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NEWS-STAR THROWBACKS: 'Grambling80' list honored best football players over program's first eight decades
GRAMBLING — Grambling resident Ray Higgins’ grandfather, Milton “Twenty” Douglas, was on the local college’s first football team, organized 80 years ago.
Originally known as the Colored Industrial and Agricultural School, Grambling fielded this initial squad under the leadership of R.W.E. Jones, the school’s second president.
No, Eddie Robinson wasn’t Grambling’s first head football coach — a common mistake, Higgins notes, chuckling. It might seem that way since Robinson coached nearly 60 of those years.
Higgins is celebrating that long history of football at Grambling — both by highlighting its storied accomplishments and adjusting a few misconceptions — on a fan-operated Web site called www.GoGrambling.com. There, he’s informally polling fans across the nation to assemble a list of the program’s Top 80 all-time players.
“The great thing has been talking with people from different eras about Grambling’s history,” said Higgins, a booster who graduated from Grambling Lab and then GSU. “If you weren’t around, you might have heard the legends, but you may not have seen these particular players. It’s been fun.”
Jones would coach the football team until 1932, a period that saw the creation of the school marching band, a signature element in the Grambling myth. (Higgins himself became a part of that tradition during his years at GSU.)
There followed a trio of two-year tenures for Ira Smith, Joe Williams and Osiah Johnson. Emory Hines then took over as coach for a six-year period before the long and celebrated “Eddie Rob” era began.
Jones hired the 21-year-old Robinson in 1940 after a standout playing career at the now-defunct Leland College. The rest, as they say, is history.
Robinson coached countless student athletes over what would eventually become a 57-year career, with more than 300 going on to play in the NFL. In the 1971 preseason alone, 43 former GSU players were in pro camps.
Robinson, in fact, began re-writing the record books in his second season.
Fred Hobdy and Dan Washington, who both later worked for Robinson, were members of the 1942 squad now known as the “un” team — having established an undefeated, untied and even unscored upon record that year.
Hobdy then coached the ends on Robinson’s historic 1955 crew, which went 10-0 on its way to Grambling’s first national black college championship. The team also produced the first of Robinson’s four Pro Football Hall of Famers, Willie “Thumper” Davis.
Grambling, then a member of the Midwestern Conference, joined the Southwestern Athletic Conference in 1959 — where Robinson won 17 titles (to go with eight more national black college championships) before retiring in 1997. His final tally was 408 wins, best in college football.
Robinson would be inducted into the College Hall of Fame, along with former players Paul “Tank” Younger, Gary “Big Hands” Johnson and Doug Williams — who succeeded him as coach at Grambling.
Williams, a quarterback on SWAC title teams in 1974 and ‘77, then established a 52-18 mark — winning three more conference championships — during his subsequent six-year stint. Current GSU coach Melvin Spears has added another 17 wins, including the most recent SWAC football title, and six losses.
Besides Robinson’s undefeated 1942 and ‘55 squads, GSU has posted a staggering eight one-loss seasons — in 1956, 1960, 1967, 1974, 1977 and 1992 under Robinson, before Williams’ Tigers did it in 2001 and Spears followed last season.
GSU’s .699 all-time winning percentage is behind only Yale’s .709 historically in all of Division I-AA.
So how to decide who among these towering giants to include in a Top 80 from Grambling’s eight decades of football?
Is the starting quarterback Williams or James “Shack” Harris — who was a conference champion in every year he started in the late 1960s? What about the recently departed Bruce Eugene, who now holds every significant Grambling passing record?
“I tried to set it up based initially on names I knew,” Higgins said. “There are presented 10 names at a time, starting with the most obvious. People have now begun talking about names that were omitted and giving reasons why others should be on. So, the lists have been growing.”
There are embarrassments of riches everywhere.
Over the years, Grambling defensive lines have boasted Davis, Johnson, Junious “Buck” Buchanan and Ernie “The Big Cat” Ladd. Former defensive backs Willie Brown, Albert “Snow” Lewis and Everson “Cubby” Walls join them as members of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
Wingbacks Frank Lewis and Sammy White played in three Super Bowls, while Charlie Joiner’s bust can be found in Canton.
