Archive for August, 2013

College football: Week 1

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Early August spoiled us, didn’t it?

The temperatures were much cooler than usual, and the humidity was down.

Then, as we knew it would, the real Arkansas summer returned.

So it is that tens of thousands of Arkansans will bake in the sun at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday afternoon as the Bret Bielema era opens at the University of Arkansas.

The personable Bielema has won the residents of this state over with dozens of appearances across Arkansas since the first of the year. It figures that he would connect with residents of what’s still very much a rural state. After all, this is a guy who grew up on a 2,500-hog farm in northwest Illinois. He’s a product of Prophetstown, a community of only 2,000 that was once described by a writer as “a quintessential Midwest town that every bit resembles a Norman Rockwell painting.”

Bielema, I’m told, is the most famous person to come from Prophetstown since Wabokieshiek, a half-Winnebago, half-Sauk Indian prophet.

Bielema is a man who works hard and plays hard. He was an 11-pound baby born with chicken pox and quarantined from the other babies in his first days of life. On that 80-acre farm, he learned a strong work ethic. Along with two older brothers, he helped his parents before and after school. There were hogs to feed and pens to clean.

“Some of my buddies got to do other things more recreationally oriented, while I was busy with the pigs,” Bielema once told an interviewer. “One thing about living on a farm, you can’t miss any work. Those pigs need attention every single day. It was a lot of real hard work on all our parts, but it was rewarding.”

Yes, Arnie and Marilyn Bielema raised a youngest son who isn’t afraid of long hours.

“There was work to be done, and that’s all there was to it,” Bielema once said. “So we did it. Every day before school, I’d get up at 4:30 and do the chores, and after everything was done with school for the day, I’d come home and do the chores until night, study for a while and go to sleep before doing it again the next day.

“When I tell my players about work ethic, that’s kind of what I’m talking about, rolling your sleeves up and getting the job done when it needs to get done. That applies to living on a farm and, in a lot of ways, that applies to the football field, too.”

He would have made a good farmer. Looking at the results at Wisconsin, he’s a good football coach.

This year will be a challenge as Bielema attempts to revive a football program that must compete in the rugged Southeastern Conference. Arkansas has been to the SEC title game but has never won it in more than two decades in the league. There’s no reason to believe that first championship is going to occur anytime soon.

To hungry Razorback fans, let’s repeat what we said at the start of the Danny Ford era.

Let’s repeat what we said at the start of the Houston Dale Nutt era.

Let’s repeat what we said at the start of the Bobby Petrino era.

“Be patient.”

Let’s not repeat what we said at the start of the John L. “Smiley” Smith era, though. Those are words not to be used in polite company.

Thank goodness college football season has arrived. On to the picks for Week 1:

Arkansas 39, Louisiana-Lafayette 31 — First of all, I refuse to go along with this “Louisiana” stuff. The Hogs are playing Louisiana-Lafayette, not Louisiana. I’m amazed at the number of people across the country who have made Louisiana-Lafayette over Arkansas sort of a “chic pick” for Week 1. Let’s get this point out of the way: No SEC team (even a bad one) should lose to a Sun Belt team. That’s not to say Saturday’s game won’t be close. It likely will be. Louisiana-Lafayette posted a 9-4 record a year ago and Coach Mark Hudspeth (I covered him on a regular basis when he was at North Alabama in the Gulf South Conference) is the real deal. Hudspeth is 18-8 as the head coach in Lafayette and 84-29 overall as a college head coach. Look for him to take a job at a school in one of the Big Five conferences in the next couple of seasons. Remember Petrino’s first game at Arkansas? It was close. Just as the Hogs did back then, they’ll find a way to win Saturday.

UCA  41, Incarnate Word 20 — I hope to be inside Estes Stadium tonight as the Bears, ranked No. 6 nationally in the FCS coaches’ poll, begin the 2013 campaign. Incarnate Word has received some national attention because the old weed-lover himself, Ricky Williams, is on the coaching staff there. I can’t hear Williams’ name without thinking of Mike Ditka in that wig in early 1999 as he gave up all of the Saints’ draft choices in order to get Williams. As a Saints fan, I still have yet to forgive Coach Ditka. Fortunately for the Bears of UCA, the former Heisman Trophy winner, who gained 6,279 yards during his college career at Texas, will be on the sideline rather than the field. Incarnate Word was just 2-9 a year ago. I’m glad it’s Steve Sullivan and not me having to say “Incarnate Word” over and over on the radio. That doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it?

