Hartland area resident David Lee remembers marching across Wayne State University's campus in his football jersey with his teammates to beg the school's president not to shut down the program.
In the late 1980s, the program had funding problems and wasn't successful on the field, he says, but it had given Lee, who was 5-foot-7 and 135 pounds, a chance to play college football as a wide receiver.
"We won that fight and look at us now … going to the national championship game," said Lee, who along with former teammate and Hartland area resident Todd Vydick will be attending the 11 a.m. Saturday game against the Pittsburg State in Florence, AL. The game will be on ESPN 2.
"There are many of us going in the era I played — even those who now live in California, Nevada and Arkansas. This is a big deal to us."
Both in email interviews say they have been beaming with pride this week after the 33rd-ranked Warriors upset previously unbeaten Winston-Salem 21-14 last Saturday, reaching out to former teammates and alumni through phone and social media.
Vydick, who played from 1988-91 at linebacker and guard, also traveled to North Carolina for the semifinal.
"I have to admit I was a little 'choked-up,'" said Vydick, a 41-year-old business development engineer. "I had strong feelings of pride and excitement for the current team and all the WSU alumni football players of the past. … I have always appreciated the opportunity that WSU gave me to play football and receive a quality education. I always show my WSU colors."
Lee, a 44-year-old website developer, said he watched the semifinal streaming live on his laptop.
"My dogs were freaking out because I was jumping up and down and screaming with excitement," said Lee, who lives in Parshallville. "Understand, this is something that us former WSU players have a personal connection with. We were all calling and texting each other, posting old photos to our Facebook pages — such a proud feeling."
They also look back at their playing days as invaluable when they coached teams in the Hartland Area Youth Athletic Association that went unbeaten. And they both say they're glad to see the program bring positive exposure for the university and the city of Detroit.
"Metro Detroit needs a winning college football program," Vydick said. "It shows that believing in yourself and your team you can achieve almost anything together.
Vydick said the adversity of the program during his career made those who played stronger people. He's looking forward to the game.
"Wayne State Warriors Division 2 Football National Champions … sounds real good," he said.
Editor's note: David Lee is a Hartland Patch contributor.