Saturday, September 22, 2007
By Kendrick D. Lewis and William “Bill” Hamilton
Reprinted from the August 2007 edition of Focus on SC State University
The legacy of South Carolina State University football can be summed up with one word -- tenacity.
It harbors a rich standard of greatness that each and every football player has carried in his heart for a century. SC State football is 100 years strong and has been the driving force behind a very successful athletics program at the historically black college founded in 1896. Bulldog football is a tradition in its own right, and has been among the top producers of professional football players among Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the country.
SC State has also developed a number of All-Americans and is the only football program in the state of South Carolina to produce a Pro Football Hall of Famer. In fact, the small, land-grant university has three players enshrined in the prestigious Hall at Canton, Ohio -- Marion Motley (Cleveland Browns, 1965), David "Deacon" Jones (Los Angeles Rams, 1980) and Harry Carson (New York Giants, 2006).
Bulldog head football coaches have been field generals, leading their troops to battle every week. Both Oliver C. Dawson, whose name the football stadium bears, and Willie Jeffries, who recorded more victories than any other Bulldog gridiron coach, cast legendary shadows and dominating presences on the sideline. Current coach Oliver "Buddy" Pough, who was part of Bulldog championship teams both as a player and an assistant coach before taking over as head coach five years ago, has returned the team to prominence and has had the Bulldogs in the hunt for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title every year.
"I am proud to be an alumnus (of SC State) and among those persons involved with our 100th year of football," Pough said recently. "I am more excited about the season -- playing two Division I schools for the first time, and all the expectations surrounding the year should make it a fun year."
Pough, who has guided the Bulldogs to a shared conference title since succeeding Jeffries -- whom he played for at S C State -- offers a rare perspective of Bulldog football history.
"I've had a chance to see S C State football as a child growing up in Orangeburg, of course as a player during my college days here, as an assistant coach and now as the head coach," Pough said.
"It's been a very rewarding and unique experience, indeed, as there are not that many people during our football history who have had that same perspective. And, that makes it important to me that we be successful this season as we celebrate 100 years of Bulldog football."
The legacy began in 1907 when then South Carolina State Agricultural and Mechanical College played its first intercollegiate competition ever against Georgia State in Savannah.
Just three years later in 1910, the Bulldogs would become a charter member of the GA-SC Athletic Association which later changed its name to the South Atlantic Association. It wasn't until a decade later in 1919 that South Carolina State College won its first GA-SC Intercollegiate Association Championship.
In 1923, this historic athletic program took part in what was believed to be at the time, one of the first important intersectional rivalries between two HBCUs when SC State battled Tuskegee College, losing 13-6 in Orangeburg. This would prompt the Bulldogs to take their program to new heights and form a powerhouse that would go on to complete a perfect 7-0 conference record and capture their second South Atlantic Conference title in 1928. The team lost just one game that year and recorded six shutouts as the Bulldogs began to emerge as a power in the South Atlantic Conference.
In 1937, the Bulldog program would make yet another mark in history, naming Oliver C. Dawson as its new head football coach. Dawson would go on to make history and become one of the most endeared coaches in school history, making his mark not only in football, but also in men's basketball, tennis, track and golf.
"When you think of “Coach” in every since of the word, only one person comes to mind," said Willie Jeffries. "Back then, with teaching classes and other coaching duties you had to be a true leader and full of Bulldog spirit to handle those responsibilities -- that was Coach Dawson, an outstanding person."
Due to war (World War II), all intercollegiate athletic competition was suspended for two years in 1943. But that wouldn't stop this hungry and unified Bulldog team. In 1947 SC State, led by Dawson, would go on and complete an undefeated regular season and play Shaw University for the Black National Championship in Washington, D.C. Despite their outstanding accomplishments that season, Shaw University would go on to be crowned Black National Champions, defeating the Bulldogs 8-0.
The rebuilding process would soon begin as S C State strove to return to the forefront of the elite in black college football. In 1965, the Bulldogs would experience success and suffer sadness as well when John Devlin of Greenwood was stricken on the field and died. Suffering the loss of a player and a teammate, South Carolina State, riding off emotions and determination, would go on to have an 8-1-0 record under coach Oree Banks. Delvin's (#31) jersey would be the first ever retired in school history. Since that time, four other jerseys (66-Deacon Jones, 75-Harry Carson, 90-Donnie Shell and 94-Robert Porcher) have been retired.
