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Story Archives: Painful practices
After reading the "Junction Boys" and "The Missing Ring" I am amazed at what football players in the 1950s and '60s endured day to day, most without water and very few breaks.
Certainly that would not be the case today.
Chris Vagotis, a lineman from Ohio, described practice under Bear Bryant as "inhumane."
"They talk about Junction, but that was what, ten days? We put up with that kind of crap for four years," he said in "The Missing Ring."
The book talks about an incident in 1964, during a bad practice day, when Les Kelley fumbled near the goal line during a scrimmage.
Bryant pitched a huge fit, and forced Kelley to run 26 give, the team's basic off-tackle play, more than a dozen times in a row, without a huddle. The defense knew it was coming, and they pulverized him every time.
Players got a bit of a break (they would probably dispute that statement) when the NCAA allowed free substitution at any time in 1964 basically putting an end to one-platoon football where players went both ways.
Times have certainly changed. At the SEC Media Days last week, Alabama coach Nick Saban, who is known for his own type of demanding practices, touched on the difference with players today.
"I think through the year players have changed dramatically and there's a lot of different personalities that play now," Saban said. "I think your ability to motivate, reach, affect, however you want to say it, these different personalities, but not let their personalities be divisive to the team chemistry, is a key to being successful."
Saban said he even learned more about coaching from being a parent.
"If you have children of your own, I think you can probably attest to anyone who has gone through adolescence with someone now knows that they're different," he said. "My kids just flat out tell me. I mean I didn't have the guts to tell my dad. You know, when I sit and look at my kids and I say, 'When I was your age, I worked for everything I had.' And they just look at me and say, 'Well, I don't know anybody that does that anymore, Dad.' Like you came from outer space.
"So it is different," Saban said. "I mean, people grow up different. It's an instant coffee, instant tea, instant self gratification. Everything is on the Internet. Everything is a picture. Everything is fast. Everything is quick. There's not the same long term commitment to something and sticking with it and learning from your mistakes. Very few of the things that our young people do now, do they get consequences for? You know, we played checkers when we were growing up. And when you moved the wrong guy, you lost your guy, you got immediate positive or negative self gratification for it and you learn from that. You know, my kids push the restart button. They don't even know if they got blowed up. It's all different. "
Veteran Vidalia High head football coach Dee Faircloth played under former Northeast Louisiana coach Dixie White, who was known as a tough coach in his own right. Faircloth, who graduated from Mangham High, was an outstanding quarterback, but after suffering a third concussion as a sophomore at Northeast, was advised not to play.
"Dixie White was like a second father to me," said Faircloth. "He gave me a shot and then when I got hurt he kept me on scholarship on staff."
Faircloth said White was a tough coach.
"You didn't get water breaks in those days," Faircloth said. "When the manager would bring the old sweaty towel around for you to wipe our face you would suck that perspiration right on out of there without even worrying about it. After a while you'd start seeing mirages."
Faircloth's father, Dalton Faircloth, was the first football coach at Block and has the stadium at DeQuincy High named after him for his years of service there. Dee played for his dad at Leesville High and Bolton High and his dad helped with the football team at Mangham when he was on the administrative staff.
"My dad was tough as heck," Faircloth said. "When I was a senior at Mangham we ran an off tackle play where I faked to the halfback and gave it to the fullback. We run it up in there and the defense killed our fullback. My dad got in the huddle and said, 'Run 36 again.' We ran it again and they killed us again. We ran it 10 times in a row to make sure we got it right. Everybody on defense kept zooming in on the fullback. So the next time I faked to the halfback, faked to the fullback and bootlegged it 100 yards. I was so proud of myself, patting myself on the back with both hands. I got back to the huddle and my dad jerked a knot on my neck and said, 'Did I tell you to run 36 or 36 bootleg?' I said it was a 36. I never made that mistake again and lived my life accordingly."
Faircloth said players today are too used to the air-conditioner.
"They complain about 30-30s (running thirty 30-yard sprints), but we had 30-30s and then shuttle races, dummy-toting races and piggy back races."
Faircloth said Ronnie Williams, who is now an insurance agent in Vidalia, was an outstanding athlete at Pineville when he was playing at Bolton.
"Ronnie told me one day, 'You know where all those coaches would be if they did that type of thing today, including your dad?' I asked him where. He said, 'Prison.'"
I imagine quite a few Junction Boys and others from the '50s and 60s would certainly agree.