“There is such a rich history in this 80 years of Grambling football that it’s a subject where you can continually go back and look at different names,” said Higgins, whose site is not officially affiliated with GSU. “Hopefully, in the end, we’ll have given people a chance to remember some of these accomplishments. They make me proud to be a Gramblinite.”
GRAMBLING80: Our picks for the program’s Top 80 players
As Grambling gears up for a celebration of its first 80 years of football, I’ve compiled my own Top 80 all-time GSU players - with help from Ray Higgins, whose fan-operated http://www.gogrambling.com/ Web site polled fans on the subject.
Considered with a careful focus on a player’s collegiate career, these are my suggestions for the best of the best over Grambling’s first eight decades on the gridiron.
* *- My Elite 8 are given fuller biographical sketches; this list is presented in alphabetical order.
1. Aldrich Allen: Two-time All-SWAC first-team linebacker in 1978-79, as Grambling won consecutive conference titles. Was also named to the American Football Coaches Association I-AA Coaches’ All-America Team in 1979.
2. Scotty Anderson: Holds school record for receptions and touchdowns in a career and catches by a senior. The last GSU player of 17 total to receive a Senior Bowl invite, Anderson led all scorers in 1999-2000 and helped the Tigers to two titles in 2000-01.
3. Herman Arvie: A first-team All-SWAC offensive tackle in 1992, Arvie was part of an offensive line that eventually helped Eric Gant to a trio of 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He was also named second-team All-America by the Sports Network in 1992.
4. Willie Armstrong: A three-time All-Southwestern Athletic Conference running back, from 1968-70, a period that saw Grambling win the third of three SWAC titles with quarterback James “Shack” Harris in 1968.
5. Garland Boyette: He earned first-team All-SWAC and Little All-America honors in 1961. Named to the All-time HBCU team at middle linebacker by Pop Culture, he’s the uncle of Ernie Ladd, another of the Top 80.
6. Willie Brown: So deep was Grambling’s roster in 1959-62, the only NFL player to intercept a least one pass in 16 consecutive seasons never played cornerback. Still he lettered all four years at split end and outside linebacker, and GSU won a title.
7. JUNIOUS ‘BUCK’ BUCHANAN: From his sophomore season onward, this tackle was given a trio of both All-America and all-conference honors while helping Grambling to a 23-5-2 record and its first SWAC title in 1960. Former coach Eddie Robinson would recall Buchanan’s dominance, even in practice.
“If we went to the right,” Robinson once recalled, “he would tackle us. If we went to the left, he would tackle us. If we went right at him, he would tackle us. Boy, he was really tough.”
Buchanan passing away in 1992 after a long bout with lung cancer, and was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996.
8. Frank Cornish: An All-America and first-team All-SWAC tackle in 1965, as Grambling won the first of four consecutive conference crowns.
9. WILLIE DAVIS: A two-time black college All-America defensive tackle in 1954-55, Davis anchored Grambling’s first national black college championship team — the 10-0 squad from 1955.
“Willie had hitting power,” former coach Eddie Robinson once recalled. “He was our captain, an outstanding leader.”
Davis, who worked his way to legendary status for Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers and then in the business world, would become GSU’s second SWAC Hall of Famer in 1977.
10. Walter Dean: The first SWAC player to win the Walter Payton Award, Dean was also the conference’s offensive player of the year in 1990. No senior has ever run for more than his 1,401 yards. He was also first-team all-conference in 1989, when GSU won the SWAC.
11. Steve Dennis: Still holds the school record for picks in a career, with 27 between 1969-72. A first-team All-SWAC DB in 1971-72, as GSU won the first and second of four consecutive conference titles, Dennis earned All-America honors in 1972.
12. Alphonse Dotson: Said to be Grambling’s first All-America first-teamer, Dotson received the honor from the Consensus All American-Newspaper Enterprise Association. He was a first team All-SWAC tackle in 1964, and honorable mention in ’63.
