Tailgater of the Week

UNT alumni associated with Kappa Alpha Order carry on the tailgating tradition before North Texas’ game against the University of Houston on Saturday at Apogee Stadium. UNT lost 46-25, but Apogee had a record turnout of 30,123 fans hoping for a Mean Green win.

The University of North Texas football team stumbled against the University of Houston 46-25 during their matchup Saturday evening at Apogee Stadium, despite a two-touchdown, 356-yard passing performance by senior quarterback Mason Fine. Still, the home game against Houston drew a record crowd of at least 30,123 fans.

Although the Mean Green dropped to a 2-3 record on the season after the loss, it didn’t matter for alumni of the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity, who were tailgating before Saturday’s game regardless of outcome. For UNT alumni Ryan Nichols and Josh Daniel, who organized the get-together, tailgating offers an opportunity to continue traditions they started in college.

“We started all tailgating together all through college, and we try to decide on one game every year where we can get a bunch of people together,” Nichols said. “We’ll park out, bring some canopies, we’ll grill out or order some food, hang out before the game, and all go in together.”

Most of the time, Nichols said, they prepare a variety of smoked meats for tailgating cuisine, but their group doesn’t keep its meals on a set menu. In lieu of smoked meats during Saturday’s tailgate affair, Nichols said, their group had catering from Rudy’s Bar-B-Q.

“We just try to do whatever we can to stay flexible,” Nichols said.

When Nichols, 29, and Daniel, 27, began tailgating UNT home games during their freshman years of college — 2008 and 2010, respectively — it was an entirely different tailgating experience, Nichols said. They used to tailgate at Fouts Field until transitioning to Greek Row after the construction of Apogee Stadium in 2011.

Back then, Nichols said, there wasn’t much emphasis on attending the entirety of UNT home football games, adding that many students would only stay for maybe half the game before returning to tailgating outside. The biggest difference since then, he said, is the amount of people who tailgate before UNT home games — something Nichols attributes to the recent success of the university’s football program.

“My senior year is the year [UNT] won the Heart of Dallas Bowl, so that was really cool,” Nichols said of UNT’s 2014 bowl game victory over UNLV. “I don’t know how many games we won before that, but when we actually started winning games it made a huge difference because people actually started coming.”

The Colony resident Patrick Lugo, an alumnus of UNT and the KA fraternity who has been tailgating at UNT home games as a member of KA since 2010, said he always enjoyed participating, but the team “wasn’t very good.”

However, with the improvement of UNT’s program, Lugo said the experience is that much better now because the team is “actually winning.”

“It’s just so much better now that we can actually tailgate the way we’re supposed to and go into the games,” Lugo said. “Because we didn’t used to go to a lot of the games back then.”

Lugo, who graduated from UNT in 2014, said that the reason he continues to tailgate and attend UNT home games is to socialize with his fraternity and support his school.

“The way it should be when you go to college is that your college town should always have a special place in your heart and [you should] always be excited to go back,” Lugo said. “I love coming back to Denton anytime I have a chance, and every time I get to come back it’s just another memory to add to that — it’s great and what keeps me coming back.”

Much has changed in the decade or so since members of the KA fraternity first tailgated and lived in their fraternity house together, including fraternity brothers who have gotten married or had kids, so it’s good to slow down and see what’s going on in their lives, Nichols said.

“A lot of the times, we only see some people three, four times a year,” Nichols said of his fraternity brothers. “So it’s cool to hang out with people and kind of know what’s changed and is different in their lives.”

Daniel, noting that their tailgate experience began when they were broke college students “trying to do whatever we could,” said that a goal for their group is to one day afford a reserved tailgating spot at the Alumni Association. The next step toward that goal, Daniel said, after having already established themselves beneath their canopies’ shade, is to purchase an RV.

“That’s the goal, and it’s kind of funny to see that, like, see what’s over there? Couches on the lawn.” Daniel said pointing toward Greek Row, then toward the Alumni Association. “Then, over there, you’ve got a different set of attitudes [than] you’re going to find in the parking lot.”

Despite their inability to afford the luxuries and comfort that an RV and Alumni Association tailgating spot entail, Daniel said that until their goal is achieved, it’s “onwards and upwards always.”

The Mean Green will play their next home game against Middle Tennessee State University at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, at Apogee Stadium.

RYAN HIGGS can be reached via Twitter at @HiggsUNT.

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