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In 1998, UMHB and Trinity battled in a football game that will forever hold a special place in UMHB history

Above photo courtesy of the UMHB Athletics Department

With UMHB and Trinity set to face off on Saturday night, we took a look at the first matchup between the two and what it did for UMHB’s program moving into the future

25 years later, the minute details are tough to recall. After all, when you’re 18 years old and stepping onto a college field for the first time, the individual words said are remembered far less than the emotions felt. And for Terry Taylor, Decius Tasby, and Justin Conlee, those emotions are firmly planted in their minds as they look back. 

The day was September 5, 1998. The opponent was Trinity University. And the Mary Hardin-Baylor football team was preparing to do something nobody in the program had ever done before: play a game. 

Taylor, a Bastrop native and the starting quarterback for The Cru that day, remembers the excitement he felt in running onto the field. His parents were in the stands, along with a number of others who had made the trip from Belton to San Antonio to witness history in the making. 

“For a lot of the guys, from what I recall, it was our first college football experience,” Taylor said. “So there was that part of it as well, and getting to play against a fairly storied program in Trinity. It was a lot of fun.”

Little did they all know that just six years later, UMHB would be playing on an ESPN-affiliated station in the D-III National Title Game. Or that the Crusaders would win three national titles before the 25-year anniversary of this inaugural game rolled around. The program went from a little-known upstart–even within the Texas Football community–to a national power in what seemed like the blink of an eye. 

Yet as Tasby, who tallied a team-best 3.0 tackles for loss in the inaugural game, says, the mentality of the program was never about a gradual rise to success. From Day 1, they entered every game with an unwavering drive to win.

“Even though we were a newer program, none of us ever bought into that excuse of losing games [because we were new],” Tasby recalls. “I think that’s why we were able to turn the corner a lot sooner than we had thought. We were looking at it from the competitive standpoint of, ‘Hey, everybody is working. Everybody is grinding to be better. We’re not worried about winning later. We want to win now.” 

That mentality, Tasby says, came from head coach Pete Fredenburg, the architect of the program. The emphasis on winning in the here and now revealed itself on a field under the lights in San Antonio over two decades ago. 

Though the first meeting between UMHB and Trinity resulted in a 37-14 win for the Tigers, it was the first step in the Crusaders’ rise to the top. 

Their first win came two weeks later against Southwestern Assemblies of God. 1999 brought about a 4-6 record. 2000 saw UMHB narrowly miss the postseason with a 9-1 mark. And it culminated in UMHB claiming its first ASC title in 2001, securing a playoff bid to face…Trinity. 

“In the moment, all we were looking at was being the best people that we could be for ourselves and the program.” Tasby added. “We didn’t think about what was going to happen in three, five, 10-plus years from then. But we wanted to establish a culture of working hard, playing as a team, and constantly keeping that same level of intensity in-season, out of season, and in the classroom.” 

That is not to say that everyone understood their commitment and desire. Several of UMHB’s players on the field that day can vividly recall hearing the snickers from a handful of Trinity fans when they took the field. Not everyone took the Crusaders seriously. 

“Honestly, that whole season, we felt like the underdogs,” Conlee, UMHB’s starting kicker in 1998, said recently. 

While some of Trinity’s fans may have withheld respect for the Cru, it should be noted that Trinity head coach, Steve Mohr, was fully aware of what Fredenburg and his staff were building in Belton. The athleticism, the football IQ, the investment from the university administration; all the pieces to the puzzle were there. 

“I’ll never forget my freshman year, we went up and played them in Belton,” current Trinity head coach Jerheme Urban said of the 1999 meeting between the in-state foes. “Coach Mohr said going up there, ‘This is an extremely athletic team. You guys know how tough they were last year as a first year program. They’re going to give us everything they have.’” 

Though a young group, UMHB’s inaugural team had both talent and commitment. Though Taylor, Tasby, and Conlee came from different parts of Central Texas, their recruitment stories were all similar. That was the case for the majority of the roster. They were diamonds in the rough, found by Fredenburg and his staff, and sold on an opportunity to become part of something unique happening on a small campus with big dreams. 

Newspaper clipping from an Associated Press article that appeared in the Aug. 22, 1998 edition of the Star-News in Wilmington, North Carolina

“I remember sitting in science class at Hutto High School,” Conlee said. “I got called to the office, and sure enough, Coach Fredenburg was right there with my principal. He introduced himself, and gave me his background. He said, ‘We’ve been keeping up with you and would like you to come play at UMHB.’

“That interaction [separated UMHB]. At the time, I was getting a few letters from colleges, but nobody took the time to talk with me face-to-face. I think that spoke volumes of Coach Fredenburg trying to get the right people in the right place.” 

