TOWSON, Md. - There was a time at Towson University when football games were the afterthought of tailgating activities. No more.
"We used to like to joke that our fraternity were the only people in the parking lot," Kevin Lynch, 32, said. "It's come a long way."
Heavy investments in the university's football infrastructure—a new coach, an expanded stadium, more scholarships—are paying off in rapid succession. The Tigers posted their first 10-win season in Division I football this year—the cherry on top of turning around a worst-to-first record in recent seasons.
The student body, as well as its alumni, is responding.
"The more Towson wins and gets there name out there they can build more school spirit on campus," Lynch, a Towson Delta Sigma Phi alumnus, said. "It's really exciting to see Towson in a really big game."
Towson plays for the FCS Championship game this weekend against a monster North Dakota State. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. EST, which has alums and current students scrambling to organize bus trips and viewing parties—activities that would've been unheard of just four years ago with the Tigers finished with a 1-10 (0-8 CAA) record.
"They were terrible for most of my undergrad experience." Bruce Stahl, a 30-year-old Towson grad said.
Stahl graduated in 2007, although he has since returned to the university to pursue a masters degree.
"I can see excitement coming back to campus," Stahl said. "I'm enjoying it. I get to go to the games now… [It's] something we didn't take into account when we were actually there."
Stahl is organizing a bus trip from Baltimore to Towson, to watch the game at the Charles Village Pub—a popular bar for university students. But more than local camaraderie, Stahl said the Tigers brand is starting to resonate nationally.
He said friends and family started asking him about Towson after watching the team play on television when he was home for the holidays in New Jersey.
"It's bringing them to the map," Stahl said.
At 92 years old, Q.D. Thompson is probably the oldest Towson University booster, supporter and fund-raiser, particularly for the school's athletics programs.
"To put it bluntly, I'm absolutely delighted. I just can't wait until Jan. 4," Thompson said. "It reminds me of the old days when I was with [Donald] Doc Minnegan in 1942 and he put winning teams on the field just by hard work."
Minnegan coached four sports at Towson in the 30s and 40s and served as athletics director at a time when the school didn't have a football team. Minnegan was inducted in the school's Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992. A room that overlooks Johnny Unitas Stadium, home of Tigers football, was named after Doc Minnegan himself for his years of service to the school. He was highly-regarded for his emphasis on pure athleticism.
Thompson, who during his time at Towson was a three-sport athlete, compared Minnegan to Towson's current head coach Rob Ambrose.
"He must be a very diligent demanding young man because he has those Tigers growling," Thompson said.
Ambrose, a former player, has developed a reputation of being hard-nosed and demanding of his team, again not unlike Minnegan.
"He was a mentor, a coach and a father to me," Thompson said. "He taught me how to persevere and overcome the obstacles."
The Tigers will face a mountain of an obstacle come Saturday when they meet the Bisons in Frisco, Tex. It'll be a debut championship game for the Tigers, while North Dakota State, with its senior-heavy team, will be returning to the spotlight for the third straight year.