13. Tramon Douglas: Broke Scotty Anderson’s once-thought unassailable receiving numbers over two all-conference seasons beginning with 2002’s SWAC championship campaign. Still holds records for receptions and receiving yards in a season.
14. Henry Dyer: Grambling’s leading runner in both 1963 and the SWAC title season of ’65, Dyer was the school’s first documented 1,000-yard rusher. He was named first-team All-SWAC at fullback from ’63-65, and scored 30 times in his final two years.
15. Bruce Eugene: Eugene left Grambling with school records for career and season yards, scores and completions, two conference championships and the Division I-AA mark for touchdowns in a year - a record that had stood for since 1984.
16. Lee Fobbs: Playing from 1968-72, Fobbs rose to All-SWAC status at fullback during his junior and senior seasons, adding All-America honors in 1972, as Grambling won the second and third of four consecutive SWAC championships between 1971-74.
17. Solomon Freelon: Freelon was a first-team All-SWAC guard in 1971, a year after being named second-team as a junior. He would become one of just 12 Grambling players invited to the Blue-Gray All-Star Classic after GSU’s 1971 SWAC title.
18. Eric Gant: A two-time All-SWAC first teamer beginning in 1991, Gant is one of only 17 Grambling players ever invited to the Senior Bowl. Still holds school records for yards in season (1,417 in 1992) and yards in a career (3,795).
19. John “J.D.” Garrett: Led Grambling in rushing in 1962, and in scoring for the 1962 and ’63 seasons as both a runner and a kicker - scoring 130 total points over those two campaigns. Was first-team all-conference every season from 1961-63.
20. Clemente Gordon: SWAC offensive player of the year in 1989, as Grambling won the SWAC, Gordon was also first team in 1988. He passed for more than 5,000 yards during those two seasons, for 50 touchdowns and just 17 picks.
21. Jerry Gordon: After averaging 15 yards per catch on a 711 yard season, Gordon earned first-team SWAC honors in 1981. That followed second-team recognition in 1980 - as Grambling won a conference title.
22. Joe Gordon: The SWAC’s defensive player of the year in 1979, Gordon was also named to the AFCA I-AA Coaches’ All-America Team that year.
23. Leonard Griffin: Earned a valuable invite to the Blue-Gray All-Star Classic in 1985 after GSU won the conference title. An honorable-mention All-SWAC end, Griffin later served as a strength and conditioning assistant in the program.
24. JAMES ‘SHACK’ HARRIS: Harris passed for 4,128 yards and 43 touchdowns as Grambling went 24-5-1 between 1965-68, winning three straight SWAC titles.
Former “Coach (Eddie) Robinson had the utmost confidence in me that I could play, and that meant a lot, knowing how he felt,” Harris said. “Eddie Robinson is perhaps the greatest person that I’ve ever been around.”
In his senior season alone, Harris passed for 1,972 yards and 21 touchdowns on only 225 attempts. He was first-team All-SWAC in 1967-68, and also earned SWAC Hall of Fame honors.
25. Mike Harris: Led team in interceptions both in 1975 and ’76; his 10 picks in ’75 are second all time for one season. One of three members of the 1977 squad to be invited to the East-West Shrine Game – including Carlos Pennywell and Doug Williams.
26. Wayne Hill: Led Grambling in rushing for three seasons beginning in 1984, winning one SWAC title and gaining more than 2,000 yards. He was named second-team All-SWAC in 1985 and honorable mention in 1986.
27. Fred Hobdy: A guard on Grambling’s renowned “un” team in 1942, which went unbeaten, untied and unscored upon, Hobdy returned from the war to coach the ends - he was an assistant on 1955’s undefeated squad - before becoming Louisiana’s most successful college hoops coach ever.
28. Autry Lane Howell: A two-way lineman for Robinson, was the first of three brothers to star for Eddie Robinson, beginning in 1960. Grambling won its first Southwestern Athletic Conference title with Lane up front, establishing a 23-5-2 mark between 1960-62.
