Wayne Chrebet is a pretty popular guy, but even the former Hofstra and Jets wide receiver was stunned when he de-planed in Toronto Thursday and discovered how many people wanted to talk to him. "I turned on my phone, and there were so many texts and voice mails," Chrebet told Newsday.
The subject: The demise of the football program at his beloved alma mater.
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"I'm really shocked," said Chrebet, who was in Toronto for an NFL function before the Jets-Bills game. "I know we weren't bringing 20,000 and 30,000 fans to games and the football program was losing money. But we built the program up when I was there from Division III to Division I-AA, and we were nationally ranked in my senior year."
Chrebet played at Hofstra from 1991-94 and is No. 9 on the school's list for career receptions (150) and No. 7 in career yardage (2,297). His rank will be frozen in time, a fact he lamented yesterday.
"Hofstra was the turning point in my life. Playing there gave me an NFL career," said Chrebet, who signed with the Jets as an undrafted free agent in 1995 and became a fan favorite for his forays over the middle and third-down grabs during an 11-year career. He retired in 2005 as the Jets' No. 2 all-time receiver with 580 catches.
"What do the kids playing there do now? Do they transfer?" Chrebet wondered. "You've got to feel for them. A lot of local kids wanted to play at Hofstra and be part of a good program."
Another former Hofstra receiver-turned-NFL star was equally distraught. "I am both saddened and shocked to hear the news," current Saints wide receiver Marques Colston said in a statement.
Colston (2001-05) ranks second in receiving yards (2,834) and third in receptions (182) on Hofstra's all-time list. "I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to the university,'' he said. "I grew as both a student-athlete and as a man at Hofstra and feel like the school helped prepare me for the challenges I currently face as a professional football player."
Current Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris, who played at Hofstra from 1994-97 and was an assistant coach for two years, called the announcement "a sad state of affairs.''
"It was weird because it kind of happened out of nowhere,'' Morris told reporters after practice. "I'm just kind of sad for all my people that are there."
He cited Joe Gardi (1990-2005), who coached Hofstra into prominence and presided over the team's transition from Division III to Division I-AA (now Division I-FCS).
"He's the guy that kind of built that program for us and the guy who was the face of Hofstra for years, and really still is, to be honest with you," Morris said, unintentionally burying current coach Dave Cohen. "I'm sure he's as heartbroken as anyone. I don't know what the problem was. I don't know what even happened.''
Morris said he had just visited with two Hofstra assistants who were recruiting in the Tampa area Wednesday. "It was obviously a shock for their football program and their football family," Morris said. "Me and Marques Colston and Wayne Chrebet and Lance Schulters will have to get together and have a memorial."
RIP: Hofstra football, 1937-2009.