That same year, several Bulldog players received All-Conference honors, and head
football coach Oree Banks was named SIAC and NAIA District 6 coach of the year. The wheels were now in motion to take the Bulldog football program to new heights and South Carolina State College did just that.
"The one thing that stands out about Coach Oree Banks was that he was not only an excellent coach, but a great recruiter as well. He knew how to go out and surround himself with good, talented coaches," said Jeffries.
Under the leadership of President M. Maceo Nance Jr. in 1970, S.C. State was one of seven football teams, and the only SIAC school, to become a charter member of the newly formed Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Other members -- all from the CIAA -- included North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, Howard, Morgan State, Delaware State and Maryland-Eastern Shore.
Now, with the transition of moving into a new conference in 1973, the Bulldogs needed a new leader. They found him in Jeffries, a popular alumnus. The Bulldogs, who had gone 1-9 the previous season, bounced back with a 7-3-1 record in 1973 under Jeffries, who would go on to guide South Carolina State College to a 50-13-4 mark in six seasons and win the first of eleven MEAC titles. In 1976, the Bulldog football team captured its first Black National Championship after a 10-1 campaign and a 26-10 win over Norfolk State in the Bicentennial Bowl in Richmond, Va.
After all the success, the Bulldog program lost head coach Willie Jeffries after the 1978 season. He accepted a job at Wichita State, making history as he became the first black head coach at a major university.
Assistant Coach Bill Davis would take over the helm and lead South Carolina State College to its second National Black Championship and the first of two straight berths in the prestigious Division 1-AA playoffs in 1981. Under the leadership of Davis, SC State would go on to dominate the early 80s in the MEAC, recording back-to-back 10-win seasons -- 10-1 in 1980 and 10-3 record 1981 and would go on to win its second National Black Championship. Dennis Thomas succeeded Davis following the 1985 season and served a three-year stint as Bulldog head coach.
Then, after a 10-year absence, which included five-year stints at both Wichita State and Howard, Jeffries returned to his alma mater in 1989. The Bulldog "favorite son" would go on to produce seven winning teams, including a string of five straight from 1991-1995. In 1994, he tied the school record for the number of wins during a 10-2 season and captured the MEAC championship, the Bulldogs' first conference title in 11 seasons.
"I was really happy to return home and it made me feel great because South Carolina State always had a winning commitment to football and the community and the University really embraced me and welcomed me back with open arms," Jeffries said.
"One of my greatest thrills as a coach was in 1974 when we defeated Delaware State to win our first MEAC Championship. It set the tone for the players on how to win and become a championship caliber team. After that I think we won five of the last six championships in the MEAC during that era."
While the Jeffries era was coming to an end in 2002, a new era of Bulldog dominance was on the horizon with the hiring of former Bulldog player and assistant coach from the University of South Carolina, Buddy Pough, as head coach. The Buddy Pough era progressed gradually, showing improvement each of the first three years, and reached a lofty goal in 2004 when SC State compiled a record of 9-2, the best season for the team since 1994, and finished 6-1 in the MEAC race to capture a share of the league championship, the University's first conference title in 10 seasons.
SC State would go on to finish the season ranked number two in the final polls of both the Sheridan Broadcasting network and the American Sports Wire and the Bulldogs also earned a Top 25 Division I-AA poll ranking from both the Sports Network and USA Today/ESPN. Year-in and year-out, SC State is among the top teams vying for the conference championship.
Pough, beginning his sixth season at the helm, would like to make Bulldog fans all across the nation happy by finally securing a MEAC title outright and a return trip to the playoffs.
"That (winning the MEAC and going to the playoffs) has been our goal each year," said Pough. "We have been knocking on the door each of the last three years, but have not quite got it done.
"I hope this our year," he continued. "We will put, perhaps, the most talented team on the field since I've been head coach and I'm excited about the possibilities of this program, not only this season, but in the years ahead. We've established a strong foundation and have enjoyed a lot of success in our recruiting. If we can build on that foundation and that success, we will be competitive year-in and year out.
“This season, especially, is noteworthy as has been mentioned – it’s our centennial year of football and we are playing two Division I schools for the first time. The prospects for continued success in our football program are good.”
Over a century, South Carolina State would go on to the build a rich legacy, winning MEAC titles in 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983 and 2005. The Bulldogs claimed Black National Titles in 1976, 1981 and 1994 and earned NCAA Division 1-AA berths in 1981 and 1982.
That tenacity, rich tradition and strong legacy are just the right ingredients for another historic century of Bulldog football.
Download the August 2007 edition of Focus on SC State University.