29: Michael Howell: A cornerback nicknamed “Trackdown,” Michael followed brother Lane two seasons later. His 1964 squad went 9-3, winning the Sugar Cup over Bishop before falling in the Orange Blossom Classic.
30. James “Hound” Hunter: A first-team All-SWAC honoree in 1974-75, he helped Grambling to the ’74 SWAC title. Hunter was the team leader in picks for two years, pulling down 16 passes in 1973-74. His 8 in 1974 still ranks fourth all time at GSU.
31. Randy Hymes: Led Grambling to its first two Southwestern Athletic Conference titles in six seasons, beginning in 2000. He would pass for more than 4,400 yards and 33 touchdowns, seventh all time at Grambling.
32. GARY ‘BIG HANDS’ JOHNSON: He still holds the school record for most tackles in a career, with 367 between 1971-74 as GSU won four straight SWAC titles.
In his senior season of 1974 alone, Johnson had 134 tackles, 89 unassisted, and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player. That led to coveted invites to both the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl — and Johnson was named Most Valuable Player in both.
Johnson earned first-team All-SWAC in 1972-74 and then 1997 induction into the College Football and SWAC halls of fame.
33. Stone Johnson: So fast he won the 1960 NAIA national 200-meter title, Johnson was a wingback and punter (averaging 36 yards per kick) on Grambling’s first SWAC title team. He also competed as a sprinter in the Olympics, before suffering a neck fracture during an NFL preseason game. He died 10 days later.
34. Trumaine Johnson: The 1980 and ‘82 SWAC offensive player of the year (when he had 1,000 yards and averaged 14 yards a catch), Johnson was also first-team All-SWAC in 1981. Grambling won the conference championship in ‘80. His 16 scores that season is still tied for fifth-best in school history.
35. CHARLIE JOINER: Led all Grambling receivers from 1966-68, gaining 2,066 yards, on the way to a trio of conference titles. An amazing 78 of quarterback James “Shack” Harris 289 career completions at Grambling were made by the steady Joiner, who led the team in touchdowns in 1966-67.
“Charlie goes all out,” former coach Eddie Robinson once noted. “Beating the man, that’s where he excelled.”He was named first-team All-SWAC three times and given Outstanding Offensive Player awards in the 1968 Little Rose Bowl.
Induction to the SWAC Hall of Fame followed in 1996.
36. Fred Jones: GSU’s best receiver during the 1987-89 seasons, collecting a total of 2,000 yards as well as a SWAC title in his senior campaign. He also led Grambling in scoring in ’88 with 10 touchdowns, and earned first-team All-SWAC honors in ’88-89.
37. Ernie “Big Cat” Ladd: At 6′9″ and 315 pounds, arguably the biggest GSU star ever. A first-team all-league defensive lineman in 1960, as Grambling won its first-ever Southwestern Athletic Conference championship.
38. Gilad Landau: His 188 career-total in PATs was a state record. An All-SWAC first-team kicker in 1992-93, Landau earned All-America honors in 1993 from the Sports Network.
39. Melvin Lee: As quarterback of the offensive line at center on Grambling’s undefeated 1955 championship squad, Lee must have impressed former coach Eddie Robinson. He then worked for the next 40 seasons as an assistant, tinkering and perfecting Robinson’s fabled Wing-T offense.
40. Albert “Snow” Lewis: Was first-team All-SWAC at cornerback in 1981-82, after leading the team in interceptions in 1981 with seven. A stellar performance earned him a starting position by popular vote in 2002 on the 50th anniversary All-Time Senior Bowl team.
41. FRANK LEWIS: A do-anything player who led Grambling in receiving in 1969-70 and in rushing in 1969, as well. He scored 28 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons, averaging 18.65 yards per catch.
“I played with Frank and I don’t know if I have ever seen a better athlete than Frank,” former GSU quarterback James “Shack” Harris said. “I don’t know of anything that Frank couldn’t do.”
Lewis was named first-team all-conference as a junior and senior, and was second-team as a sophomore when Grambling won the SWAC in 1968.