ASU 49, UAPB 22 — On Saturday night in Jonesboro, it’s also the beginning of a new era. It’s the fourth era in four seasons in the event you’re keeping count. Those following the ASU program seem to like what they’ve seen of Bryan Harsin, the Red Wolves’ new head coach. Maybe he will stay around for more than one season. It was Harsin’s good fortune that defensive coordinator John Thompson chose to stay in Jonesboro. Thompson knows what he’s doing. Both UAPB and ASU had conference championship seasons a year ago. Monte Coleman, whose overall record is now 29-27 as the head coach at UAPB, thinks he has the talent needed to compete for a second consecutive SWAC title. However, on a hot night in Craighead County, the Golden Lions’ lack of depth will show during the second half.

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Remembering the AIC

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Look through the list of inductees into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and you will find dozens of people who either played or coached at schools that once were members of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference.

Want to hear some great sports stories?

Just attend a Hall of Fame event and get “the old AIC guys” talking.

It was a conference with quite a colorful history. For those of us who grew up with it, it’s hard to believe it has now been gone for more than 18 years.

What became the AIC was formed in 1928. The league disbanded in the spring of 1995. Most of the state’s four-year colleges and universities were members of the AIC at one time or another during its existence.

During most of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the AIC consisted of five state schools and five private schools.

The state schools that were members of the conference were Arkansas Tech University at Russellville, the University of Central Arkansas at Conway, the University of Arkansas at Monticello, Henderson State University at Arkadelphia and Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia.

The private schools that were AIC members were the University of the Ozarks at Clarksville, Harding University at Searcy, Hendrix College at Conway, Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia and Lyon College at Batesville.

Most of those schools had name changes during that period.

Lyon (Arkansas College at the time), Hendrix and Ozarks had dropped football by the mid-1960s but continued to compete in the AIC in other sports.

The AIC was affiliated nationally with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, which was headquartered at Kansas City.

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff was a member of the AIC from 1970-72 and 1983-87.

By the early 1990s, many of the NAIA schools across the country that played football were moving to NCAA Division II. UCA, which at the time had a much larger enrollment than the other AIC members, decided to make the move to NCAA Division II beginning with the 1993-94 school year. Henderson’s board of trustees also voted to move in the fall of 1993 into NCAA Division II. UCA and Henderson joined the Gulf South Conference, which also had member institutions in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

The defections of UCA and Henderson left the AIC with just five football-playing schools — UAM, SAU, Arkansas Tech, Ouachita and Harding.

UAM, SAU and Arkansas Tech were admitted to the Gulf South Conference beginning with the 1995-96 school year. The Gulf South refused to admit Ouachita and Harding, the only two private colleges playing football in Arkansas at the time. Ouachita and Harding wound up in the Lone Star Conference, which also had member institutions in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Harding and Ouachita were admitted to the Gulf South Conference beginning with the 2000-01 school year.

UCA, meanwhile, left the Gulf South Conference to move into NCAA Division I as enrollment continued to soar, becoming a Southland Conference member in 2006.

Beginning with the 2011-12 school year, six former AIC members — Henderson, UAM, SAU, Ouachita, Harding and Arkansas Tech — became charter members of the new NCAA Division II Great American Conference. Several former members of the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Conference also are affiliated with the Great American Conference, which is headquartered at Russellville.

The AIC was organized in 1928 as the Arkansas Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. What’s now Arkansas State University at Jonesboro and what’s now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock were among the original members.

The first champions of the conference in men’s sports were UCA in basketball in 1928, UCA in baseball in 1928, Hendrix in track and field in 1928, SAU in football in 1929, Ouachita in tennis in 1948, Henderson in golf in 1948, UCA in cross country in 1962, Arkansas Tech in bowling in 1963 and Hendrix in swimming and diving in 1964.

The AIC began sponsoring women’s sports during the 1983-84 school year. The first women’s champions that school year were Lyon in cross country, Arkansas Tech in volleyball, UCA in basketball, Hendrix in swimming and diving, Harding in softball, Lyon in track and field and UCA in tennis.

In 1957, the AIC began presenting the Cliff Shaw Scholar-Athlete Award. It was given annually for the remainder of the conference’s existence to the senior male athlete who posted the highest academic grade point average and earned at least two athletic letters in AIC-sponsored sports. The first recipient of the award was John Clem of Ouachita.

In 1984, the AIC began giving a similar award for female athletes known as the Downing-Swift-Wallace Award. The first recipient was Marci Crump of Harding.

The AIC began awarding an all-sports trophy in 1964. UCA won the award the first four years it was presented. SAU captured the all-sports trophy in five of the next seven years.

