Thigpen, Connie among 2014 CCU athletics Hall of Fame inductees

ablondin@thesunnews.comJuly 15, 2014 

Browns Johnnys Jaunt Football

Cleveland Browns quarterbacks Johnny Manziel (2) and Tyler Thigpen (4) during organized team activities at the NFL football team's facility in Berea, Ohio.

MARK DUNCAN — AP

NFL quarterback Tyler Thigpen’s relationship with Coastal Carolina University has come full circle.

The CCU football program’s first quarterback from 2003-06 still holds almost every school single-game, single-season and career record for passing and total offense, but his relationship with his alma mater was strained after his college coach, David Bennett, was fired following the 2011 season.

Thigpen wrote a multi-page letter denouncing CCU's administration and criticizing it for the way it handled Bennett’s dismissal.

The relationship has improved over the past year, as Thigpen has spoken to administrators and football coaches, attended several sporting events and participated in the school’s pro day to help a pair of seniors get drafted by NFL teams.

He’ll now have a permanent place at the university in its George F. “Buddy” Sasser Athletics Hall of Fame.

“It was one of those things I wasn’t ever sure would come, but I’m excited about being part of the 2014 Hall of Fame class,” Thigpen said.

Thigpen joins three other athletes and a coach in the 2014 class. Also selected are Thigpen’s four-year teammate, kicker Josh Hoke, founding and longtime women’s cross country and track & field coach Alan Connie, and track standouts Diana Jepchirchir Mendes and Thomas Jordan.

The 2014 class will have its official induction ceremony on Nov. 15 prior to CCU’s afternoon football game against Monmouth, and the group will be recognized at halftime of the contest.

Thigpen and Hoke join 2012 inductees Maurice Simpkins and Quinton Teal and 2013 inductee Patrick Hall as members of the inaugural football team in the Hall of Fame.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bummed that I didn’t get in that first year [2012]. But everything happens for a reason,” Thigpen said. “I’m kind of glad all that stuff is over with now. Last year I think we mended everything and ended on good terms.

“It’s obviously a great honor; only a few of my fellow teammates are in.”

• Thigpen, who was recruited from Fairfield Central High in Winnsboro, led the Chanticleers to a 34-11 record in their first four years from 2003-06.

In his career, Thigpen completed 486-of-879 passes for 6,598 yards with 53 touchdowns and 25 interceptions and rushed 345 times for 1,638 yards with 13 scores. He led Coastal to three Big South Conference championships and the conference’s first NCAA FCS playoff berth in 2006.

Thigpen earned a national player of the week honor three times, was named the 2006 Don Hansen’s Weekly Gazette National Offensive Back of the Year, and finished seventh in voting for the 2006 Walter Payton Award.

He still holds four Big South records for a 2006 season that included 3,952 yards of offense, 3,296 passing yards, 274.7 passing yards per game and 29 TD passes.

He was the first player in Big South history to be drafted in the NFL, going in the seventh round (217th overall) to the Minnesota Vikings, has played for Kansas City, Miami and Buffalo, and is a member of the Cleveland Browns.

• Like Thigpen, Hoke still holds several CCU records. The Statesville, N.C., native owns school career records for extra points made (177), extra points attempted (183), extra points percentage (.967), field goals made (40), field goals attempted (63) and punting average (37.21 yards).

He led the Big South in scoring with 83 points in 2004 and 80 points in 2005, led league kickers in scoring all four of his seasons and in field goals made in three years, and his 297 career points and 177 extra points were Big South records until 2011.

“When you’re this far out and people look back on your career and appreciate what you achieved and stood for, that means a lot,” Hoke said. “It means more to me than any award I’ve ever received.”

Hoke’s accomplishments in the classroom were perhaps more impressive. He earned a Communications degree with a 3.98 GPA and was a two-time First Team ESPN CoSIDA Academic All-American (which includes all NCAA divisions), three-time FCS Athletic Directors Association Academic All-Star and the 2006 Big South Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

“I would like to think my lasting legacy is what I was able to do in the classroom and the precedent I set for my teammates and all athletes of what you can do as a student-athlete if you’re dedicated and driven and want to succeed in multiple ways,” said Hoke, who owns and operates Crossfit Mountain Island gym outside Charlotte, N.C.

• Connie retired in May after being on the ground floor of the women’s cross country and indoor and outdoor track & field programs. He was head coach from the inception of the women’s cross country program in 1986 and women’s indoor track & field program in 1998, and was the associate head coach for the inaugural women’s outdoor track & field team in 1994 before becoming head coach in 1999.

“I didn’t have to sweat it out for 20 years, that’s for sure,” Connie said. “I think it makes it even more special that there was such an immediate recognition of what we’ve done and my contribution to it. It’s a great honor and great feeling to be recognized for all the achievements our program has had over 28 years.”

Connie was named the 2004 Southeast Region Coach of the Year for indoor track & field and Big South Conference Coach of the Year 33 times, and he went out on top, as his programs captured the conference’s triple crown of 2013-14 championships in cross country and indoor and outdoor track for the fourth time in the past 10 years.

Connie coached two-time Olympian Amber Campbell and helped athletes earn 12 All-America honors. His cross country program was ranked as high as 20th nationally in 1997 and his indoor team ended the 1998 season ranked 26th.

• Jepchirchir Mendes ran cross country and track & field from 2006-08 and in’07 was named both the Big South’s Women’s Cross Country Runner of the Year and Most Outstanding Women’s Indoor Track & Field Athlete.

The diminutive Uganda native is one of just two Big South women’s cross country runners to earn All-America honors, which she did by placing 29th at the 2007 national championship. She was a five-time conference champion between cross country and distance races in indoor and outdoor track.

“As far as raw talent, she was among the best I ever had,” Connie said. “She was limited because her body couldn’t handle the type of volume and training and mileage most All-Americans would have. She maximized every part of her God-given ability. She exceeded expectations at regional and national competitions because she was a fierce competitor and hated to get beat.”

Jepchirchir began her collegiate career at the University of New Orleans, where she was named Sun Belt Cross Country and Indoor Track Runner of the Year after winning conference championships in cross country and four combined distance races in indoor and outdoor track. She transferred to CCU after the school’s cross country and track programs were cut following Hurricane Katrina.

• Jordan was a javelin thrower on the men’s track & field teams in 2004 and ’06-08 and his seventh-place finish in the 2006 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship remains the highest national finish by a CCU men’s track & field athlete.

The Lebanon, Pa., native also reached the 2004 NCAA Championship, was a four-time Big South champion in the javelin and set the Big South record in 2004 with a throw of 232 feet, 6 inches, which was broken by CCU’s Jason Flanagan in 2012.

“He was a real hard-working guy and dynamic athlete,” said CCU men’s track & field coach Jeff Jacobs, who coached the 5-foot-9 Jordan for three years. “He was undersized but really achieved at a high level. It was pretty amazing when you’d see him in a lineup of those other guys [at nationals].”

Jordan redshirted his sophomore year with a broken ankle, and also overcame rib and arm issues. “He kept fighting year after year to do the best he could,” Jacobs said.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284 or on Twitter @alanblondin, or read his blog Green Reading at myrtlebeachonline.com

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