relations Madeline Hernandez, a 22-year-old communications major. “And then we always have the food truck because food typically attracts people, especially free food.”

Representatives from the Student Development Office had a table with an assortment of rubber ducks in a variety of sizes and colors. They were selling accepting donations of $10 as part of the “Pluck-A-Duck” fundraiser. Money raised from the sale of the ducks will go towards buying Chemo Ducks to give to children fighting cancer at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, according to Natalie Hart, an office assistant in the SDO.

The Gauchos have won three national championships (1985, 1992, 1996), 22 conference titles and participated in 12 bowl games in the 46 years since the program’s inception. They were nationally ranked for 12 consecutive seasons and have transferred players to some of the best college team and even the NFL over the years.

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MaryAnne Shults is an associate professor in the journalism department. She was the Lariat’s managing editor in spring 2011 and held other editorial positions prior. Tameem Seraj was the Lariat’s sports editor in spring 2012 and currently holds that position at CSUF’s Daily Titan. Tim White was the Lariat’s Editor-in-Chief in fall 2009 . He graduated from UCSD and is currently a consultant specializing in digital design and branding for startups.