Cliff Shaw of Little Rock generally is regarded as the most important figure in conference history. He became the AIC commissioner in 1956, replacing Gen. H.L. McAlister of Conway. Shaw served as commissioner until 1971, when he was replaced by Charles Adcock of Little Rock.

The commissioner’s job was an unpaid, part-time position for Shaw, but he devoted many hours to the conference. His main job was with Coleman Dairy in Little Rock.

Shaw, who was born in 1908, was a four-sport letterman at Little Rock High School, earning 10 letters during his high school years. He signed a pro baseball contract with the Little Rock Travelers in 1927 as a shortstop.

In 1930, Shaw began officiating athletic events and later became one of the most respected football and basketball officials in the country. He officiated for 35 years in the Southwest Conference, the Big Eight and the Big Ten. He worked a number of football bowl games, including the Cotton Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. Shaw also officiated in the finals of the NCAA basketball tournament in 1953.

Shaw was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Arkansas Officials Association Hall of Fame in 1996. Under Shaw’s direction, the AIC became known for having the finest officiating corps of any small college conference in the country.

Adcock, who was Shaw’s successor, was replaced as commissioner by Leroy Nix Jr.

Nix, in turn, was replaced in 1978 by Sid Simpson. After just one year as commissioner, Simpson was replaced by Harry T. Hall, who served in the role until the conference disbanded.

Hall, a retired Army colonel, was a building supervisor for the Little Rock School District when he was named commissioner. He had spent two decades as a college basketball official and was age 46 when he was hired by the AIC in July 1979.

Hall, a Dyess native, had received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Henderson and had played basketball for the Reddies.

The conference’s first recognized All-Americans were Raymond “Rabbit” Burnett of UCA in football in 1937, Ken Stephens of UCA in outdoor track in 1951, E.C. O’Neal of Arkansas Tech in basketball in 1954, Bill Tiner of UCA in baseball in 1960, Cliff Clark of Harding in cross country in 1965, Tom Bateman of Harding in indoor track in 1966, Charles Burt of Harding in bowling in 1967, Jim Saucedo and Mike Pelizza of Ouachita in tennis in 1967, John Bumpers of Hendrix in swimming in 1971 and Stan Lee of UCA in golf in 1972.

The first three AIC-connected individuals to be inducted into the national NAIA Hall of Fame were former coaches — Ivan Grove of Hendrix for football in 1957, John Tucker of Arkansas Tech for football in 1960 and Sam Hindsman of Arkansas Tech for basketball in 1965.

The first two former AIC athletes to go into the NAIA Hall of Fame were Eddie Meador of Arkansas Tech for football and E.C. O’Neal of Arkansas Tech for basketball in 1967.

The AIC is gone, but its imprint on the sports history of Arkansas is permanent.

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Hendrix College returns to football

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

In the final game of the 1960 football season, the Hendrix Warriors defeated the Ouachita Tigers, 7-6, in Arkadelphia.

I might have been there. I would have been 14 months old at the time. My home was walking distance from the stadium, and my parents attended all Ouachita games.

Here’s how the Ouachita yearbook later described the contest: “A large crowd, enjoying shirtsleeve weather, saw the two teams battle evenly through most of the game even though Ouachita passed up several golden opportunities to win the tilt.

“Hendrix drew first blood near the end of the first quarter on a long drive climaxed by a 12-yard jaunt to pay dirt by quarterback Cloyd Baltimore. Johnny Turner then added what was to prove to be the winning margin with the conversion.

“In the first quarter, Ouachita threw away what appeared to be a sure touchdown when Warrior end Mike Smith pounced on a Ouachita fumble. Later Tiger drives reached the 35- and 25-yard-lines of the visitors before being stymied. Ouachita finally scored late in the fourth period through the arm of quarterback Larry Pugh, who riddled the Warrior defense with passes. The tall freshman threw a 25-yard payoff pitch to halfback Tom Murphree in the end zone. However, end Carl Babcock blocked Ouachita’s attempt to tie the score.”

No Hendrix College team has played a football game since that day.

That will change on the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 7, when Hendrix hosts Westminster College from Missouri. Hendrix graduates are excited about the return of football to the school. Few people are more excited than those who once played for the Warriors.

Ron Pyle was a member of that 1960 Hendrix team. He’s among those who believe it’s high time for intercollegiate football to be played again at the small Methodist school following a 53-year hiatus.

“I guess you could say that Hendrix has a one-game winning streak going into this year,” Pyle says, referring to the 1960 win over Ouachita. “Through the years, many of us have stayed close, and all of us regret not being able to come back for another season.

“A strong bond was established. It’s very satisfying to see the return of football at Hendrix. I learned the lessons of facing adversity, never giving up and working with teammates as a Hendrix football player.”

