He was a small-college defensive tackle at Austin College, a tiny Presbyterian liberal-arts school in his home state of Texas. His claim to fame was once causing a fumble that set up a winning field goal with seven seconds left in the game. At the time, he didn't even know he had made the play. The coach had to later show it to him on film just to get him to believe it.
"Sports teaches you that old lesson: 'Sometimes you're the windshield, and sometimes you're the bug,' " says Hitt, who this week celebrated his 20th anniversary as UCF's president. "For a young man, it's not bad to taste your own blood a time or two. In sports, you learn that if you get hit in the mouth or get a bloody lip, it's not the end of the world. You get up and you move on."
It is a lesson that has served Hitt well and one he has preached many times as UCF has traveled the road from out-of-the-way commuter college to the second-largest university in the country; from small-potatoes athletic program to being on the doorstep of the big time.
UCF has been hit in the mouth many times along the way, and that's where Hitt's football background has been a driving influence. Always during the past 20 years, UCF has picked itself up off the ground, wiped the blood from its lip and moved forward.
A perfect illustration of this came a couple of months ago when two of the biggest events in UCF sports history took place. One was embarrassingly bad. The other was incredibly good.
In early November, UCF was hit in the mouth and charged with major NCAA violations in football and basketball. Hitt immediately took very decisive and very public action. He fired athletic director Keith Tribble and top football recruiter David Kelly, both accused of misleading NCAA investigators. He suspended head basketball coach Donnie Jones for not promoting an atmosphere of NCAA compliance.
"We had some people who just flat broke the rules," Hitt says now. "You don't like it, and you wish it weren't so, but you face it like a man. You don't whine and complain about it."
A month after the NCAA charges were revealed, Hitt got official word that UCF had been accepted into the Big East. Getting an invitation into a BCS league was the culmination of what Hitt, football coach George O'Leary, past and present athletic administrators and boosters and alumni have been working toward for nearly a decade.
UCF is now in college football's big-boy club, which is something Hitt believes is imperative if the university is to be taken seriously as a major institution of higher learning — and higher earning — in the South.
In athletics, Hitt's football background has been an impetus in UCF's goal of becoming a major player in elite-level college football. Growing up in Texas, he knows the importance college football holds to students, fans, alumni and, yes, politicians. What's the old saying? "College football isn't a religion in the South; it's much more important than that."
"If you want to be thought of as a major university in the South, it's usually based on three things: really good doctoral programs, a fair amount of research and playing big-time football," Hitt says. "If you want to see the distinction of how people perceive football, think about Georgia Tech versus Emory. Which one does the average person know? They know a lot more about Georgia Tech than Emory, which is a great university right there in the same city."
Hard to believe it's been 20 years this week since Hitt took over at UCF. When he came to Orlando in 1991, the university was a slumbering giant. Hitt's the one who woke it up, brewed the coffee and got to work.
It's something he learned on a dusty football field in East Texas a half-century ago.
The taste of your own blood is the ultimate inspiration.
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