Pat Ferlise passed away last week, but his legacy of giving both on and off the football field will forever live on as the Southern Miss family fondly remembers one of their own.
I first wanted to find out about Pat Ferlise as a football player. As an all-state player from Birmingham, Alabama's Phillips High School, he developed the hard nosed style that characterized his playing career.
Quick and athletic, he took his game to the next level transferring to Jones Junior College and then on to Southern Miss where he would become a staple on two defensive minded teams in 1951 and 1952.
Ferlise demonstrated his athletic ability by playing both offensive and defensive guard, but it was on the defensive side of the ball that Ferlise earned his mark as tough and aggressive.
He played for the 1952 team that was one of the most successful teams to wear the black and gold. Although losing its first game, the team would respond with 10 straight wins and a birth in the Sun Bowl. Finishing the season 10-2, the 1952 team would elevate Southern Miss into the national spotlight. Ferlise helped to anchor a stingy defense that would take USM to its first recognized bowl game in school history.
Ferlise the football player was described as one who would always give his all to everything that he did. This would be an accurate description of who he was as a person as well.
As I talked to others who knew him, I quickly came to realize why athletic director Richard Giannini would call him "the true rock and giant of Southern Miss athletics." Joe Bryant, president of the M-club, said of Pat Ferlise, "He was by far the biggest giver and supporter of all former athletes."
He went on to say that "family, church, and Southern Miss were the three priorities in his life."
Everyone I talked to about him shared one particular characteristic that he will forever be associated with; and this is his generosity. In 1994, he gave $100,000 to the Eagle Club to fund a scholarship for a defensive lineman.
According to Southernmiss.com, the gift was the largest ever, fully funded contribution to the Eagle Club for an athletic scholarship and the first established by a Southern Miss letterman.
He then gave a gift of $250,000 for the building of a ticket complex named after the man who lived his life with an open hand toward everything he did.
Eddie Kauchick, former roommate of Ferlise and USM linebacker from 1949-1951, told me of his military service, his devotion to his faith, and his deep love of his family. But when asked how Kauchick would remember Ferlise, he fondly said, "He was the biggest giver I know. He always gave. He once gave to remodel a church just because he wanted to do it. That is the type of person he was."
One story in particular stood out to me. "Every year we get together with the 1951 and 1952 team at homecoming. Last year Pat paid for everyone's dinner, but didn't want anyone to know about it because he didn't want to seem like a show off."
Pat Ferlise was not able to attend the Spring Game this year, and as Bryant said, "We knew he was sick when he missed the spring game, he never missed a Southern Miss game."
Ferlise was not only generous; he was devoted and passionate as well to the University that he loved so much. As part of the Golden Eagle family, he will be missed. However, as long as Golden Eagle fans go in and out of the Ferlise Center to purchase tickets to watch their team play, the memory of Ferlise forever carries on.
And, as I think about him this fall, I will cheer on the Eagles in the renovated Rock with my Southern Miss family, just the way Ferlise would have wanted it.