Pyle, who transferred to Hendrix his sophomore season, says the team was small — both in numbers and individual size.

“There weren’t a lot of us, and we only had one really big lineman, Marvin Gillham,” he says. “We generally were underdogs, but every game we played was with a sense of determination. We played to win.

“One moment of brief success occurred during my junior year when we went to play Arkansas Tech, which was an Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference powerhouse at the time. We had worked on a trick play for a kick return. My job was to drift to the left. Jerry Jeffries would receive, go right and draw the Tech defense to him. He would then pull up and pass the ball across the field to me. The pass had to qualify as a lateral. It worked perfectly. I followed Marvin 80 yards for a touchdown.

“We led Tech at the half, 7-6. The Tech coach was not happy, and we could see him chewing out his team, in particular an All-American named ‘Tiger’ McClellan.

“Tech kicked off after the half. There were 20 Hendrix and Tech players on the left sideline for the return and just two players on the right, me and a very angry ‘Tiger’ McClellan. He punished me severely. I didn’t care. We eventually lost, 26-7, but for a half it was great.”

The game was an afternoon contest in Russellville. Powell ‘Tiger’ McClellan was named as a second-team Little All-America as an end that year. The NAIA picked offensive and defensive All-America teams for the first time that season, and McClellan was named to the first team as a linebacker.

As a senior in 1961, McClellan moved up to first team Little All-America as an end. He was named first team NAIA All-America as a defensive end.

Longtime Little Rock CPA Jim Rasco, who is a Hendrix graduate and serves as the historian for the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, attended the game in Russellville. He vividly remembers the play on which Pyle scored.

“What Tech didn’t know was that Hendrix really didn’t have a placekicker at that time,” Rasco says. “Hendrix lined up for the extra point kick, but the ball was snapped to kicker Mike Smith. He then passed the ball to a wide open Jerry Carter for the extra point. There were no two-point conversions under NAIA rules in 1960 so Hendrix led 7-6 at the half. ‘Tiger’ McClellan blocked at least two of Carter’s punts in the second half.”

Hendrix began playing football in the early 1900s. The original mascot was the Bulldogs. The old American Indian image for the Hendrix Warriors has given way to a sort of Celtic warrior in recent years. Despite all the changes, there’s a solid football tradition at the school.

Charles Tadlock of Sheridan, who played at Hendrix in the late 1950s, says he has “always been jealous of my Ouachita friends who have had the opportunity to attend football games at their alma mater on fine fall Saturday afternoons.”

Now, Hendrix graduates such as Rasco, Tadlock and Pyle will be able to enjoy the experience.

“The 1920s and 1930s were outstanding periods for Hendrix sports with numerous all-sports stars and games against major universities,” Tadlock says. “The AIC got stronger after World War II with some of the colleges going from having two-year programs to having four-year programs. As scholarships increased at the other schools, Hendrix found it harder to compete and dropped football for the 1956 season. The sport was reinstated in 1957 with half-tuition scholarships.

“The team gradually improved from 1-7 the first year back to 3-5-1 in that fourth season of 1960. There were 22 freshmen in 1957. Only four of those players were still on the team in 1960. There were about 40 total players. Things appeared to be pretty bright for the 1961 season, but the school dropped the sport due to financial troubles.

“Most of the players were bitter about the end of the football program. During the 53 years when there were no football teams, Hendrix went from being an NAIA school with six sports to being an NCAA Division III school with 21 sports.”

Jeffries, a member of the 1960 team, says that while it’s not the old AIC, “it’s still 11 men against 11 men. I think having football again will round out the Hendrix experience for the young men who play. They’ll get the education Hendrix is noted for and a chance to continue playing a game they love. I have no doubt it will be a first-class program all the way.”

In the trophy case of the school’s ultramodern Wellness & Athletic Center, there’s a football that was used in a 7-6 Hendrix victory over Ouachita. It’s not from that final game of 1960, though. It’s from a Nov. 1, 1929, game that marked the first Hendrix win over Ouachita in 19 years.

While plenty of people are around who remember the 1960 victory, it obviously would be much more difficult to find anyone who was at the 1929 game.

There’s no one, meanwhile, left to give an account of perhaps the most momentous win in the history of the Hendrix football program, a 1913 victory over Ole Miss.

One of the best teams ever at Hendrix later would play a scoreless tie against Ole Miss in 1927.

Hendrix played the University of Arkansas in football several times. The Arkansas-Hendrix game was billed in 1926 by newspapers as the “state championship,” and the Razorbacks won, 14-7.

