The University of North Texas defeated the University of Texas at El Paso 52-26 behind quarterback Mason Fine’s seven touchdowns Saturday at Apogee Stadium. But hours before the game had even begun, students, alumni and other tailgaters arrived in droves to support the Mean Green amid the fervor of homecoming spirit and affairs.

Sanger resident Wes Oldham, who has attended several home games with his family this season, says he can remember when hardly anybody would go into the homecoming games when his children were younger.

Back then, he said, a significant number of people would just hang out in the parking lot instead of actually going into the stadium to watch the game. But as UNT’s football program has seen improvements in recent years, so has the tailgating experience at Apogee, he said.

“The camaraderie and everything that goes along with the football program trying to make the football team a bigger and better thing on campus [is great],” said Oldham, 48. “It’s nice to see that it’s kind of turned around.”

Oldham, a firefighter of 20 years with the Lake Cities Fire Department, arrived at the tailgating lot early Saturday morning with his family and custom-built barbecue smoker in tow. Oldham, a seasoned barbecue competitor, said he’s spent almost six slow and steady years building up his rig.

“I would go to different competitions and see the different things that people would have on their trailers,” he said. “I would kind of pick their brains, and then, I would just come back and add this or add that.”

Oldham’s BBQ setup, which can be recognized by its firefighter license plate and hoisted Mean Green flag, includes a sink, a cooler, double burners with storage space, and a radio that was playing country music on Saturday.

On the smoker for Saturday afternoon’s game, Oldham prepared helpings of brisket, pulled pork, ribs and sausage, to be served alongside mac and cheese, baked beans and creamed corn. Oldham said he started prepping for Saturday’s meal around 7 p.m. Friday, including the upward of 16 hours required for the pulled pork and brisket to cook, before arriving at Apogee early Saturday.

Oldham, who has competed in cook-offs for about 10 years, said that his award-winning ribs use a family-secret rub, known as “ROO Rub,” that only he and his daughter Riley know the recipe to. Oldham says his daughter, whom the rub is named after, helped him create the recipe when she was younger.

“There’s no measuring to it — you just throw in a little of this and a little of that,” Oldham said. “It’s kind of a neat family secret that we have going on.”

Riley Oldham, 21, is a senior in the College of Visual Arts and Design who transferred into UNT from North Central Texas College two years ago. She said she’s enjoyed the opportunity to tailgate and barbecue with her father. Riley, whose barbecue background dates back to the fifth grade when her father first began competing, said that while cooking is a family tradition, it hasn’t been uncommon for them to share the wealth.

“People will come up and ask him about his smoker and he would say, ‘Here, try,’ and he would just hand them a piece,” Riley Oldham said of her father. “We love to share with everybody. … This is our school and these are our people.”

Earlier this year, Sanger residents Bailey and Andrew Renaud had their wedding rehearsal and reception dinner catered by the Oldhams.

Bailey, a graduate of UNT, and Andrew, who graduated from the University of Arkansas, described Oldham’s brisket as “really good” and agreed that their barbecue was “to die for.”

But the best way to describe the Oldhams, Bailey Renaud said, is simply good people with good food.

“Their meats are always so delicate, tender and seasoned perfectly,” she said. “It’s just really good.”

Wes Oldham, who became eligible to retire back in August, said he plans to work at least five more years at the fire department before he retires. He says his end goal is to build up his barbecue and catering business so he can put it into play after his retirement.

While his business has not been an overnight venture, Oldham said, it has left numerous customers, friends and tailgaters feeling satisfied and welcomed.

“A lot of the outcome is everybody’s eating and having a good time,” Oldham said. “But we just like to share what we eat.”

RYAN HIGGS can be reached via Twitter at @HiggsUNT.

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