My Football Years: Remembering Back…
It was a holiday family get together. I had an Uncle Henry who was a devoted High School football coach. We had set down as an extended family and were watching the University of Texas play the A&M Aggies for Thanksgiving. I listened to him tell a pointed joke. Let me see, it went like this:
Gene Stallings had just come into College Station as a young coach. He didn’t know what he was going to do to turn his program around. Prior to his first game of the season, which was against the TCU Horned Frogs, Gene decided to pray. He prayed fervently for five straight minutes before walking out of his office and onto the field that day. His Aggies won a tough victory, squeaking out a 7-6 victory.
Thus gaining a foothold of confidence, Gene then decided that he had arrived upon a definite course of action and chose to pray before his next game as well. The Aggies were to play the SMU Mustangs this week. So, a half an hour before game time, Gene was on his knees in his office praying sternly. His team went onto the field that day, and won a hardly contested 14-10 victory.
Well, Coach Stallings had arrived upon his course of action.
Texas Tech was next on their schedule, and they are always a scrappy group. Gene thought it prudent to increase his side of participation. On game day, he then decided a whole hour of fervent pleading was in order. He broke into a full sweat in imploring assistance for his team in that day’s game. His Aggies then went out and won a solid victory, 21-7.
Next on A&M’s schedule, were the Baylor Bears. Now word of what Gene was doing had got out to his team. Players came to him and requested a team prayer session prior to the game. Gene gladly expanded his efforts and prior to the game, that entire Aggie team pleaded their case up above. Well, that game, greatly inspired, Gene’s team went out and beat Baylor by a whopping 35-10. Things were definitely starting to pick up.
The Arkansas Razorbacks were up next. This team had flirted with National Championships and with Frank Broyles at it’s helm, quite a challenge for this rising group of Aggies. Gene then plead his case to the student body, and for a whole day prior to this big game, the whole school was in prayer for their Aggies. Well, true to form, the Aggies won a very hardly fought victory 28-14.
The string of successes still didn’t damper Gene’s worries. He then went to the city of College Station with his case. The local paper ran articles on the game and plead his case for deep and sincere prayer by all there. Well, the entire city spent long hours on knees and pleading their case up above. The University of Texas was coming to College Station for their annual meeting. Texas was under the leadership of Darrel Royal.
At game time, the skies were overcast, but Gene had a twinkle in his eye. Before game time, Coach Stallings looked up at the clouds and winked. Then, on the opening kickoff Texas ran it back all the way for a touchdown. Things went similarly then entire game, and at the concluding gun, Texas had won 42-7. As things were winding down on the playing field after the loss, Gene looked up into the heavens and asked: ‘Why?’
Well, an opening in the clouds quickly parted. Then to Gene’s amazement, a large fist with extended first and pinkie fingers emerged. It was accompanied by a thunderous voice that stated: ‘Hook ‘em, Horns!!’
Afterward, my Uncle Henry started to talk to me about football. I was just starting to enter into play in Junior High. He asked me what position I wanted to play. I quickly responded that I wished to be a linebacker. Coach Henry then told me that the mark of a very good linebacker was a fierce forearm. The seed had been planted in myself. I then had an idea that fierce play was my key and a tool of survival.
I quickly took this knowledge and tool to the field as a youth. I played for a Junior High team that went undefeated in district play, and also was unscored upon the entire season. This was when metal cleats were the norm and I still support a scar on my left forearm where a running back raced across my arm. My second weapon became the front of my helmet. If one put it into anything suspicious, good results often occurred. I would then take five to ten yard runs and plant my new tool into any target available. Aggressive contact and a scrappiness was developing.
My high school days arrived, and from day one, I earned a starting position as an outside linebacker with the Varsity. That is the point where I was introduced to a higher quality of play and talent than I had been accustomed to as a younger player. These players were both larger and stronger than myself, but I learned how aggressive play often made up for most of the differences. In a game against a future State finishing team, I hit head on in open field a ball carrier where I left my feet and solidly planted my helmet squarely into the chest of which. As I slowly slid straight down onto the field and he continued on a run for a touchdown, I then learned an aspect that dealt with technique and keeping a firm stance while maintaining a pad level to my advantage. This lead me to achieving All District at linebacker, and honorable mention at fullback.
I’m not trying to talk about me now, but the tone and temperament that was fuel to the sport when I was coming up in it’s ranks….
