POCATELLO — Two former Idaho State University football players and two doctors are calling on the local community to support the football team despite a recent flurry of controversy.
Kidney doctors Naeem and Fahim Rahim, former ISU offensive guard Robert Poleki (1999-2003) and former ISU wide receiver Dane Simmons (2002-06) want to put the infighting between boosters and the athletic department aside and incorporate a passionate bridge between the football program and the community that Simmons said has been missing for decades.
“We think it’s time to make a change within the community,” Simmons said. “Everybody knows the controversy that is going on between ISU athletics and the boosters and what started out as a simple text message has grown into something we think can get the community involved and create a positive culture.”
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Earlier this month, a group of Idaho State University football boosters and alumni called for the removal of the school’s president and athletic director and threatened to withhold from the school close to $80,000 in fundraising money until the changes are made because of what the group calls the horrible state of ISU athletics.
If Simmons, Poleki and the Rahims had it their way when the Bengals play their first home football game in Holt Arena tonight at 6:30 p.m. against Western Oregon, the roof of the arena would be shaking insulation down on to the turf like it did almost 20 years ago.
“When we were playing Bengal football, this arena was packed and the fans didn’t come watch because of the money, they came because it was fun and exciting,” Poleki said. “We know what it was like when the Holt Arena was packed and we need to get it back to what it was.”
There was a time when Bengal football fans would fill the seats of Holt Arena in droves. Times when players like former running back Issac Mitchell scored 34 rushing touchdowns and surpassed Merill Hoge for the most ever as a Bengal. Or, times when Jared Allen sacked opposing quarterbacks 17.5 times in his senior season and went on to tally more than 100 more sacks after spending 12 seasons in the NFL.
The early 2000s were a time when Bengal football fans were as loyal and passionate for their hometown team as fans in cities like Boise or Bozeman, Montana, are today.
“Those cities are so proud and they have so much loyalty,” Simmons said. “But for some reason, we don’t have that passion or that loyalty. All we have is the bickering and fighting and we want it to stop.”
Naeem, who grew up knowing football as a sport played with a black and white checkered ball that players dribble with their feet, came to the United States and fell in love with American Football.
“Football is a game that brings communities together, and if we can manage it at the local level, we can bring positive change,” Naeem said. “We are starting this for the love for this town, for the love of the university and for the love of sports.”
What Naeem, his brother Fahim, Poleki and Simmons have started is an opportunity for fans to connect with the football program through unique narratives and new scholarships for Bengal athletes.
Before Poleki and Simmons suited up in the black and orange, a Colorado native by the name of Marcus Jackson was a standout Bengal cornerback.
“This guy was going to the NFL,” Poleki said. “There were scouts from several NFL teams coming to watch him play.”
But on September 21, 1996, Jackson made a tackle that changed his life. Jackson, during the first half of a 47-0 rout of Montana Western, took a knee to the back of his head while tackling an opposing player and suffered a traumatic spinal injury that paralyzed him from the neck down.
After years of recovery, Jackson returned to ISU and in the summer of 1999 battled to achieve a bachelor’s degree, despite what many would call an insurmountable injury.
Though awards in his name were created and vanished over the years, Jackson’s spirit and his decision to return to ISU were never forgotten, and to show his drive and determination to members of the community to incite revived passion for Bengal fans, the Rahims and the JRM Foundation will award the Marcus Jackson scholarship to a Bengal football player during the upcoming Hometown Heroes event on Sept. 9.
“One of the biggest reasons for us to do this is to come together,” Fahim said. “There is one thing of saying we aren’t winning, but it’s another thing to inspire each other to achieve our goals. We want to tell these stories from our past to bridge our community to the university because this institution and this football team is a great asset to our community.”
Fahim continued, “If you shut the university down there would be nothing left in Pocatello.”
Simmons said there has been a small following of loyal fans supporting the football team for far too long, and this season he wants that to change.
“We need to make it about the masses,” Simmons said. “And if we can do that, it won’t be about wins and losses. It will be about the passion of this program.”
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