The Razorbacks then defeated Hendrix, 20-7, in the final game of the 1927 season. Hendrix never beat the Razorbacks but did hold the Hogs to scoreless ties in 1920 and 1932.

The most famous figure in Hendrix football history probably was Coach Ivan Grove. The legendary coach spent two years in the Army during World War I, graduating from Henry Kendall College (now the University of Tulsa), where he led the nation in scoring. Francis Schmidt (who compiled a record of 41-21-3 as the Razorback head coach from 1922-28) had been Grove’s high school coach at Arkansas City, Kan.

Schmidt was an assistant at Henry Kendall when Grove played there. After college, Grove coached two years at Oklahoma Baptist College and then was hired by Schmidt as an assistant coach of the Razorbacks. At age 30 in 1924, Grove took over at Hendrix and coached until 1957. From 1924-27, his Hendrix teams went 23-9-3.

Despite Grove’s later success, the 1913 win over Ole Miss still stands out as a landmark victory in the annals of Hendrix football.

“Ole Miss, the gridiron team which is dreaded by all Southern colleges, will arrive in Conway for a battle with the Hendrix College football aggregation,” the Log Cabin Democrat at Conway reported at the time. “The record on the scalping path made by Ole Miss this season, as well as past seasons, is a source of much pleasure to their fellow students, while on the other hand they invariably leave many mourners behind them.”

The writer didn’t have that kind of praise for the Hendrix football team.

Instead, he wrote: “Hendrix continues to go through practice antics every afternoon, but there is a noticeable lack of pep and ginger among the squad.”

By the week of the game, though, the newspaper was beating the drums: “The most stupendous football game played in Arkansas this season will be staged tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 o’clock on Hendrix field between the elevens representing the University of Mississippi of Oxford, Miss., and Hendrix College of this city. Never before in the history of the gridiron pastime has there been more enthusiasm among the people — not only of this city but over the state — than has been displayed already over tomorrow’s engagement. On every corner, in every store, in every nook — and, in fact, at every place where there are as many as two persons — the sole topic of conversation concerns tomorrow’s football game.”

By the time the sun had set on Conway on Nov. 7, 1913, Hendrix had come away with a stunning 8-6 victory.

Southern Methodist University had fielded its first team in 1913, losing the first game to TCU and then beating Hendrix by a score of 13-2 in the second game in school history. Ole Miss was not so lucky that fall.

More than 200 Hendrix male students — accompanied by the school’s band — marched through downtown Conway that night after the win over Ole Miss. The men were dressed in pajamas. They made their way to Central College, a school for women that was located on what’s now the campus of Central Baptist College. Women waved at them from the windows of their rooms.

On the first Saturday in September — almost a century after that victory over Ole Miss — Hendrix will host a college football game. It’s doubtful that the male members of the student body will parade through the streets of Conway in their pajamas if the Warriors defeat Westminster. But there’s no doubt that excitment is building in Conway.

Vance Strange, a former University of Central Arkansas athletic director and a former president of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, says it best when it comes to the buildup to the 2013 Hendrix season. Strange, who played football at Hendrix, often has his morning coffee at Bob’s Grill, the venerable eatery on Oak Street in downtown Conway where local residents gather to talk sports, politics and the weather.

Strange uses something he calls the “Bob’s Grill gauge” to monitor what interests folks in the area.

“At Bob’s, I can assure you that people are excited about Hendrix football,” he says matter of factly.

It should be noted that the Bob’s Grill gauge is rarely wrong.

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Roaf, Hampton and remembering the linemen

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

It’s far too easy for those of us who love talking and writing about football to forget the linemen.

As an old offensive lineman — emphasis on “old” — I should know better.

Yet each Monday during the fall when I stand before the members of the Little Rock Touchdown Club and give my weekly college football recap, I talk about those who ran for touchdowns, those who threw the passes, those who caught those passes, those who intercepted the passes and those who kicked the field goals.

That’s the easy thing to do.

The boys who toil in the trenches understand that. They do it not for personal glory but instead because they love the sport and are the ultimate team players.

The guys who play on the line tend to be smart and articulate. If you don’t believe me, come hear Jonathan Luigs when he addresses the Touchdown Club on Monday, Oct. 21.

I like to think they put the smartest player on the team at center.

In January, when the Touchdown Club hosts its annual postseason awards banquet (with Lou Holtz as the keynote speaker), two new awards will be presented.

The Dan Hampton Award will be given to the top Arkansas high school defensive lineman and the top Arkansas collegiate defensive lineman.

The Willie Roaf Award will be given to the top Arkansas high school offensive lineman and the top Arkansas collegiate offensive lineman.