42. Clifton McNeil: Led all Grambling receivers in 1961 and again in 1963, averaging 16 yards per catch.
43. John Mendenhall: A first-team All-Southwestern Athletic Conference defensive end in 1971, he helped GSU to a SWAC title that year. He was then one of just 17 Grambling players ever invited to the Senior Bowl.
44. Larry Metevia Sr.: A first-team All-Southwestern Athletic Conference center in 1966, as Grambling won the second of four consecutive SWAC titles, and the first with quarterback James “Shack” Harris.
45: Michael Moore: Led all Grambling receivers in 1976-77, winning a SWAC title as a senior. His 60 receptions in 1977 still ranks in GSU’s top 10 all time and his 1,112 that year is in the top 5.
46. Brian Morgan: Holds most of GSU’s significant kicking records, including field goals in a career and most points scored by kicking at Grambling. Named first-team All-SWAC in 2001 and ’03, winning three conference titles.
47. Edward “Bo” Murray: A critical piece of Grambling’s 1955 undefeated team, the then-redshirt sophomore won the Orange Blossom Classic on scoring runs of 75 and 8 yards. He also kicked the extra point on his winning TD, beating Florida A&M 28-21.
48. Kendrick Nord: Nord passed for 6,600 yards in 1993-95, beating Alcorn in an epic Robinson Stadium battle and also winning a SWAC title as a senior. His .523 completion percentage has only been bested twice in 25 seasons.
49. Robert Parham: Grambling’s leading rusher from 1978-80, he amassed 2,700 yards over that span as GSU won three consecutive SWAC titles. He was a first-team all-conference running back in each of those seasons.
50. Elfrid Payton: Perhaps Grambling’s hardest hitter ever, this linebacker led the school as a senior in 1989 with 20 tackles for a loss, 13 quarterback sacks and two fumble returns. He was named the team’s Most Outstanding Player in both 1988-89.
51. Carlos Pennywell: A first-team All-Southwestern Athletic Conference receiver during Doug Williams’ final season at the helm, Pennywell helped Grambling to the 1977 SWAC title. He was named first-team all-conference that year as a senior and led Grambling in scoring in 1976.
52. Robert Pennywell: This Pennywell was a first-team All-SWAC linebacker in 1974-75, as Grambling won its ninth Southwestern Athletic Conference title in ’74.
53. Woody Peoples: A first-team All-Southwestern Athletic Conference offensive guard in 1964, as the tandem of Henry Dyer and Leroy Carter led the rushing attack.
54. Jake Reed: A first-team All-SWAC honoree in 1990, and second-team in 1989, Reed led all Grambling receivers as a senior with 954 yards and a 20-yard average per catch. He was invited to the Senior Bowl in 1990, one of just 17 from Grambling to receive that honor.
55. Andre Robinson: Helped GSU to three straight SWAC championships from 1977-80; was named the Bayou Classic’s MVP in 1980. As a senior, was a consensus All-America selection by AP, Kodak, The Sporting News and Sheridan; was also the SWAC’s Defensive Player of the Year.
56. Jerry “Gray Ghost” Robinson: A two-time first-team All-Southwestern Athletic Conference halfback from 1960-61, a stint that included Grambling’s first-ever SWAC title in 1960. Led all Grambling rushers over those two seasons, running for 1,300 yards.57. Virgil Robinson: A first-team All-Southwestern Athletic Conference running back in 1970, Robinson led all Grambling rushers that season with 884 yards.
58. Robert Salters: Named to American Football Coaches Association Division I-AA Coaches’ All-America Team in 1979. His eight interceptions that season still ranks fourth all time at Grambling.
59. Mike Saint Clair: Named All-SWAC in 1975 and honorable mention in 1974, as Grambling won a conference title.
60. Goldie “Spider” Sellers: Earned All-Southwestern Athletic Conference honors in 1965 as Grambling won its second SWAC title ever.
61. Dwight Scales: Grambling’s top receiver in 1973-74, with more than 800 yards and a 22-yard average per catch. Grambling won SWAC titles both seasons.
