A salute to the 1968 Troy State national championship team

Published 3:00 am Friday, September 16, 2016

Some of you guys that love Troy football probably have never heard of Billy Atkins. Well to educate you today Atkins was the man who first made Troy football great. Just like the great bandmaster Johnny Long made the Sound of the South the envy of marching bands across America, Atkins made Troy football respected by college lore everywhere. It all started in 1966. Here’s his story I hope you enjoy it.
A special salute to the 1968 Red Wave national champions
On December 15, 1968 Troy State defeated Texas A. & I. 43-35 to win the NAIA National Championship. The NAIA championship would mark the beginning of what now has become a championship tradition at Troy University.

Since that cold winter afternoon at Montgomery’s historic Cramton Bowl, Troy has won 10 national crowns.

Not only did this 1968 team football team win Troy’s first ever National Championship, it set the standard of quality for every small college athletic team in Alabama to follow. It all started with a man named Billy Atkins.

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In January of 1966 Dr. Ralph W. Adams named Jordan High School of Columbus Georgia, Coach Billy Atkins to replace Dr. William Clipson as the new football coach for the Troy State Red Wave. Atkins, a former All American at Auburn University and nine-year professional player for the Buffalo Bills, was just what the doctor ordered to rebuild a Troy State program. Troy’s program was way down posting a 26-68 record over the previous 11 years.

Atkins came in and changed everything. Troy State football was starting to look like the pros. Atkins’ offense was light years ahead of its competition in the passing game. He inherited a quarter back names Sim Byrd who had starred the year before in intramural football with the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.

The former Robert E. Lee star had already enrolled at Troy but had to sit out a year after transferring from the University of Georgia. He was ready to take over the reins at quarterback when Atkins took over.

You could tell from the offset that the players that Atkins and his assistant coaches Phillip Creel and Max Howell brought in were of big time quality. They transferred from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Chattanooga, Memphis State, you name it.

He recruited high school players also, but to win right away he went with transfers from other schools. For instance, Jeff Cotton and Jimmy Gillespie joined Byrd from Georgia. Alvin Dees, Danny Grant, Paul Brinsfield and Bobby Enslen from Chattanooga, Frank Elmore, George Little, Steven Crowe and Jerry Yeager from Auburn, Larry Groce from Memphis State, and Fran Collins and T.J. Morris from Alabama.

Doug Taylor, Vince Green and Rusty Ninas played for the coach at Jordan High.

Other outstanding players on the 1968 team were J.A. Williams, Mike Sadler, George Heirs, Andy White, Gary Logging, David Cooper, Jimmy Hedrick, Hugh Cole, Ronnie Shelly, Darwin Fowler, Cecil Barber, Bobby Floyd, Bill Russell, Dick Brooks, David Allen, Glenn Thompson, Sonny Hendricks, Tommy Moffit, Greg Wright, Sammy Hayes, and Troy’s own Al Head.

Atkins’ first team went 5-5, losing 3 games by a total of 9 points. The next season the 1967 Red Wave went 8-2, winning Alabama Colligate Conference Championship. At that time the 8-2 season was the best record in Troy history with records dating back to 1927.

The 1968 season saw the Red Wave win their first eight games en route to a 9-1 regular season record.

In the playoffs the Red Wave looked like “world beaters” at Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl. The first game against Williamette College of Salem, Oregon, was a laugher 63-10. In that game Byrd threw six touchdown passes.

The next week before the largest crowd ever to watch a NAIA National Championship game (15,747 people), Troy outscored Texas A. & I. 43-35. In that game Byrd passed for five more TD’s, three of which went to tight end Doug Taylor.

Perhaps the impressive play of the game came with the game on the line. Byrd hitched up with his good friend and former Robert E. Lee of Montgomery teammate, Bobby Enslen, who made a diving catch for a 56 yard gain that set Troy’s wining touchdown.

Enslen, who’ll go down with teammates Vince Green and Danny Grant as three of the best receivers in Troy history, had to be carried to the hospital by ambulance with a broken shoulder. He heard the final results that his team had won the national championship from his hospital bed.

Byrd’s final stats were of hall of fame numbers—4,008 yards passing and 41 touchdowns. He is in Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

Atkins’ 1969 team was about as good, going 8-1-1. Troy’s Al Head quarterbacked that tem.

Atkins ended his career his career in 1971 with a 6-3 record, the first ever Gulf South Conference Championship. His six-year record was 44-16-2 with one national and four-conference championships.

A native of Millport, Alabama Coach Atkins died of a heart attack I 1986, but his legacy lives on today in the hearts and minds of the players  he coached and the lives he touched. Yes, Billy Atkins is the man who got it started over. That’s winning!