A selection panel of media representatives will join Hampton and Roaf in picking the honorees each year.

Good for the Little Rock Touchdown Club.

Good for recognizing linemen, both those on offense and those on defense.

Good for not just limiting those awards to the collegiate level. You can never have enough high school awards.

And good for naming the awards after Hampton and Roaf, two of the finest linemen ever to come out of this state.

Hampton is a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Class of 1992.

“From the beginning to the end, I was blessed with great teammates and terrific coaching,” Hampton says. “But I am proud to say the one true quality that I valued above all others was a relentless will to win. Great talent is a blessing from God, but desire is self-administered.”

An injury caused by an accident kept Hampton out of organized sports in junior high, but he made up for lost time during his junior and senior seasons at Jacksonville High School. Playing for Bill Reed’s Red Devils, Hampton caught the eye of the University of Arkansas coaching staff and went on to star on defense for the Razorbacks at the end of the Frank Broyles era and the start of the Lou Holtz era.

Hampton was a four-year letterman at Arkansas, a three-year starter and a two-time All-Southwest Conference selection. He was named to the Razorback All-Decade team of the 1970s.

Hampton made his mark as a freshman with 21 tackles in 1975. He had 48 tackles and recovered two fumbles as a sophomore. His tackle total rose to 70 as a junior, which was the first year of the Holtz era.

Hampton earned All-America honors his senior season with 98 tackles. He was the Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 1978 and was the Chicago Bears’ No. 1 pick (the fourth pick overall) in the 1979 NFL draft.

Hampton made an immediate impact as an NFL rookie when he had 70 tackles, 48 of which were solo efforts, and recovered two fumbles. Hampton was a first- or second-team All-Pro choice six times as either a defensive end or tackle.

Nicknamed “Danimal” for his ferocious style of play, Hampton played 12 seasons for the Bears despite 10 knee surgeries and numerous other injuries.

Hampton retired in 1990, having become just the second Bear to play in three different decades. He was inducted into the University of Arkansas Sports Hall of Honor in 1991 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

Roaf is a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2007.

“It’s amazing to think a kid like me from Pine Bluff, barely recruited to college and signing with a program just entering NCAA Division I, could end up one of the best to play the game at my position,” he says. “It shows young football players from Arkansas that with a lot of hard work and great character you can achieve anything. I had great coaches and teammates along the way to help guide me. I always competed hard and strived to be the best.”

Roaf, the son of dentist Clifton Roaf and the late Judge Andree Layton Roaf, is quick to note that his mother would have preferred that he become an attorney or doctor. He drew so little interest from college recruiters coming out of Pine Bluff High School that he considered switching from football to basketball. Finally, he decided to play football at Louisiana Tech University at Ruston, where his career took off.

After a stellar professional career, Roaf was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.

Roaf was 6-4 and weighed 220 pounds when he went to Louisiana Tech, small for a college offensive lineman. By his sophomore season, Roaf was 6-5 and weighed 300 pounds.

Louisiana Tech played Alabama, Baylor, South Carolina, Ole Miss, West Virginia and Southern Mississippi during his senior season, allowing professional scouts plenty of opportunities to watch Roaf play. He was picked in the first round of the 1993 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints. Roaf was the eighth selection overall and the first offensive lineman to be drafted that year.

Roaf spent the first nine years of a 13-year NFL career with the Saints. He started 131 games for New Orleans and helped the franchise to its first playoff win, a 2000 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams.

A torn ligament in his right knee forced Roaf to miss the second half of the 2001 season. He was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he made the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons.

Roaf was voted to the Pro Bowl 11 times in 13 seasons, tied with Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz for the most Pro Bowl appearances by an offensive tackle. He earned a spot on the NFL All-Decade teams for both the 1990s and the 2000s.

Roaf was inducted into the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.

Memo to offfensive and defensive linemen at high schools and colleges across Arkansas: Smile, in the words of John L. Smith. The folks at the Little Rock Touchdown Club realize you exist.

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Cliff Harris and LR’s growing TD Club

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

It’s hard to believe it has been nine years since I sat down for lunch with David Bazzel at Ciao in downtown Little Rock and saw a dream begin to come to life. Over pasta and salad that June day, the idea of a football club for Little Rock was first discussed.

That wasn’t the stated purpose of the luncheon. I was working for Gov. Mike Huckabee at the time, and David had some ideas he wanted to run past me in his role as chairman of a physical fitness commission.

The date was Tuesday, June 8, 2004 (yes, I keep my old calendars).

I happened to mention the fact that Little Rock was one of the largest cities in the football-crazed South without a football club. In cities such as Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta and Houston, such clubs had established their reputations years ago as the place for football fans to gather on a weekly basis during the season.