62. Charles “Tank” Smith: Grambling’s leading receiver in 1972, as the Tigers won the second of four consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference championships.
63: Raymond “World” Smith: A two-time first-team All-SWAC offensive tackle in 1989-90 as running back Walter Dean builds his resume for an eventual Walter Payton Award, recognizing Division I-AA’s best offensive threat.
64. Robert “Big Bird” Smith: A three-time first-team all-conference defensive end, beginning in his sophomore season of 1981. Grambling would win the 1983 SWAC title.
65. Keith Smyre: Still holds school records for longest punt (89 yards in 1974), as well as most punts in a game, most punts in a season and most yards punted in a career.
66: Richard Stebbins: A running back speedster who excelled in track events, he competed with “Bullet” Bob Hayes in U.S. Olympic events in the 1960s.
67. Ernest “Monster” Sterling: A lineman on multiple SWAC title teams, Sterling would then put in more than two decades as an assistant at Grambling. He is also one of just two coaches who stayed on when Doug Williams succeeded Robinson.
68. Robert Taylor: A two-time All-Southwestern Athletic Conference first-team linebacker in 2000-01, Taylor was also given first team I-AA All-American honors by the American Football Coaches Association in 2001.
69. Roosevelt Taylor: One of 13 Grambling players taken in the 1963 NFL draft, and one of four future All-Pros. He played safety at Grambling during the period before integration when most GSU second-teamers were potential starters.
70. Bennie Thompson: A first-team All-Southwestern Athletic Conference defensive back in 1984, and second team in 1983 as GSU won the SWAC title.
71. Rodney Tureaud: Led all Grambling rushers in 1972 with 1,137 yards, the first GSU 1,000 rusher in seven seasons. He was named SWAC offensive player of the year.
72. Everson “Cubby” Walls: Still holds the school record for most interceptions in a season, 11 set in 1980. Was All-SWAC that season.
73. Dan H. Washington: A member of Eddie Robinson’s first squad, as well as its subsequent “un” team in 1941 – which went unbeaten, untied and unscored upon. Washington then served as team trainer for 45 years before his death in 1996 at age 74.
74. Sammy White: Inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame in 2005 in recognition of a collegiate career that included two school-leading years for receptions in 1973 and 1975 - and a co-offensive player of the year award as a senior. White was also first-team All-SWAC in ’73.
75. DOUG WILLIAMS: Williams, who established school passing marks that stood for nearly 25 years, started quickly — winning a SWAC title as a redshirt freshman in 1974.
“I was blessed to have some veterans around me and Coach Robinson ran a conservative offense that didn’t put too much pressure on me,” Williams said.
He would win another SWAC championship as a senior in 1977, earning second-team All-SWAC honors in 1975 and then offensive player of the year honors in his final collegiate campaign. A Heisman Trophy finalist, Williams would be inducted into the SWAC and College halls in 2001.
76. Mike Williams: Williams, brother and successor at quarterback to Doug, won SWAC titles in 1978-80 and was named first-team all-conference as both a junior and senior. He threw for 3,700 yards and 46 touchdowns at Grambling.
77. Willie Williams: Punted for 4,200 yards over three seasons beginning in 1962, averaging 36 yards per attempt. He also played defensive back, where he was named first-team All-Southwestern Athletic Conference in 1964.
78. Robert Woods: A first-team All-SWAC receiver in 1977, he led all Grambling scorers with 14 touchdowns as GSU won its final conference title with Doug Williams at quarterback.
79. PAUL ‘TANK’ YOUNGER: Despite playing from 1945-48, still holds GSU record for career points with 369. His 86-yard blast against Morgan State in 1946 also remains the school’s longest non-scoring run.
In all, Younger scored 60 touchdowns — at the time a collegiate record, and still tops at Grambling — during his storied career under Eddie Robinson. Named black college player of the year in 1949, he was the first Grambling player inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame, in 1973.
Younger — who died just days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — had entered the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
80. Willie Young: A two-time All-Southwestern Athletic Conference first-team offensive guard in 1964-65, as Grambling won its second SWAC title.