Pro athletes emerge during first 50 years of Falcon Club

Donor, alumni support proves key to elite athletics' careers

Falcon-Club

By Bridget Tharp

Behind the past 50 years of unforgettable moments in BGSU athletics is a group of exceptionally devoted fans: Falcon Club. These Falcon loyalists support athletic scholarships, supply uniforms and training equipment, and cheer for their favorite teams.

If not for that Falcon spirit, men’s basketball might have missed out on the program’s “greatest win,” BGSU Athletic Hall of Fame archivist Mickey Cochrane said: the unexpected victory against undefeated Loyola on Feb. 16, 1963. Enthusiastic Falcon fans broke the glass near the entrance during the overwhelming excitement to fill Anderson Arena, overflowed into the aisles and doorways, and yelled through the game, Cochrane recalled. It is fitting that Falcon Club was founded the year after this level of school spirit was displayed.

The generosity of Falcon Club members increased by $400,000 last year, and helped to deliver quality education and an outstanding competitive experience to BGSU student-athletes. That’s worth celebrating, according to Athletics Director Chris Kingston.

“At the end of the day, successful people leave a legacy, sometimes with financial support and also by returning to speak with students,” Kingston said. “You don’t have to be playing professional sports to have the ability to come back and inspire student-athletes who are currently working toward a degree and doing what they love on the field, court or in the pool.”

The impact of the generosity of Falcon Club donors is evident. From coaches at the top of their game to pro-athletes building their names, this dedicated group has touched every sport and every student-athlete on campus.

Falcons tackling the NFL: Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Jones, football

NFL starter Kory Lichtensteiger ’07 and rookie Chris Jones ’13 share more than experience defending in The Doyt. Similarities were evident when they met before the spring game in 2013, about a month before Jones, then a BGSU senior, became the latest Falcon to be drafted by the league.  

“When people describe Kory Lichtensteiger here as a player, its eerily similar to how we would describe Chris Jones. Great leader. Great teammate,” said Dave Clawson, head coach for Falcon football. “These guys were extremely mature for their age, and had that rare ability at 21 years old to see the big picture.”

In the weight room before the annual scrimmage, Jones eagerly listened as Lichtensteiger shared his own experience preparing for the draft and surviving his rookie year.

“We just shared something,” said Jones, who is now playing for the New England Patriots. Jones was originally drafted by the Houston Texans. “He was just one of those quiet, hard-working guys, and that’s what I try to emulate myself. Just put my head down and work through things.”

Lichtensteiger was an offensive lineman and BGSU’S MVP in 2007. He also earned All-American, All-MAC and Academic All-MAC honors. He is in his fourth year as a full-time starter, and inked a five-year deal with the Washington Redskins in March.

A fourth-round NFL draft pick, he played in all 16 regular season games in 2008 for the Denver Broncos coached by Mike Shanahan, who was fired at the end of an 8-8 season. In 2009, the team released Lichtensteiger just one year and six weeks into his four-year contract. The Minnesota Vikings picked him up soon after, but then cut him within 30 days.

He spent the last couple months of 2009 worried his NFL career might be over.

“It’s a scary feeling,” Lichtensteiger said. “But you’ve always got to hope you have someone in your corner. Luckily, I’ve had Mike Shanahan in mine. If you have someone who believes in you at this level, it goes a long way. But at the same time, you have to make it worth it for them. You have to go out there and perform.”

In January 2010, Lichtensteiger considered interest from two other teams. But first, he asked his agent to seek a deal with the Redskins, now coached by Shanahan.

“I thought, ‘I’d better go with the guy who originally trusted me enough to draft me,’” Lichtensteiger said.

Before Lichtensteiger was drafted, he got his own pep talk from a Falcon in the NFL: retired San Diego Charger Scott Mruczkowski ’09. Now, he’s done the same for Jones.

“There’s not a whole lot of people who have the chance to go and play at the next level after Bowling Green, so I thought it was special,” Lichtensteiger said. “I was really impressed with meeting Chris. He’s a real quiet, humble kid.”

Jones and Lichtensteiger both feel a deep appreciation for the Falcon Club donors who shaped their experiences as student-athletes.

“We had a couple who would donate every year. They would be at every away game. When we got back they would be outside the bus cheering us on whether we won or lost. I think there are a lot of special people at Bowling Green,” Lichtensteiger said. 

When his younger sister was considering another Midwestern university, Lichtensteiger gave her “a little push in the right direction.” She is now a BGSU student.

Jones felt the impact of philanthropy through the Champions Circle program, which symbolically pairs scholarship donors with student-athletes. Other support provided little extras that Jones especially appreciated, like “protein powder after
a lift.”

“It was just great to see how passionate they are about us, sports in general and BG. It’s awesome,” Jones said. “I would love to give back to BG, because I know I really found myself there.”

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