PARK RIDGE, N.J. » Freshman receiver Billy Ray Stutzmann has played just one game, and he’s already about to enter the University of Hawaii football record book.
Well, the unofficial record book. Ben Yee and George Lumpkin have both been around the UH program the past 40 years, so if they agree that something’s a school record, I consider it gold until I hear otherwise.
When I told them that Stutzmann will have 143 fans coming to see him at the Warriors’ game Saturday at West Point, that ever-present toothpick nearly fell from Yee’s mouth, and Lumpkin’s reaction was similar.
"That’s got to be the record," said Yee, the longtime booster who makes it to every road game. "I think somebody else had 40 once. Not only is it an amazing number, consider where we’re at. We’re on the other side of the world, we’re in New York."
Actually, the fact that the game is in the vicinity of Gotham is a big reason why the Stutzmann clan will be out in force. Billy Ray’s father, Bill, is originally from Long Island. Billy Ray was born to Bill and Ramona Stutzmann in Garden City, N.Y., and the family moved to Hawaii when he was 1.
Bill Stutzmann has seven brothers and sisters, and five of them and their families will be at Michie Stadium on Saturday. He said his brother, Mark Stutzmann, and brother-in-law Joe Griffith are the lead organizers.
"Billy Ray has 25 cousins who will be at the game," Bill said. "And there are going to be lots and lots of people that in Hawaii we call hanai or calabash uncles who aren’t blood relatives, but all ohana."
Stutzmann family members and friends are gathering here from seven different states, including Hawaii, and the District of Columbia. One of the few who won’t attend is former UH receiver Craig Stutzmann, Billy Ray’s brother who is now an assistant coach at Memphis and has a game Saturday.
"We took a lot of family trips here when I was younger, but not as much when I started playing a lot of sports," said Billy Ray, who got his first game action last week against USC. He alternated with Joe Avery at wideout after starter Rodney Bradley went out with an injury, but had no passes thrown his way. "I’d have to say New York is nothing like Hawaii. Everything’s completely opposite, from the weather to how life is fast here and laid-back in Hawaii."
The Stutzmann family is an extreme example, but UH has begun to shed its image as a college football program that doesn’t draw well on the road. A watershed moment was the 2008 Sugar Bowl, when some estimates had 20,000 Hawaii fans at the Louisiana Superdome.
Lumpkin, the longtime assistant coach who is now director of football operations, said there weren’t even 143 UH fans total at the game the only previous time Hawaii played in the Northeast. The Rainbows lost 7-3 at Rutgers in 1975 (while center and linebacker Rich Ellerson, now the Army coach, was taking a year off between lettering at UH in 1974, ’76 and ’77).
Lumpkin said support for Hawaii football on the road has grown over the years, especially recently. "Everybody saw the Sugar Bowl," he said. "They’re coming out of the woodwork, and we appreciate the following. More people are proud to have that connection."
Head coach Greg McMackin has taken note, also.
"More and more Polynesian people live on the mainland now, and many fans who live in Hawaii find a way to come to our road games," McMackin said. "We’ve gotten some national recognition for the style of play. People like to see us passing the football. And people identify with our team as a group that comes out fighting and doesn’t retreat."
They run the ball, but the Black Knights of West Point fit the last part of that description, too. And the Corps of Cadets help give Army a home-field cheering edge unique to the academies.
But Billy Ray Stutzmann has an army, too, and it will be fully deployed behind the enemy lines Saturday.