TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The University of South Florida’s Lee Roy Selmon Mentoring Institute is carrying on Selmon’s legacy by mentoring student-athletes and preparing them for the real world.
Lee Roy Selmon was football legend, philanthropist, community activist, husband, father and friend. He came to Tampa after playing football at the University of Oklahoma.
He was the first player to be drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976 as the number one overall pick in the NFL draft.
“He made me laugh all the time,” said Claybra Selmon.
Claybra, Lee Roy’s wife, met him while the two attended Oklahoma.
“I met him one day at lunch with a friend of mine at KFC,” Claybra said. “She was nervous to talk to him, so I just went right up to him.”
Although he was seen as the big man on campus, Claybra knew him differently.
“Just this guy that was a leader, a quiet leader, he led mostly by example,” she said.
Claybra said Lee Roy had a passion for giving back to kids. It was shortly after being drafted by the Bucs that he wanted to create a mentoring program.
“He began to see that so many players were coming into the league that weren’t prepared for that life,” she said.
The Selmon’s had kids and life happened, but in 2011, Lee Roy started getting things together for the mentoring program at USF.
“It wasn’t until the year he passed away to put the wheels in motion for the mentorship program to happen at USF,” she said.
After Lee Roy passed, the Lee Roy Selmon Mentoring Institute came to fruition. Although he is gone, his impact still remains.
“How would you not want to be like Lee Roy Selmon?” said Antonio Grier.
Grier is a linebacker for the USF football team. He recently graduated with his undergraduate degree and is currently working on his masters. During undergrad, Grier was a part of the Lee Roy Selmon Mentoring Institute.
“Lee Roy Selmon, like, we’re in his building right now,” Grier said. “Like one day I want [them] to name a building after me.”
Grier joined the mentoring program after one of his academic advisors suggested it to him.
“I took it serious, but I didn’t appreciate it,” he said. “Now I look back and I appreciate everything I did.”
Grier said his experience included etiquette dinners, internships, gaining a mentor, help with developing a five year plan, resume workshops and more.
“My mentor was awesome,” Grier said. “Every two weeks I would go into the FBI building and go to their gun vault, help them interview people. Mentors are like guides. They are like an open book, but how much of the book are you going to read?”
The mentorship program was created to help all student-athletes, but Claybra said Lee Roy had a passion for helping young people who face adversity, like Grier.
“I wasn’t able to read or write until 7th grade,” Grier said. “I used to sit in elementary school in a small box room with my teacher learning how to read and write with my teacher. I didn’t get the recess. I was learning my entire childhood. Going through kids calling me ‘dumb’ or ‘retarded.'”
College wasn’t even a thought for Grier. He initially wanted to go into the military. However, he practiced, never gave up and persisted. After that, he was offered a few football scholarships and chose USF.
“It was nothing but God,” he said. “I didn’t plan to come here until the day I signed, but it’s the best thing I’ve done.”
When he got to USF, the Selmon Mentoring Institute only helped his journey.
“To have the confidence to even come here and have a conversation with you is something I got from the program,” he said.
An impact like that was Lee Roy Selmon’s dream.
“When I hear of these things it just makes me so proud and I know he’s in heaven looking down and he’s proud as well,” Claybra said.
Since 2014, it has been optional for student-athletes to be in the mentoring program. Beginning the 2022-23 school year, all student athletes will be required to be a part of the program.
Saturday, USF hosted its annual Bullsfest Fundraiser. All proceeds will go toward the Selmon Mentoring Institute. WFLA’s Deanne King emceed the event.