Since the University of South Alabama was founded more than 50 years ago, many outstanding athletes have represented the Jaguars by donning the red, white and blue uniforms. The school will celebrate five of their greatest this weekend as the newest class of the USA Athletic Hall of Fame is inducted.
Joining the select list are Demetric Bennett, Jeff Campbell, Mark Hoffman, Pete Klear and Marei Lirette. The ceremony will take place on campus Saturday, while the entire group will be recognized during halftime of USA’s football game against San Diego State.
With this class, a total of 76 former student-athletes, coaches and administrators will have earned the honor since the creation of the hall in 1989. A glance of the quintet follows:
Demetric Bennett — A two-time first-team all-Sun Belt Conference selection, he still remains among the top 10 in the men’s basketball program’s record books in four statistical categories: points scored (seventh, 1,405), three-point field goals (second, 208), three-point field-goal percentage (fourth, 41.6 percent) and steals (eighth, 124). As a senior during the 2007-08 season, Bennett led the Jaguars in scoring (19.7 points per game), steals (42) and three-pointers (90). He helped USA to a school-record 26 wins, an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament and the SBC East Division championship.
Jeff Campbell — He became the first individual in USA history to qualify for the NCAA Cross Country Championship, where he came in 32nd place to earn All-America honors. He helped South claim a pair of SBC cross country titles with runner-up finishes at the league meet, and he added a pair of individual victories at Sun Belt track championships, and recording all-conference honors six times. Campbell was named to the league’s 30th Anniversary All-Time Men’s Cross Country, Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field Teams.
Mark Hoffman — One of only two individuals in the baseball team’s history to throw a no-hitter, Hoffman is the school’s all-time leader with a 2.26 earned run average and is among the top 15 with 193 strikeouts as well after earning four letters from 1970-73. As a sophomore, he helped the program become the first in school history to reach No. 1 in the national polls with a team-best 1.71 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 63 innings pitched. The Jaguars finished 36-8 and made their first-ever NCAA postseason appearance. As a junior, Hoffman earned first-team all-region honors, going 10-2 with a 1.78 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 91.1 innings helping USA finish 33-9 after returning to the district tournament.
Pete Klear — A four-year letter winner in men’s tennis from 1967-70, Klear was presented the Frederick P. Whiddon Award (as the Jaguar Student-Athlete of the Year Award was then known) in 1969 and served as team captain each of his last two years. Playing at primarily the No. 1 position, he finished with a career mark of 56-16 while contributing to the Jags’ 38-20 record in dual matches during that time. As a senior, Klear helped South finish 21-2 as a team to qualify for the NCAA Championship, where the Jaguars would come in 20th as he accounted for two of four points with a second-round singles victory.
Marei Lirette — In 1988, she became the only the USA player to be named the SBC Volleyball Player of the Year. That fall, she paced South with 410 kills and 554 digs — Lirette remains one of just seven individuals in the program’s record books to record 300-plus kills and digs in the same season — to also be voted first-team all-league, then was named to the all-Sun Belt Tournament team after helping the Jags go 2-2 at the event. In addition to still ranking among the top 10 on USA’s season record list in both categories with her performance as a junior, Lirette also stands 10th in program history with 855 career digs.
● Saturday’s football game will be broadcast on ESPNEWS. The contest will kick off at 7 p.m. It marks the third time in the opening five weeks of the season that the Jags will have their game nationally broadcast.
Kayaker to take on the Great Loop
Back in 2013, this column introduced its readers to The Great Loop, a circumnavigation of the eastern half of the United States by water. That story focused on adventurers in yachts and sailboats stopping off in Mobile during a trip that can stretch out to 7,500 miles of rivers and coastlines.
This Saturday, a new chapter will be written about the famous trek. At that time, Jayson Ambrose of Winnipeg, Canada, will begin his journey at 10 a.m. from the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center. What makes this unique is he will make the trip on a kayak.
“As for the currents, there will be challenges at times,” Ambrose told Lagniappe. “But as long as I keep it in the back of my mind — I’m not the first to deal with the currents and certainly won’t be the last — therefore there is no reason for me not to push forward and stay positive.”
After leaving Mobile Bay, Ambrose will head east to Florida along the Intracoastal Waterway. The course can reach the Atlantic Ocean either by using the Okeechobee Waterway or around the Florida Keys. Once entering New York harbor, the Loopers go up the Hudson River. Following historic canals, vessels pass Chicago and veer south along the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers. A trip down the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway will complete the circuit in Mobile.
“Oh, it’s going to suck at times and I’m sure I’ll have that expressive facial feature of, ‘Whose dumb idea was it to paddle for 15 months?’” said Ambrose. “It’s all good, because the experience is a once in a life time opportunity, so I’m pretty sure I’ll stay positive.”
To read a nice story by his hometown newspaper, you may visit tinyurl.com/zw2c5mg. Those interested in keeping up with his trip can learn more at onecanadiansjourney.com and on Facebook at “onecanadiansjourney.”