Taylor, who completed six of his 11 passing attempts for 56 yards in that season opener against Trinity, was tracked down after spending a semester at Blinn College. He thought he was done with football after an opportunity to play for the Buccaneers fell through. Then the offer came in from UMHB. 

“I think somebody got a hold of my parents’ phone number and called my parents,” Taylor remembers. “Next thing you know, my dad is calling me saying, ‘Hey, there’s this new program that’s starting in Belton and they’re curious if you’d come talk to them.”

Though Fredenburg had some notoriety based on his previous stops as a defensive coordinator at Baylor, LSU, and Louisiana Tech, there was not easy internet access or social media to help the recruits gain a better understanding of what UMHB was like or Fredenburg’s coaching style. 

Newspaper clipping from the Victoria Advocate’s May 13, 1997 edition

When they arrived on campus for visits, the football coaches were officing out of a portable. It went back to trust.  They decided to believe in a program that had no visual model but was being led by a coaching staff who had a vision for where they wanted the program to go. 

“I ended up going up to the university for a visit, and at this point, there was no football program to sell you on,” Tasby, a native of Rockdale, said. “But there were a lot of things about the university and the atmosphere that I really liked. The way it was set up, the programs–I wanted to major in education–were big for me.”

With about five weeks until the season opener against Trinity, UMHB’s inaugural recruiting class reported to Belton. Jokingly, Taylor said that it felt like 700 players turned out for that fall camp in August. While it was not nearly that many, it became clear early that every roster spot would be earned in this new program. The interest level in what was being built did not lack amongst potential student-athletes. 

“I can remember that like it was yesterday,” Taylor said with a laugh. “I thought, ‘Woah, this is a little different than high school football. There were a bunch of us out there. I met guys from several different states, which was a unique experience. Those first few practices were intense. There was a lot of good energy.”

The culmination of those practices was the much-anticipated season opener. And UMHB fought for a full four quarters. Trinity was held scoreless in the game’s opening quarter, and though the Tigers produced a 28-point outburst in the second, the Crusader defense limited its opposition to just nine second-half points. 

“Even though we were in a new scheme, you never have to worry about coaching effort with great guys,” Tasby, who tallied nine tackles in the game, commented. “So we were able to make some plays. Ultimately, Trinity made some adjustments and pulled away, but I didn’t see it as different from anything I’d ever done. You see someone across the line and try to make plays to help out the team.” 

As it turned out, two of three standouts in UMHB’s inaugural game mentioned here did not play all four years at UMHB. 

Conlee was always eager to expand his role within the team beyond his position at kicker, having played tailback through high school. Before his junior year, he tried out for slot receiver, and tore his ACL, abruptly ending his football career. But he graduated from UMHB in 2001 with a degree in biochemistry, and for the last 18 years, has worked as a pediatric nurse at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin. 

Taylor finished his college at Southwest Texas State in 2002 after playing on the 1998 and 1999 teams at UMHB. He now works for e3 Wealth in Austin, holds multiple industry licenses and has been a qualifying member of the Million Dollar Round Table since 2010.

And Tasby, who spent all four years on the roster with The Cru, is also still in Central Texas, having worked for the last 10 years as an insurance sales specialist with Farm Bureau Insurance. 

To this day, they all keep tabs on the program and its successes. Times have changed since their playing days came to close, from the big things like the building of Crusader Stadium on campus, to small details, such as the new logo under which UMHB plays. While that game 25 years ago in San Antonio may not be one revisited all too often in the minds of those who donned the purple and gold on that September evening, when they think back, it becomes clear. 

Being “the first” is not always glamorous. It took time for the foundation to be laid. They went 3-7 overall. But they never stopped believing in themselves, and in the program, in turn, helping form the structure of a soon-to-be dynasty.

“Stepping onto that field, you don’t really realize the magnitude of being ‘the first’,” Conlee said. “Not until you reflect on it later. Coach always talked about the history and us laying the foundation. You don’t necessarily realize it when you’re young. But it was exciting. It’s something I’ll never forget.” 

2 Replies to “In 1998, UMHB and Trinity battled in a football game that will forever hold a special place in UMHB history

  1. Even though three years of six man football had significantly raised interest, I remember it was still a big risk for UMHB to start the football program. Folks like Drayton McLane, Jr., Grant Teaff and others were helpful and encouraging. With Coach Fredenburg and his team we made a great start. I’ll never forget that first game at Trinity twenty-five years ago and receiving the game ball after that first touchdown was scored; it’s in the UMHB museum. Thanks to the dedicated coaches and players and UMHB’s super supporters and fans this has been a great ride to the top!!!

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