Alumni and 25-year season-ticket holder Randy Dotson has supported USF football since the initial plans were being drafted to create the program. More than 15 years after USF’s first-ever game in 1997, Dotson would create the team’s good luck charm to build a long-standing tradition — Woody Bull.
Weighing in at about 50 pounds and standing about 3 feet tall, Woody was hand-carved by Dotson from a piece of wood about nine years ago. He made the statue look like a USF football player, repping a green jersey, gold pants, a face guard and a green and gold helmet. To honor the Bulls, Woody features real cattle horns in its head, according to Dotson.
The inspiration behind Woody came to Dotson when he found a piece of wood in his backyard. With a chainsaw stored in his garage, Dotson said he decided he wanted to turn the wood into a mascot for the team. He spent a few hours for about four days on the project until Woody came to life.
“I carved [Woody] out of a piece of wood and just one day just said, ‘I want to take this thing and we’re going to do something with it,’ and created [Woody] and I’ve been bringing him to the games for about eight, nine years,” Dotson said.
“I had a chainsaw in my hand and I had a piece of wood in front of me. The piece of wood just said, ‘I need to be a mascot for the team.’”
While carving, Dotson said he was inspired by Howard’s Rock at Clemson, which sits at the top of the east end zone of Frank Howard Field at Memorial Stadium, where players rub the rock as they run down the hill before every game for good luck. The tradition at Clemson was what led Dotson to bring a similar one to USF.
“They come out, … rub the rock and that’s where I got the inspiration of ‘Well let’s have something out here for the team to rub [their hands on] as they run into the game,’” Dotson said.
Ever since Woody’s first appearance in Raymond James Stadium in 2013, Dotson continues to wait in front of the stadium for the football team’s arrival so they can all rub his head for good luck. Such traditions, according to Associate Athletics Director Brian Siegrist, are crucial to the overall program.
“[Woody is] becoming a time-honored tradition. Not very old yet, but soon will be,” Siegrist said. “It’s something that when people come to the games, they look for things that they can expect to see.
“There are certain things that build a tradition in a school … People like to have those and know that they’re going to get that at each game. And they look forward to seeing those things. And I think Woody is becoming one of those things as part of that tradition.”
Former USF employee Gregory Monivis Jr. is one of about 15 members of Dotson’s tailgating group. If Dotson is unable to go to a game, he passes Woody over to Monivis who will take it to the game to ensure it’s always present.
In previous seasons, the game day stampede started in the parking lots on the south side of Raymond James Stadium where the players would get off the buses and pass by tailgaters on the way to the stadium, according to Monivis. The old location, he said, gave them the opportunity to pat Woody as they walked by.
The drop-off location changed this year, where the players come out of the buses in front of the stadium on West Tampa Bay Boulevard. Surrounded by cheerleaders, the Herd of Thunder Marching Band and fans, the players walk past Woody on their way in.
“It was so much more festive in previous years, because the players would get dropped off south of the stadium, like in the parking area,” Monivis said. “It was easier for fans to just show up and high five all the players … and [touch] Woody.
“The only difference now is that we have to walk [Woody] up to the stadium, because the boys get dropped off there now, but we’re still willing to do that.”
Not having the stampede start in the tailgate area has made Woody less visible to the public, according to Dotson. Some fans will look for Woody, but Dotson said not as many fans go to the new location due to its distance.
“There’s people that will come out every week and see where he’s at,” Dotson said. “It’s just moving the stampede to where they moved it, I think was a little bit of a downer.
“Everybody has to walk out of the parking lot to see it, and then walk back to their tailgate. It makes it a little difficult for people to get involved as much as they would before [when] the team would march through the fan area and into the stadium. I think there was a little more interaction that way.”
Fans like Dotson are essential to the football program, Siegrist said. He said longtime fans such as Dotson can influence the growth of the fan base to support the rise of the football program.
“Your longtime, loyal supporting fans are the lifeblood of any program,” Siegrist said.
“Fans like Randy are the core of that fanbase. Now we need him to go ahead and continue what he’s doing and hopefully bring more fans into that fold. We’ll grow the fan base. We’re still young. We’re a young program, but we need more fans like Randy and they’re the foundation of what we’re building.”
Siegrist said the program has been inconsistent in the past, having good years from 2015-17 where the team went to bowl games and won over 10 games before entering a streak of seasons with more losses than wins. Traditions such as bringing Woody to the tailgate are some of the consistencies of the program, he said.
“What we’re looking for is to have some more consistency to produce [a higher level of fans],” he said. “And that’s how we’ll have a more consistent fan base, and then that helps to propagate and build traditions from that.”
As Woody approaches its 10-year anniversary since its first appearance, Dotson said he’s excited to keep building the tradition and sharing it among fans.
“As long as I’m physically able, Woody’s going to be going,” Dotson said. “I know there’s going to come a time when I won’t be able to [take Woody]. That’s why I’d like to see maybe the team adopt [Woody] and they would take him in.
“They could take over Woody if they would want to do that. They could bring [Woody] out and they could take him to even more away games if that’s what they wish to do. I’d like to see it grow into something like that.”