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“Light Horse” Harry Jones: Hall of Famer

The opponent for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on that first Saturday of October 1965 was TCU. Harry Jones remembers carrying the ball for a good gain.

And he remembers what the public address announcer said next: “There goes Light Horse Harry Jones.”

“I was told he had never used a nickname for a player before,” Jones now says. “For some reason, he decided to add the ‘Light Horse’ that day. It stuck.”

Arkansas won the game, 28-0.

A local group recorded a song called “The Ballad of Light Horse Harry,” which received play on radio stations across the state. KAAY-AM, 1090, in Little Rock, which could be heard in more than 40 states and several foreign countries at night, was among the stations playing the song.

Jones, mind you, backed up the attention with his performance on the field. In 1965, as the Razorbacks went undefeated during the regular season, Jones led the nation in yard-per-carry average. He gained 632 yards on 82 carries that season and scored seven touchdowns, including an 83-yard run against North Texas.

Later that season, Jones became the first Razorback to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

A year later, he was one of two Razorbacks to go in the first round of the 1967 NFL draft.

In recognition of his accomplishments, Jones will be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame on Friday, Feb. 3. Tickets for the annual induction banquet at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.

Jones is among 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Class of 2012. The Hall of Fame also will induct the 1994 University of Arkansas national championship basketball team.

While growing up in Enid, Okla., Jones attended one of the largest high schools in the state and played all sports — football, basketball, baseball and track. His father worked as a highway patrolman during the week and preached at a rural church each Sunday in the tiny town of Byron, Okla., which is near the Kansas border in the northwestern part of the state.

“I spent a lot of weekends out there with him,” says Jones, who now lives at Lowell. “There were about 60 people and no paved streets, but Dad loved to go. It was quiet, and he could work on his sermons.”

Things weren’t as quiet back in Enid, where Jones was recognized early as a star athlete. During his junior year in high school, he broke his wrist badly when he ran into a wall while playing basketball in Duncan.

“I couldn’t play baseball that summer, and at the time it was my favorite sport,” Jones says. “I was a baseball playing son of a gun. I was on a team that would travel all over the state and play 60 to 80 games a year. I had a cast on my arm most of that summer. When they took it off, they discovered it hadn’t healed correctly. We went to Oklahoma City, and a 10-inch steel pin was inserted. I remember it was the day of the major league baseball All-Star Game because we got home just in time to see the final inning.”

Jones was a quarterback in high school. He says his father “pushed me hard. He had borrowed a bag of footballs from my coach, and the next day after I had the pin inserted, he wanted to see if I could throw the ball. I dropped the first one I tried to pick up.”

By the fall of 1962, though, Jones was ready. Enid lost two games by one point, unable to win the state championship Jones had hoped to add to his resume. College coaches, however, had taken notice of his abilities.

The Arkansas assistant recruiting Jones was Barry Switzer.

“He made a big impression on me,” Jones says of Switzer. “I went down to Fayetteville and loved it from the moment I stepped onto the campus. It was beautiful there.”

Eddie Crowder, the offensive coordinator under head coach Bud Wilkinson at the University of Oklahoma, had shown an interest in Jones but left Oklahoma following the 1962 season to become the head coach at the University of Colorado. The Sooners signed a couple of Enid players, but Jones wasn’t among them.

“There was plenty of heat from people in Enid for Oklahoma to sign me,” Jones says. “My one regret is that I never got to meet Coach Wilkinson. He was a god as far as I was concerned.”

Jones was impressed with Arkansas’ head coach, Frank Broyles. He liked the fact that Arkansas had an offense that allowed the quarterback to run the ball on a regular basis.

“I was a running quarterback and was attracted to their offense,” Jones says. “Billy Moore led the Southwest Conference in rushing as a quarterback.”

Jones paid visits to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Wichita State. But after returning from Norman, he called Arkansas assistant coach Jim MacKenzie and committed to the Razorbacks.

“He came over to Enid that day to sign me,” Jones says. “There was a long story in the local newspaper the next day, and everybody in town was mad at me for leaving Oklahoma. I didn’t know anybody on the campus at Arkansas, but I loved it from the first day. The smartest decision I ever made was choosing Arkansas. It was a romance.”