“I’ve been thinking the same thing,” David replied. “Do you want to see if we can establish such a group?”

As he typically does with ideas he likes, David took it and ran with it.

On Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2004, 17 people who were interested in being involved in such a club met for lunch at what was then the Little Rock Hilton on University Avenue. The Little Rock Touchdown Club was born.

Less than three weeks later, the club held its first formal meeting at the Hilton and then met every Monday for lunch until December. Much to our amazement, the club was an instant hit. We had figured it would take a few seasons to catch on. By the end of the 2004 football season, almost 200 people were showing up on a weekly basis, and the media coverage was outstanding.

We outgrew the Hilton after one year, moving the next season to the Embassy Suites in west Little Rock.

On Wednesday of next week, the 10th season of programs will begin. More than 500 people will head to the downtown Marriott to hear from Bret Bielema, the new head football coach at the University of Arkansas.

Speakers later in the year will include Tom Osborne, Houston Nutt, Gene Chizik, Mitch Mustain, Bryan Harsin, Roland Sales, Ike Forte and Steve Atwater.

In January, Lou Holtz will keynote the organization’s annual awards banquet.

Through the years, David has never stopped thinking, planning and scheming — always trying to make the club bigger and better. It’s safe to say that the Little Rock Touchdown Club now has a national reputation among those in the football world. Quotes from its speakers often make The Associated Press national sports wire and are published across the country.

Earlier this summer, David began thinking about ways to make the club’s postseason awards banquet even better. His initial idea was to present an award each year to the top scholar-athlete from one of the state’s NCAA Division II programs and name it for Cliff Harris, the former Ouachita Baptist University and Dallas Cowboys star.

Leave it to David to turn that limited idea into a national award within a matter of days.

In January, the Cliff Harris Award will be presented by the club to the top small college defensive player in the country. All schools from NCAA Division II, NCAA Division III and the NAIA will be eligible to nominate players.

It has been a special pleasure to work with David on the establishment of this new national award due to a family connection. Cliff’s father and my father played football together at Ouachita in the 1940s, and our families have been close ever since.

Cliff’s sister and my sister attended Ouachita together. Cliff’s brother and my brother were friends as boys.

When Cliff’s father was transferred by his employer — the Arkansas Power & Light Co. — from Hot Springs to Des Arc prior to Cliff’s senior year in high school, the Harris family purchased a home next door to my grandparents.

My father was among those who talked Ouachita’s football coach, Buddy Benson, into giving Cliff a chance to play college football.

In other words, the family ties run deep. Really deep.

Our fathers are no longer living, but their legacies loom large in our lives.

To understand what has driven Cliff Harris all of these years, you must know a little bit about his late father, O.J. “Buddy” Harris, a Bearden native.

My dad called “Buddy” Harris the toughest football player he had ever known. Mr. Harris was a pilot during World War II. He was shot down and left floating in the ocean at one point.

Let’s allow Kevin Sherrington, the fine sports columnist for the Dallas Morning News, to pick up the story. Here’s some of what Kevin wrote in June of last year in a column about Cliff’s dad: “Cliff Harris keeps several images of his father close to his heart: linebacker and center at Ouachita Baptist; P-38 Flying Cross; educated, disciplined, upbeat husband and father of three. And then there’s this, too: O.J. Harris, his face inches from a TV screen, making out fleeting shadows.

“O.J. had first learned he had diabetes through a routine physical. The diagnosis washed out his plans to be a test pilot. But he did as he was told, gave himself insulin shots daily and never complained. And diabetes took his sight at 50.”

By the time Cliff began playing for the Cowboys in 1970, “Buddy” Harris was having a hard time finding him on the field. Mr. Harris would turn down the sound on the television and listen to the radio instead.

“Cliff didn’t think much about it back then,” Sherrington wrote. “He was too caught up making and keeping his position with the Cowboys.”

Cliff says, “My dad never flew again after the war. I played in five Super Bowls, and he never got to live his dream.”

After his father died in 2001, Cliff gave a moving talk at the funeral service.

“Cliff says he is who he is because of his father,” Kevin Sherrington wrote. “He figures he still owes him.”

Cliff told the columnist, “I feel kinda guilty because I was so focused on myself all those years. I feel like I didn’t do him justice.”

When the Cliff Harris Award is presented in January, you can bet that the award’s namesake will be thinking about his father.

Cliff was born in Fayetteville, spent most of his formative years in Hot Springs and graduated from high school at Des Arc. He played multiple sports growing up but drew little interest from college recruiters. Ouachita’s Coach Benson, who was later inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1993, gave Cliff the chance to prove himself at the college level.

