A great ride

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"Let's continue the legacy of excellence. Go Bulldogs!"

Those were the words of South Carolina State University coaching legend Willie Jeffries at the Centennial Extravaganza Friday night at Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center. The event commemorated 100 years of Bulldog football.

As the members of the SCSU centennial team were named for recognition, it was clear that in the glory of the past there is also promise for the future.

Over the course of last century, SCSU football has spawned three NFL Hall-of-Famers. No other college in the state has even one player in the NFL Hall.

The most recent Bulldog inductee to that illustrious organization, Harry Carson, said it means more to him to be a part of the Bulldog legacy than being in the NFL Hall of Fame.

"It's an honor to play here and not just to be one of the top 100 guys," he said.

Carson discussed the fraternal nature of Bulldog football and how previous players were mentors for the new players that had come into the program. Carson said many of the former players' reputations preceded them and that inspired him to strive for that Bulldog tenacity of the previous eras.

It was that tenacity that Carson credited for helping him make the transition from defensive end to linebacker in the NFL for the New York Giants.

"That Bulldog tenacity I carried it with me. It made me a better player and helped me to represent SCSU well," he said.

Another Bulldog legend that has represented the university well is three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Porcher. He believes the Bulldog legacy will continue under the leadership of President Dr. Andrew Hugine Jr.

"I'm excited about where the school is going, It's going to continue to get even bigger and better," he said.

Porcher was in awe of being around the SCSU football greats, particularly Carson and Charlie Brown.

Porcher was excited to bring his 9-year-old son to the event and hopes that being in the presence of the centennial team will inspire him to put on the Bulldog helmet one day.

SCSU football gave Willis Ham the chance for a bright future. He arrived at the university with a half scholarship for baseball and then made the football team to receive a full one. In his freshman season, Ham became rookie of the year on the team, but he said the break of a lifetime was when he got the chance to work with undergraduate students as a senior. His work with students impressed former the late SCSU President Dr. M. Maceo Nance so much that he was willing to create a position for him.

That opportunity would manifest itself later after he was offered contracts to play for both the Cincinnati Bengals and Reds. Unfortunately a spinal injury derailed Ham's professional aspirations. After serving in the Marine Corps, he took Nance up on his offer and became director of student activities and eventually would be athletic director for the Bulldogs.

"Its been a great ride," Ham said of the experience with SCSU.

With Jeffries outlining the achievements of the first century of SCSU football -- the largest away-game following of any Historically Black College or University, 11 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships, and more than 100 alumni that played in the NFL -- it's safe to say it has been a great ride for many others too.

T&D Staff Writer Lee Tant can be reached at ltant@timesanddemocrat.com and 803-534-1060.