Freshmen weren’t eligible to play in varsity games in those days, but Jones was starting by his sophomore season in 1964. It’s just that it wasn’t as a quarterback or running back. He was in the secondary.

“They needed one more defensive back, and I guess they liked the fact that I was fast,” Jones says. “I had hauled hay the entire summer after my freshman year and was in the best shape of my life. Johnny Majors was coaching the secondary in 1964. He came up to me about a week before the opening game, put his arm around me and said, ‘You think you can start against Oklahoma State?'”

Jones returned two interceptions for touchdowns that fall as Arkansas went undefeated and won several versions of the national championship.

During the spring of 1965 and fall drills, Jones practiced at quarterback.

“I felt good coming out of spring practice because I didn’t throw any interceptions and made plenty of long runs,” Jones says. “I’ll admit that Jon Brittenum could throw the ball better than I could. Coach Broyles called me into his office the week before the opener and told me that Jon would be the starting quarterback. I was upset and asked to be moved back to safety. Coach Broyles told me he wanted me to stay on offense and stand next to him during games.

“We were playing Oklahoma State in Little Rock. Coach Broyles sent me in as a wingback, a position I had never played. Jon checked off, and I caught a pass for a first down. On the next play I was in there, he checked off again, and I caught another pass for a first down. My third play was a touchdown. I remember thinking, ‘Maybe this wasn’t such a bad move after all.'”

Wingback Jim Lindsey, a 1987 Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee, was injured for part of the 1965 season, making Jones’ contributions more important than ever.

As for that Sports Illustrated cover, Jones explains how it came about: “They wanted to take a photo of the entire offense, and Coach Broyles insisted that Jim Lindsey be in the photo. The story I later heard is that a photo editor in New York said, ‘We can’t use that. There are 12 men in it.’

“So they chose an action photo of me. That was the biggest shock of my life. I loved Sports Illusrated. I had read it since it started. The attention that cover brought was overwhelming. To this day, I have people send me copies of the magazine to be autographed.”

In the story that accompanied the photo of Jones, legendary sports journalist Dan Jenkins wrote: “Just when the opponent thinks Arkansas will pass, it runs. And how. There will go hurtling Bobby Burnett, jarring Jim Lindsey, both veterans, or Harry Jones, particularly Harry Jones, who is the new ingredient — more so even than Brittenum — that makes Arkansas better than last year. Harry Jones is 6-2, weighs 195 and merely runs a 9.7 dash. He is a high-waisted, long-legged, tough, darting runner who is gone — really gone — when he turns a corner.”

Broyles told Jenkins: “He can cut sharp at top speed, and that’s something else. People are trying to compare him with (Lance) Alworth, and it’s unfair. Lance was great for us, and he’s a great pro. But Harry is bigger, probably faster and can cut. Mainly, though, Harry is on a better team. He’s — well, just fantastic.”

Jenkins went on to call Jones a “good-looking junior from Enid, Okla., who was born in Huntington, W. Va., the son of a Christian minister (Broyles is the first Arkansas coach to recruit successfully outside the state; in fact, five members of the defensive unit are Texans). Last season — it figures — Jones was a regular defensive safety, and even this season he was battling with Brittenum for the quarterback job up until the opening game.”

Only a loss to LSU in the Cotton Bowl prevented Arkansas from winning a second consecutive national championship in 1965. Arkansas finished 8-2 in 1966, and Jones was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round, the 19th overall pick in the NFL draft. He played five seasons for the Eagles at running back, wide receiver and defensive end. He was waived in August 1972.

Jones had spent two offseasons working with Jack Stephens at the Little Rock investment banking firm Stephens Inc. and considered a career in investment banking. Yet he yearned to try his hand at coaching and was hired by Majors in January 1973 when Majors moved from Iowa State to Pittsburgh as head coach.

Jones coached with Majors for four seasons at Pitt as the Panthers improved from 6-5-1 to 7-4 to 8-4 to 12-0 and a national championship in 1976 (with Pitt running back Tony Dorsett winning the Heisman Trophy that year).

Majors moved from Pitt to the University of Tennessee following the 1976 season, but Jones didn’t follow him. Instead, he went back to Oklahoma to work with a brother-in-law in the oilfield services business.

Jones spent the rest of his career in private business and now finds himself in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

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