Cliff indeed made a name for himself in the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference from 1966-69. I was only 7 years old his freshman year and 10 years old by the time Cliff’s college career ended, but I was on the Ouachita sideline as a water boy during the games he played.

Cliff was overlooked in the 1970 NFL draft. However, Gil Brandt, who headed a famous scouting operation for the Cowboys, was well aware of this hard-hitting player from the small school in Arkadelphia. Cliff signed as a free agent with the Cowboys.

A decade and five Super Bowls later, he retired.

Cliff earned a starting position with the Cowboys as a rookie in 1970. His rookie season was interrupted by a tour of duty in the U.S. Army, but Cliff wasted no time regaining his starting position following his military commitment.

During the decade of the ’70s, Cliff changed the way the position of free safety was played in the NFL. He rarely left the field, often leading the team not only in interceptions but also in yardage on kickoff and punt returns.

In addition to playing in those five Super Bowls (the Cowboys won two of them; I still hate the Steelers for winning two others against Dallas during the decade), Cliff was named to the Pro Bowl six times and was named a first-team All-NFL player for four consecutive seasons by both The Associated Press and the Pro Football Writers Association.

Cliff was named to the Dallas Cowboys Silver Season All-Time Team and was selected by Sports Illustrated as the free safety on the magazine’s All-Time Dream Team. He was even given the NFL Alumni Legends Award. For years, the Cliff Harris Celebrity Golf Tournament has been among the leading charity events in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Cliff was inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor in 2004. I was at Texas Stadium that day for the induction ceremony, which occurred during the halftime of a game against the New York Giants. During the 1970s, my family had had the good fortune of making many such trips to Texas Stadium to watch Cliff play.

I can tell you that I plan to be in Canton, Ohio, when the time comes for Cliff to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was a finalist in 2004 but didn’t make it. There’s a seniors’ committee that each year can add two Hall of Fame finalists from among the list of players who have been retired 25 or more seasons. Cliff’s last season was 1979, so his time could still come to be a senior finalist one of these years.

In the meantime, thanks to David Bazzel — the man who created the Broyles Award — for bringing yet another national college football award to Little Rock. Having grown up with small college football, I’m pleased that this award will go each year to a player from a small college.

“As a small college player myself at Ouachita, I always understood that recognition and respect for oustanding play was more difficult to attain,” Cliff says. “Because of this, I relied on perseverance and mental toughness.”

O.J. “Buddy” Harris — college football star, war hero and an inspiration for all who knew him — wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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Rex’s Rankings: The preseason

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

It’s time for high school football players to begin practice.

And, right on schedule, the heat and humidity are up after what had been a relatively cool summer by Arkansas standards.

It has been 36 years since I played football, but early August always brings back memories of the dreaded two-a-day practice sessions on the old Goza field at Arkadelphia when I was a Badger in the 1970s.

I was driving to the Goza gym for an August football practice when I heard on the radio that Elvis had died. There were some of us who feared we might join him about two hours into practice that hot day.

Late each Friday night during the 2013 season, I will announce Rex’s Rankings on the statewide high school scoreboard show that I co-host with Grant Merrill. You’ll be able to pick us up on more than 40 stations this season from 10 p.m. until midnight.

The weekly rankings will be posted each Monday here on the Southern Fried blog.

Since players are reporting for practice, I figured it was time for the preseason rankings. Soon, teams will be on the Road to the Rock, hoping they make it to one of the six state championship games at War Memorial Stadium in early December.

Let me know why you agree and disagree with these rankings. The beauty of early August is that everyone is undefeated.

Here goes:

Overall

1. Bentonville

2. Fayetteville

3. North Little Rock

4. Greenwood

5. Pine Bluff

6. El Dorado

7. Pulaski Academy

8. Camden Fairview

9. Fort Smith Southside

10. Conway

Class 7A

1. Bentonville

2. Fayetteville

3. North Little Rock

4. Fort Smith Southside

5. Conway

Class 6A

1. Greenwood

2. Pine Bluff

3. El Dorado

4. Lake Hamilton

5. Jonesboro

Class 5A

1. Pulaski Academy

2. Camden Fairview

3. White Hall

4. Batesville

5. Shiloh Christian

Class 4A

1. Arkadelphia

2. Warren

3. Booneville

4. Nashville

5. Prairie Grove

Class 3A

1. Charleston

2. Harding Academy

3. Glen Rose

4. Prescott

5. Fountain Lake

Class 2A

1. Junction City

2. Gurdon

3. Carlisle

4. Rison

5. Bearden

 

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