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Through rain and thunder, one fan group greets the football team at home, no matter what

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Quarterback Jaquez Johnson returning after a football game, welcomed warmly with cupcakes. Photo by Max Jackson

Quarterback Jaquez Johnson returning after a football game, welcomed warmly with cupcakes. Photo by Max Jackson

Quarterback Jaquez Johnson returning after a football game, welcomed warmly with cupcakes. Photo by Max Jackson

Quarterback Jaquez Johnson returning after a football game, welcomed warmly with cupcakes. Photo by Max Jackson

Ryan Lynch, Sports Editor

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Losing their first game of the season in overtime to Tulsa 47-44, the humbled football team awaited a 1,400-mile flight to Palm Beach International around 1 a.m.

While the players, coaches and staff took the five hour flight home, Kristen Radcliffe and Andrew Haverstick set up four trays worth of homemade chocolate and vanilla cupcakes on tables in front of the Tom Oxley Athletic Center.

With them, a small group of four other fans and students waited to cheer for the team when they got off the bus, despite the rain and lightning that was quickly moving into the area.

Radcliffe and Haverstick are the duo behind Owls After Dark. Started midway through the 2013 season, the group shows up to provide food and greet the football players after they get home from every away game.

They often stay late into Sunday morning to wait for the team’s arrival.

“Doesn’t matter what the weather is like,” Radcliffe said. “Our boys play rain or shine, we will be there rain or shine. Win or lose, we will support them.”

Radcliffe and Haverstick met in 2007 and became roommates after Radcliffe graduated from St. Leo’s University in Tampa. After buying season tickets for the team together, they began extensively following FAU football.

Haverstick, who attended FAU from 2003 to 2010, is an alumnus with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the school of business.”
“We haven’t missed a home game since we bought tickets,” Radcliffe said. “And we try to go to at least one road game a year.”

The concept came in the 2013 season, after former head coach Carl Pelini resigned from his head coaching position because of allegations of drug use.

The change left the team in a vulnerable position with an interim head coach, a 2-6 record and a low morale hanging in the air for many of the players.

“Players didn’t feel supported,” Radcliffe said. “We had been through a tough time as a community and as a football team. We had lost a coach and we took assistant coach (Brian) Wright and made him coach. The boys just felt like they were being left behind.”

“We sat there and thought ‘what way can we support them?’” she said. “We can’t support them at the away game if we’re not there in person. So what better way to do it than to bake something fresh for them and have it there when they meet us after the game.”

Radcliffe bakes all of the cupcakes on the day of the game, finishing up to go cheer on the Owls at the Tilted Kilt’s watch party at game time. She and Haverstick usually set up a few hours before the buses arrive, often getting a heads-up from one of the people on the flight about when the team will land.

Radcliffe said that at first, players were surprised that they were showing up. But there was a huge appreciation from players after their initial reaction.

Running back Greg Howell receiving a cupcake baked by Owls After Dark. Photo by Max Jackson

Running back Greg Howell receiving a cupcake baked by Owls After Dark. Photo by Max Jackson

“I’m grateful that they do this,” said sophomore running back Greg Howell. “It’s really awesome.”

Much of the team, including senior defensive back Cre’von LeBlanc, took a cupcake and thanked the group before heading back into the Oxley Center.

“At the end of the day, you want that win,” he said. “But, when you have supporters waiting on you, no matter win or lose you know that they still have your back.”

Two other regulars are Nina and Robert “Crash” Taylor. The retired couple worked in FAU’s data center, starting in 1971. The Taylors have seen the university develop its sports programs in their time living in the area. They were two of the first people to buy season tickets for football in 2001.

“After Coach Wright put together four wins, after the last win we had well over 100 people,” Crash said of one of the initial greetings. “He had a strength slogan, ‘holding on to the rope,’ so we took 50-foot strands of Christmas lights and fed them through the bell while everyone got a chance to ring it. It was exciting.”

There was a decent turnout at first, but a losing season and harsh weather have worked against the group in attracting students.

“I think It can be rough to get students in at times, because many students go out to drink or party on Saturday night,” said senior computer science major Leead Negri. “Especially after a loss, it would be harder to get people out to show their support.”

Using Facebook and Twitter, Radcliffe wishes to reach out to more students and fans after games to organize the meetup. The hope is to eventually make the group a tradition that they can pass on to a student organization.

“If this catches on as a tradition, maybe one day we can have the prOWLers take it over or another student organization,” said Radcliffe. “We would love to have it be an officially recognized student organization.”

For more info, contact Owls After Dark on Facebook or tweet to @OWLS_AFTER_DARK on Twitter.