Seven years in the making and, like anything else associated with USF athletics – especially the football and women’s basketball teams – they have grown faster than a plant in a greenhouse.
The Herd of Thunder, USF’s marching band, faces tough opponents, just like the teams the football team faces, at Raymond James stadium on the occasional Saturday night.
But despite having a tough time most games – the band plays in a half-empty stadium that holds 65,000 people and is only half the size of the largest college band in Florida – the director and his band are working harder than one would expect.
And this week won’t be any easier. Along with the possibility of playing in front of the largest home crowd ever for a Bulls game, the famous FAMU “Marching 100” band is going to perform at halftime.
The band for the Rattlers is a dance band, different from the more typical quasi-classical style of the Herd of Thunder, a style band director Mike Robinson said is “nothing like FAMU’s, but more of a gliding style.”
“(They) are a dance, boogie band, where they dance and that’s what they do,” said Robinson, who is in his fourth year as band director. “We could not be successful doing what they do. We don’t have the moves. They march moving the upper body a lot, not allowing for much instrument play. And we don’t do the chop style of marching. We glide in what is called a drum-corps style.
“We’re just very different. They’ve been doing what they’ve been doing for 100 years or whatever. We, on the other hand, have only been around seven years. We are just traditional compared to them,” he said.
With a style that includes a lot of old and recent rock bands, such as Pink Floyd and Red Hot Chili Peppers, the band has had quite a history in its seven years of existence.
Originally named by the first director, Sid Haton, the name refers to the herd created by the running of the Bulls mascot, and, of course, the thunder is the music the band makes.
“More than the name, I like the acronym that it makes,” Robinson said.
For short, band members and fans call Herd of Thunder the H.O.T band, and this band in recent years has certainly been hot.
Each year the band has increased in size, having only 180 members in 2004 and jumping to 225 for the induction into the Big East.
“Five years ago there were less than 100 kids in the band,” Robinson said. “I mean sure, that doesn’t compare to Florida, who has a lot of tradition, or FSU, who has the largest music department in the state, plus they go to a bowl game every year. But compared to them we are the new kids on the block.
“It’s difficult to compare though, because it’s a lot like the football team. Everything that we do is new. I just try to make sure that we get better year to year.”
And they have, except for one problem: The band’s uniforms still have USF’s old logo embroidered on the back and still feature the old colors.
“We are working on that,” Robinson said. “That’s tough, too, because it’s over $100,000 (for the new uniforms).”
The uniforms will be ready for the 2006 football season, so now the band members will worry about the music, because they really aren’t worried about being out-performed.
Just ask band captain Jade Edwards.
“We’re expecting it,” said Edwards, a junior majoring in pre-med. “We expect this crowd to be cheering toward FAMU. There will be some pressure, sure, but we’ve been in band camp, and then we had two weeks to prepare for this game (at home).”
And like her director, she’s amazed by how fast the band has grown.
“Every year gets better,” Edwards said. “I’m very surprised at it, and imagine what it’s going to be like 10 years from now.”
Even with the “Marching 100” coming to town, bringing along more attention and a following larger than most mainstream bands on the radio, members like Edwards feel that USF fans should care more about their own band.
“We are a major part of the football game,” Edwards said. “Seriously, we are the music; we are the entertainment. We have to build tradition and it starts with that, I think. We need recognition.”
Robinson said that recognition is hard because the Herd of Thunder doesn’t travel with the team on away games, like all the schools in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) do.
“With the Big East so spread out, we really can’t travel to all the games,” Robinson said. “We’ve never really had any visiting bands come here, and I’ve been here for four years. We’ve never gone to an away game, though they have told me there are plans to go down for the Miami (vs. USF) game (on Oct. 1), but they’re still waiting for the approval to go through.”
But for band members of the Herd of Thunder, current and former, it’s more about playing in front of a crowd. It’s about being part of a group of people who share a common goal and then taking pride when it’s accomplished. Like anything else sponsored by the athletic department, they’re a team.
“We try to instill pride in our members, pride in the band that you are a part of,” Edwards said. “We are building. We are trying to build leadership this year and establish for the future. Tradition is more about time, we have to start our own.”
“It should be about pride, about supporting your school,” said Billy Schmidt, director of public relations for the band. “You can’t wear other (colleges) stuff. Like, don’t wear an FSU hat or stuff like that. What we really want is to help USF get recognized.”
Former members, like French horn player Jenn Pfaff, who last year was in Herd of Thunder but now plays for UF’s Fightin’ Gator Marching Band, has fond memories from her USF days.
“It’s like a big family,” Pfaff said. “You have a lot of fun and take pride even though you are new, and while they might not be the Florida band, they are still good.”
So there will be an extra-long halftime show Saturday at Raymond James. Not as long as during the Super Bowl, but the H.O.T members are looking forward to seeing the “Marching 100.”
“I’m very excited to see them,” Edwards said. “I’ve only heard them before. Their style is great. I like it a lot.”
She isn’t alone.