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The foundation has also allowed a convicted felon on the board. Sixty-two-year-old Herb Gimelstob served two years in federal prison, starting in 1974, for stealing $400,000 in tin ingots from a port in Newark. Before his conviction, Gimelstob owned property with a top-ranking member of the Bruno crime family; the two were also partners in a real estate company. After moving to Florida in 1979, Gimelstob built a billion-dollar real estate empire in less than two decades out of a doublewide trailer in Boca Raton. He also spent three years as president of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County starting in 1995.

Gimelstob, vice chairman of the university's foundation, won't talk about his dark past. "Didn't you call me about a football story?" he asks with a New Jersey accent. "Let's stay with football." As to Schnellenberger's spending, Gimelstob says: "Everything this university does is first class, and this football program will be first class."

Seventy-year-old Guggenheim, the son of German immigrants who escaped the Holocaust, says a football scholarship to the University of Toledo made college possible for him. The stockbroker says he wants to help give other students the same chance. "Have you ever seen students come out of a biology class and say, 'Wow, was I excited'?" Guggenheim asks rhetorically. "Of course not, but football gets them riled up about their school."

Likewise, few wealthy donors will get pumped up over academic programs if they can instead support football, Guggenheim says. "I have no interest in philosophy. You come to me, or most of these donors, and say, 'Let's raise money for philosophy' and I'd say, 'Go someplace else.'"

Earlier this year, Schnellenberger and his assistant coaches divvied up a list of 1,000 high school recruits. For the couple of hundred or so they had a shot at recruiting, the coaches made plans to call, write, and get to know their pastors on a first-name basis. But in the pecking order of Sunshine State football, Florida Atlantic has, so far, been relegated to the bottom. The coaches, who recruit only south of Interstate 4, know most top prospects won't consider the school. "We have to rule the best out right at the beginning," Kurt Van Valkenburg, assistant coach for recruitment and defense, says while spitting Copenhagen into a Styrofoam coffee cup in the football office before practice. "We're not gonna get them unless they've got some special tie with us."

Florida Atlantic competes for recruits in a state that's home not only to the biggest and best college football teams in the country but also to a plethora of programs that are at least respectable. Meanwhile, Florida International University in Miami debuted a football program this year that competes with Florida Atlantic for local recruits. Florida International also has plans to play in Division I-A in a few years, meaning that Florida Atlantic, if it reaches that level, could be one of seven Division I-A teams in Florida vying for the top recruits.

Florida Atlantic's selling point has always been Schnellenberger: the man, the legend, and the 43 years worth of coaching connections. Jovonny Ward, a 20-year-old free safety for Florida Atlantic, remembers when Schnellenberger walked into his parents' home in Miami. "He's like an antique or something," Ward says. "He's like this big presence, like the old-school coaches used to be. And he's right in front of me."

Allen, who fits the stereotype of a 21-year-old quarterback with his handsome squared face and scruffy chin, was the team's only out-of-state player last year and is one of only four this year. The QB's high school coach in Oklahoma, an old friend of assistant coach Van Valkenburg's, recommended the rookie team. "I had never heard of FAU or Boca Raton, I have to admit," Allen says. He took a trip to Boca two years ago to meet with Schnellenberger, who gave him an ultimatum: sign with the team by the end of the visit or forget about a proffered scholarship. With no other such offers, Allen took the deal.

Tellis, the team's top offensive threat, settled for the Owls after being selected a Miami-Dade County all-star from Northwestern High School. He says he came to Florida Atlantic because of the coach's propensity for passing plays. Schnellenberger uses the old-style pro set, meaning receivers like Tellis get more playing time than they would at most second-tier colleges, which often concentrate on the run. But for all his obvious talents pulling in footballs, his diminutive size -- five feet, nine inches and 170 pounds -- certainly hurt Tellis' chances of playing for a topnotch school.

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Eric Alan Barton
Contact: Eric Alan Barton