Wofford is hardly a typical I-AA team

School in South Carolina has legally blind receiver

September 26, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Wofford College has the smallest enrollment of any school playing football on the Division I-AA or I-A level, meaning that one of every six males in a student body of around 1,100 is on the team that will play Maryland on Saturday.

The Terriers, though, could be one of college football's most interesting stories.

Forget Wofford's 3-0 record that includes last week's 14-7 victory over I-AA powerhouse Georgia Southern, the first home loss for the six-time national champion in 11 years.

Can any other team in the country claim to have a legally blind receiver (Isaac Goodpaster), as well as a coaching staff that includes the school's former president and a World War II paratrooper who jumped onto the beach at Normandy?

"They bring so much more than the average [assistant] coach," head coach Mike Ayers said yesterday about Joe Lesesne and Lee Hanning.

Lesesne, 65, came to Wofford as a history professor in 1964. He helped out with the football team for a few years before moving into the administration, eventually becoming the school president in 1972.

"He was a football coach that was trapped in the world of academics," said Ayers, who has been at Wofford for 18 years, the first three as an assistant.

Lesesne tried to keep a low profile after retiring as president in 2000.

"I sort of hid out," Lesesne said. "I was trying to stay out of everybody's hair. Last year, Coach Ayers and the new president sort of double-teamed [me] about coaching. I didn't think it was a great idea, but I gave it a try."

Lesesne figured it wasn't much different than what he did before.

"I was coaching vice presidents, now I'm coaching players," said Lesesne, who coaches Wofford's tight ends. "The game hasn't changed, but the language has. The biggest challenge for me was intellectually, as strange as that might sound."

Hanning showed up one day on campus in 1989, back when the Terriers were still playing Division II. He asked Ayers what he could do to help, started with fund-raising and equipment and worked his way onto the field.

He now helps out with the kickers, which last season meant working with one-armed place-kicker Darren Brown, who has since graduated. Hanning also helps out when the Carolina Panthers, owned by Wofford graduate Jerry Richardson, hold training camp at the Spartanburg, S.C., school.

"You could write a novel about that guy," Ayers said of Hanning. "He's a man driven by the game of football."

The same might also be said of Goodpaster. Last season, the senior wide-out led Wofford with 26 catches for 422 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown reception that briefly gave the Terriers the lead against Clemson.

Goodpaster has 20-200 vision and has suffered from macular degeneration from birth, though the condition wasn't discovered until he was in the sixth grade.

"I needed to learn at a young age how to compensate," Goodpaster said. "That gave me the drive and the ability in the future. You get used to where you need to be. I catch more with my peripheral vision than with my central vision."

"He's lucky he doesn't run into the stadium with his eyesight," Ayers told The New York Times in a story that appeared in yesterday's editions. "What we've got here are not only student-athletes in the truest sense of the word, but guys who are used to overcoming challenges."

Some of this year's freshmen on the roster have no idea of what Lesesne and Hanning did in their previous lives.

But junior tight end Tommy Chandler said that his relationship with Lesesne is special.

"It definitely means a lot," Chandler said. "It's definitely interesting to have someone who is so well-educated coaching a sport people think is for dumb jocks. There's a lot of irony to it."

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