I then attended the Air Force Academy as a Cadet. I arrived at a solid 205 pounds, and in the course of Basic Training there was reduced to a 169 pounds. I had to hit the training tables to gain back that lost weight in the military training and restricted privilege transitioning. I still hadn’t lost the early on lessons in the sport. I used a destructive forearm, stuck my helmet into anything moving in my area, and scrapped unrestrained with what ever was put in front of myself. I earned a starting position at middle linebacker, early on in my introductions to Division I football.
One game, while playing linebacker, I shot a quick opening gap. A tackle was attempting to crack back upon me while the running back attempted to scoot wide around. I reached through with my left arm…in between a lineman one direction and a running back in the other direction. This left me with a cracked elbow. I then played the remainder of that game and two subsequent games with that cracked elbow. After our season was over, I was then called into the medical facility and a cast was put on my arm.
I then became disillusioned due to no longer being pilot qualified with a new need for glasses, and a few other things not of relevance here. I then went back to Texas A&I University. That was the territory reigned by Gil Steinke. Gil was a former secondary player for the New York Giants until he tore his shoulder up. Back then, sports medicine was science fiction. He put me on scholarship and I was now a Javelina.
In my first experience as a linebacker, I was lined up against a 6′5″ and 320 pound offensive lineman underneath a cage topped with metal mesh. There was just enough room for an engagement in very restricted area and well beneath ability to raise or stand up. The coach with a whistle told me to meet a new friend and blew the whistle.
This is when an elbow was delivered in the gut as you unsuspectingly were returning to a huddle…or you were kicked in the throat while getting up from a pile and your opponent was already standing.
Gil Steinke once got down from an elevated platform. He was one of the very first in college ranks that used this for filming and observation during practices. He had been watching a practice and an offensive lineman had allowed someone to get a direct shot at his top quarterback, Carl Douglas. That quarterback was the first black quarterback for the then Baltimore Colts. He was drafted the first year after the departure of Earl Morrell and Johnny Unitas. Anyway, Gil halted practice, climbed all the way down. He was so incensed running over that when he arrive at the offending lineman he delivered a direct right cross to the jaw of that lineman. He then told him NEVER to do that to his quarterback again.
One afternoon, after the regular practice was over, we were broken up into two groups. The linemen were in one group, and my linebackers were paired with the ’skills’ people to even out a little of the size differences. Well, they then picked me. I then was paired up against an offensive tackle. The reward to be battled for, was wind sprints for the final part of practice. The contest of this lineman and me, a linebacker, were to start head up down in a three point stance. At the sound of the whistle, we were to battle until the whistle again blew. The start line was the disputed area. The side driving the other side farther past that line….won. When the whistle blew, so did I and straight into a wrestling take down. I caught him by surprise with this move, and when he landed on his back I went straight for a pinning action. I maintained true wrestling positioning and rode him similarly for about a whole three minutes working him as a wrestler would have. In full pads, on his back, and with my arm wrapped around and back underneath his neck, my body over his arm and my weight upon his chest with my other arm locking up and elevating his leg. There was virtually nothing he could do but wear out. That is how I beat a player much larger and stronger than myself. Skill became an asset; as did aggressive actions delivered to my own advantage.
After my first year there as a Javelina, I was introduced to what privilege was. They had a special function for first year lettermen. We were given the privilege to perform for the whole student body. There were several contests where we were allowed to demonstrate what we accomplished as players.
The field of play was a basketball court viewed by elevated stands above the court area. In the center of the court was erected a full sized boxing ring.
Our first event, a group of about thirty people were put inside this ring. A boxing glove was put on one of the opponent’s hands. The other hand was securely taped behind the back of each participant. Then, a blindfold was securely taped over the eyes of each contestant. All the contestants were completely blind and with one weapon available. At the sound of the starting whistle, the only rule was…the last person standing won. You quickly learned that the only advantage besides the glove, was the person backed up to your back. He was your partner until he was gone.
The special event that I was called for, more directly involved linebacking skills and temperaments. I was placed into this ring. A broomstick approximately 20 inches long was wrapped with about a half inch of athletic tape. This made a solid object with something of a muffling effect when swung. One hand of each of the opponents was taped very solidly to that wrapped broomstick. The sole object of this contest was that whoever was successful in wrestling that stick from his opponent was then able to beat that same opponent with it until he was able to get out of the ring. I was paired up with another linebacker. When the whistle blew, an amplified version of WWE immediately pursued.
This was the mental environment that I encountered coming up and into collegiate football. Just remembering back when…
CCBoy is a Sports Jabber Contributing Author.
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