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A Father, a Son, and Football

By Ron Cherubini

When he gets a chance to return to East Carolina University and take in a football game, it is sometimes overwhelming for the former defensive lineman.

Don and son, Josh Tyson

In his day, the 1960s, East Carolina was East Carolina College and the football games were in a humble venue called Overton Stadium.

My, how things have changed.

“Every time, I think about what (playing at ECU) was…,” Don Tyson recalls, “when I go to the games and when I watch the team on television, I am amazed at what I see. When I’m there, live, and the players come into the stadium, my hair stands up. I remember what it was like, to run out onto the field. I remember kicking balls through the uprights and into the street. I can still feel it. Hell, I’m 55 years old and it still feels the same way. If they played ‘Dixie’ – our fight song then – I’d probably pass out.”

Tyson, who saw his career abruptly ended after his junior season due to injury, is passionate about football and, particularly, about East Carolina’s version of it. But it was, perhaps, his youngest son, Josh, who put things into a new perspective for Tyson on a recent visit to ECU.

“We went to Greenville for the weekend for the Memphis game this year,” Tyson explained. “Josh is a junior at Western Georgia and he hadn’t been (at ECU) since he was 12-years old. We were going to golf in the Letterman’s Golf tournament that weekend. Josh says, ‘Dad, can you take me by the stadium?’ So we drive by and he asks if we can stop and take a look. So we got out and walked into the stadium to about the 15-yard line. Josh looks at me and says, ‘Dad, this place is awesome.’

“Now, this kid regularly goes to Georgia and Alabama games and he says to me, ‘(My schoolmates) think we are just a little school.’ Look, he even says ‘we.’ And then he says, ‘This is big time!’ Then he goes on to ask me what it was like to be a player (at ECU).”

And Tyson shares with his son stories of past greatness, like being named an Honorable Mention All-American as a junior. Telling his boy how he wanted to run right home to the local drug store so that he could sit there and watch all the guys come by and congratulate him.

“Josh asked for a picture of the stadium and I got him that picture from the State game, the aerial shot,” Tyson said. “He was saying how his friends assumed that since ‘WCU is Western Carolina, then ECU must be Eastern Carolina.’ But Josh said, ‘I kept telling them all that ECU was big time.’”

As a successful builder, Tyson finds extra beauty in what he sees today on and around the grounds he once lived and played on.

“I don’t know what (ECU) has invested in (the upgrades),” he said. “But what they are doing is phenomenal. It is just beautiful. When I went here, a good crowd was 25,000 and our stadium started about where the 50-yard line is now. To see the facilities and the crowd support is overwhelming.”

You get the sense that he does not envy today’s Pirates, but rather, he enjoys the sheer pleasure of the game he played.

“You know, my son (Josh) was always a basketball player and he was a good one, too, at the 4-A level,” he said. “But he decided to play football one year, played at South Forsyth (Ga.) with (current ECU player) Brian Fox. Josh went out and started at tight end, and after the fourth or fifth game, he comes to me and says, ‘Dad, why didn’t you tell me about football?’

“And I said, ‘Son, it can’t be explained.’ There was no way to explain to him the emotions that football stirs up, and he said, ‘Dad, you’re right!’ And that tickled me to death.”

Tyson is glad to have made that connection with his son and hopes to continue to connect with the sport that stirs so much passion within him.

“All my children are grown, I have two grandchildren and I don’t have to do anything,” he said. “But, there is something I always wanted to do. I really wanted to graduate and when I gave up on football, I gave up on school. The other thing is, I always wanted to coach and make a difference like Coach (Henry) Van Sant did for me. I’m going to retire here soon and I’m going to do that… I’m going to teach kids to fight and to never give up.”

And mostly, he will try to teach that unexplainable thing about football that he and his son shared, to the next generation.

Tyson’s formula is simple:

“Football to me was always about fun,” he said. “I wasn’t very good at it, but I didn’t know it.”

Well, maybe he was kind of good at it.



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