By Trey Williams
B.J. Adigun was vacationing at Disney World when East Tennessee State’s football team scripted a Cinderella story on Saturday with a 23-3 victory at Vanderbilt.
Not that Adigun, a former ETSU All-Southern Conference receiver and the 1997-98 SoCon male athlete of the year, was expecting the Commodores to cover the three-touchdown spread.
He’d spoken with ETSU athletic director Scott Carter some 4 or 5 weeks prior to the game and had a strong sense the Buccaneers would hang around.
“Scott Carter was telling me we had everybody returning on defense,” Adigun said. “So I felt like if Vandy didn’t go up big early that we’d have a shot. I got back to the hotel and saw those last few minutes and it was one of those surreal moments, because having gone through building up the program in the mid to late ‘90s and then seeing it go away (2004) and come back (2015), this is a signature win for us.”
Adigun, who works for BlueCross BlueShield in Syracuse, New York, can vouch for the shelf life of magical Saturdays. He played in a handful of ETSU’s most memorable wins, including a triumph against Appalachian State in 1996 that stopped a 14-game drought in the series and the school’s first playoff win against Villanova later that year. But a jaw-dropping 51-28 rout of the Mountaineers in Boone in ’97 was the most memorable.
ETSU piled up 707 yards and never punted against a team that had given No. 18 Clemson a tussle in a 23-12 loss earlier that season.
Adigun had 10 catches for 222 yards, including a 36-yard TD that gave the Bucs the lead for good late in the first half against the sixth-ranked Mountaineers, who hadn’t lost to ETSU at home since 1978.
Jerry Mynatt was the ETSU receivers coach in ’97. Mynatt lettered as a receiver at ETSU and finished his career at Carson-Newman.
“In 20 years of being involved in college football and wide receivers, B.J. was ‘The’ – with a capital T – very best route runner I have ever seen,” Mynatt said. “DBs didn’t have a chance of seeing his cuts coming. B.J. was the guy that you didn’t coach, you just got out of the way and enjoyed the show.”
It was quite a show that sunny afternoon in the hostile environment of Kidd-Brewer Stadium. Red-shirt freshman quarterback Todd Wells completed 16 of 21 passes for 377 yards. Fullback Brian Edwards, a converted tailback (the father of Tennessee basketball commit B.J. Edwards), ran for a 91-yard TD.
“Brian hit it so fast that as I started breaking down (to block), the corner flew up the field,” Adigun said. “I considered myself a pretty fast guy, probably the fastest guy on the team. So I’m thinking I’m gonna run down, get a block and he’s gonna score. And Brian just kept pulling away.”
The most dreamlike play was when Anthony Stringfield, Adigun’s quarterback in high school (Largo, Maryland) and childhood friend, caught an 86-yard TD pass in the second half.
“I did most of my damage in the first half and in the third quarter one of the DBs said something like, ‘You’re not gonna get any more,’” Adigun said. “And I was like, ‘Well, if you guys double me you better worry about No. 3.’ I remember telling ‘em that. And … the very next play String catches a touchdown. And I think the very next drive he catches that bomb that put the game out of reach. …
“I still remember vividly running after him trying to catch up to him after he caught that long bomb and being like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe this is actually happening.’ It was one of those surreal moments that you never forget, especially with somebody that was a childhood friend.”
Stringfield initially went to Hargrave Military Academy and Adigun went to Virginia Tech. Mike Cavan got them to Johnson City the following year.
“At the time Chris Beatty and Jeff Johnson were the receivers there, and both of them were like all-conference players,” Adigun said. “I was like, ‘Man, that sounds like an offense that I would really want to be a part of.’”
Adigun, 5-foot-10 and skinny, set ETSU’s career record for receptions (172), receiving yards (2,802) and TD catches (26).
He played in the CFL for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and ended up in the San Diego Chargers camp, where, while sitting with general manager Bobby Beathard waiting to sign a contract, he noticed a large man (6-foot-3, 250 pounds) effortlessly dunking basketballs outside.
“He’s doing windmill dunks and all types of crazy, athletic, acrobatic moves,” Adigun said. “So I’m asking Bobby, ‘Man, who is that?’ And he says, ‘Oh, that’s just Junior (Seau).’”
It was exciting enough visiting with Beathard, the architect of Adigun’s beloved Washington Redskins when he was a child in the ‘80s. Adigun noted two of his all-time favorites, Darrell Green (Texas A&I) and Gary Clark (James Madison), being smallish guys from “small” schools, too.
Speaking of Green brought to mind former ETSU teammate Donnie Abraham, who played cornerback nine years in the NFL.
“ETSU had some great DBs,” Adigun said. “Donnie Abraham, Jeff Horton, Mike Scott, Chaka Sutton. Those were some battles.”
Adigun was injured in the playoff win against Villanova in ’96 and had to miss the quarterfinals loss at Montana. That injury and not being able to pull off an upset of Randy Moss-led Marshall in a packed Mini-Dome earlier that season were probably his two biggest disappointments as a Buc.
“It was tough, because we kind of felt like we had missed an opportunity in that Marshall game,” he said. “It would’ve kind of put a stamp on being one of the top teams in the country. … If (Montana) was the No. 2 team in the country at the time, we definitely could play with anybody in the country.”
Perhaps that’ll be the case for this ETSU team.
“I’m just so happy for (defensive coordinator) Billy Taylor and the coaching staff and those kids,” Adigun said. “It’ll be a memory they’ll take with them for the rest of their lives.”