"Providing benefits and services to America's state troopers since 1989"
Troopers tackle security role for college football
When Bobby Bowden and the Florida State University Seminoles took the football field for the 2009 season, a familiar face was right beside FSU head coach Bobby Bowden, a face that’s been part of FSU football for 45 seasons.
In 1964, Florida trooper Billy Smith was asked by then-FSU coach Bill Peterson if he would be interested in traveling with the team, which was a new concept at the time. Peterson was looking to add credibility to a team still earning respect in its home state. The governor of Florida agreed to the unique arrangement, and they negotiated a salary of "zero," which has been doubled every year since, jokes Smith, although he declares that the two national championship rings he’s received have been payment enough.
Since that day, Smith, 77, has escorted and provided security for FSU head coaches Bill Peterson, Larry Jones, Darrell Mudra, and, of course, Bobby Bowden.
In 1992, he was presented with the Bobby Bowden Appreciation Award and has also received awards from the Tallahassee Quarterback Club and the FSU Alumni Association. Though never an athlete at FSU, Smith has also been given an honorary varsity letter. One of the highest honors of his life came in 2006 when he was inducted into the FSU Sports Hall of Fame as the Moore-Stone Award winner for his outstanding commitment and service to FSU athletics.
“To say it was an honor would be a huge understatement,” Smith said of his Hall of Fame induction. “Every aspect of my role with the Seminoles has been a priceless part of my life, memories that I’ll take with me forever.”
As reporters envelope Bowden after each game, shouting questions, and as fans crowd around, begging for autographs, Smith always has security on his mind. Although the crowd has rarely presented a security problem for Smith, a situation several years ago posed a risk.
In 1990 Bowden received a letter, threatening his death at the next game, but at that next game, in South Carolina, Smith made sure that about 150 law enforcement officers in South Carolina were involved. Not only were fans searched as they entered the stadium, but numerous undercover officers stood on the sidelines during the game.
Smith didn’t allow Bowden to do his typical mingling with fans and posing for photos following the game. Instead, he was escorted safely to an awaiting patrol car, past a wall of troopers.
Although Smith retired from the Florida Highway Patrol in 1985 after 32 years, the patrol allows him to continue wearing his uniform during games.
Very few in the history of college athletics have been as close to a football program for so many years, and even fewer have garnered the respect and genuine affection that Smith has with his Florida State teams. He and Bowden have developed a lifelong friendship. They’ve shared jokes. They’ve shared wins, and losses. They’ve talked about their families, and traded secrets. But neither talks about retirement.
Mike Edmonson of the Louisiana State Police spent over 26 years donating his time to provide personal security for Louisiana State University head football coaches. He only stopped volunteering on the field in 2008 when he was appointed superintendent of the LSP and deputy secretary of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections.
Edmonson graduated from LSU in 1980 with a criminal justice degree and considered his work with the team his way of “giving back” to the school.
Edmonson’s role with LSU football was diverse. With the help of other troopers and local agencies, he helped coordinate bus arrangements, police escorts, and security for the players. Security is a monumental task, considering that the LSU campus swells to a population on game day that ranks as a top five city, with as many as 93,000 fans in the stadium and 40,000 visitors outside.
His work with one of the most prominent football programs in the country began in 1977. While he was attending LSU, he was a sheriff’s deputy and worked LSU home games. Edmonson began his career with the LSP the year after graduating from LSU. With a desire to model after the University of Alabama’s football security program involving state troopers, Edmonson met with the LSU Athletic Department to discuss LSP’s potential role with the team. LSU leaders requested a trooper to escort the head coach, and Edmonson soon began traveling with the team.
He has served with eight head coaches over the years, and has developed friendships with many of them. He also had opportunities to make a difference with the fans. During a home game about 12 years ago, he was standing on the sidelines near the stands when a fan motioned him over. The man explained to Edmonson that his grandfather was 84 years old, in poor health, and had not missed an LSU home game in 60 years. He had never been on the field, and his son asked for permission for his grandfather to just step on the field.
“I could see him behind his son – a frail figure. I reached out for his hand,” Edmonson said. “He and I walked onto the field, and that gentleman was in awe. He knelt down on the grass with tears in his eyes, looked up at me and said, ‘Trooper, this is a proud moment in my life.’”
About two weeks later, Edmonson received a phone call from the grandson, telling him that his grandfather had passed away and how happy he was that he had experienced that walk on the field. Edmonson was humbled to be part of it.
Although he has advanced to a position with the state police that doesn’t allow time for him to volunteer on the Tiger sidelines any more, Edmonson carries with him a bank of fond memories of his close involvement with one of America’s top teams. As he says, he will always bleed purple and gold.
In 1999 Sgt. Curt Durnil developed Project PASS (Pro-Active Safety & Security) and geared it toward the Indiana University football team. The Indiana State Police has since been providing security for the coaches, team, doctors, athletic directors, and staff of IU.
“My Dad and I went down to the Auburn, Ala., Iron Bowl game in 2000 and shadowed Alabama state trooper Tony Stephens and his detail,” Durnil said. “He was more than accommodating to us and showed us how this detail was supposed to be done. We have modeled their program ever since.”
Alabama pioneered the concept of trooper security for college teams in the early 60s. The concept has since spread to numerous other states.
Although ISP troopers provide game day traffic assistance to Notre Dame, Purdue, Ball State, and Indiana University, IU is the only university in the state with team security provided by state troopers.
For home games, troopers pick up the visiting team at their hotel, escort them into the stadium, and then provide sideline security for the Hoosiers, the away team, and the officials. For away games, troopers fly with the team and send a trooper car with an advance team to make contact with local law enforcement on game day procedures. They provide logistical support to the detail in various other capacities.
Durnil has experienced the downside of sideline work, having had ice, beer, coins, and other items thrown at him by fans of rival teams, but the positive memories are far more outstanding. His fondest memories are events connected to Coach Terry Hoeppner, who was named head coach in December 2004.
“Without question, the football detail has been the best detail I've ever been a part of,” Durnil said. “I consider myself very lucky to be a part of it.”
Being able to work with his dad, Jim, and brother, Todd, on this detail has been a high point for Durnil. The eldest Durnil is on the advance team with F/Sgt Denny Kirkman, and Todd is on the motorcycle escort detail. Curt and his dad began a tradition in 1999 of shaking hands before kickoff. They still do it to this day.
Lt. Gary Lewis of the Ohio State Highway Patrol is another trooper who has the privilege of standing on the sidelines of college football games.
A few colleges in Ohio have state troopers provide limited security and traffic control-related duties, but none at the high level which is provided to the Ohio State University. Being a high profile university with large capacity attraction, OSU has Homeland Security Threat Assessment concerns which require the attention of law enforcement.
Lewis, 41, joined the OSU security detail in 1992, providing direct security duties such as team escorts, dignitary executive protection, security/crowd control, and threat assessments. He has watched the security program evolve over the years.
“Over the course of the past 18 years, there have been many moments which have risen to the level of being memorable,” he said. “The most interesting component has been watching the dynamics of what use to be ‘crowd control’ evolve to a more concise security detail with more emphasis on threat assessment since 9/11.”
He is also quick to say that one of his favorite parts of being involved with this detail is witnessing football history take place involving the Ohio State University and its rich sports history.
For additional details and photos, watch for the Football story in the December issue of AAST’s Trooper Connection newsletter.