CHHS state-title bid brings back memories of Trojans’ 1980 state-title team
Published 3:21 pm Monday, November 28, 2022
By BILL RICE, JR.
Charles Henderson’s unexpected run towards a possible state title has brought more attention to the school’s only state championship team. As it happens, I was the third-string sophomore quarterback on that 1980 team. What follows are some memories that stand out about that special team.
- We played a very tough regular-season schedule. Back then in our area, we had to beat Opp (who had a good team), Elba (which had a very good team) and Andalusia, which had been a 3A powerhouse through most of the 1970s. The team also beat Stanhope Elmore in the regular season, who we beat again in the semi-finals.
– I remember the Elba game was played in Troy. I think Elba was also undefeated at the time. Memorial Stadium was at least 90 percent full for that game. We had more fans at that game than any Troy State game that year.
- Elba’s star running back was Don Horstead, who later played at Alabama. Fortunately for the Trojans, Horstead had a badly sprained ankle. He tried to play but only carried the ball once before re-aggravating the injury. I think he gained 15 yards on that carry. Sometimes injury luck can make or break an entire season.
– In the playoffs, we had to beat an excellent Eufaula team, then Greenville on the road, which had perhaps the most physical team we played all year, and then Stanhope again, which we beat handily both times.
– In the Eufaula game, the Tigers jumped out in front of us by two TDs. Before every game, one of the last things Coach Jefcoat would tell us was that we should keep our poise if we fell behind early. We must have kept our poise, because that was it for Eufaula’s scoring that night.
- Our tough schedule made us a much better team. I remember looking at all of Hartselle’s scores from that season. Hartselle, it seems like, was winning every game by 40 points. As it turns out, south Alabama football must have been much stronger than north Alabama football that year.
- The reason that team won a state championship is it had a huge senior class, one of the biggest in school history. I think there were 25 seniors on that team and almost all of them played key roles on the team. These guys had been playing football and sports together their whole lives.
- On offense, nine starters were seniors. On defense, only one starter was not a senior – Emory Ellis, a junior, and the late Charles Bradshaw, then a sophomore, both rotated at one outside linebacker spot. So 19 of the team’s 22 starters were seniors.
– The team had tremendous leaders. All team members would agree that fullback Jerry Beverly was the undisputed team leader. Jerry was a lanky tailback his first two seasons on the varsity, but Coach Jefcoat moved Jerry to fullback his senior year (after Buddy Austin graduated). The 6-1, 180-pound fullback got the vast majority of carries on offense and was exceptional as both a player and leader.
- In my opinion, the best player on the team was defensive tackle Willie Collins. If Willie had been three inches taller, he would have ended up in the NFL. As it was, he was the intimidator on a great defense. He also had a stellar career at Troy State.
– Joey Dennison was a 5-10, 240-pound right guard. He was the Wiregrass’s equivalent of John Hannah. Like Willie, he later won a Division II national title at Troy. I still remember practices where Willie and Joey would go one-on-one against each other. Talk about great against great!
- Our center was Ross Davis, who might have weighed 160 pounds. Our nose guard was James Stringer, who might have weighed 155 pounds. But both were super quick and great players.
- Michael Thomas, a retired state trooper, delivered the hardest hit I ever saw in a high school game on a punt-return in the playoff game against Greenville. The whole stadium saw that hit coming – and heard it! The block sprung Kent Anderson for a TD. CHHS staged a goal-line stand late in the game to preserve the victory.
- Barry Tucker was the team’s quarterback. Barry’s game was very similar to Mike Turk’s wishbone game at Troy State … except Barry was even smaller. He might have weighed 150 pounds, but he was flawless in his execution of the wishbone offense. Barry didn’t pass much, but when he did he made them count.
– Case in point, the winning TD in the state championship game was a Tucker-to-Anderson quick post route. I still remember the name of the play, “Frog 92” – named for Kenny Keith, whose nickname was “Frog.” Keith had once been a wide receiver, but ended up being a great cornerback on that team. He’s now the head coach at Providence Christian.
- While CHHS won the state title by only one TD (14-7), CHHS easily had the best team. I think we rushed for more than 300 yards in that game.
- In fact, CHHS won several close games that year. Surprisingly, we almost lost to Ozark early in the year. I think we won in overtime. What I remember about that game is that about 10 key players had the flu and either didn’t play or were playing sick.
- State championships aren’t possible without a great coaching staff. Coach Jay Jefcoat was only in his early 30s, but he seemed much older than that to me. He was stubborn in his ways, but he was the perfect coach. Coach Jefcoat didn’t have one player that played both ways. We also ran the no-huddle offense before that became the thing decades later.
- Coach Mike Hogan, best known as a great baseball coach who led that powerhouse program, was our defensive coordinator. Rick Moody was the defensive line coach. Coach Jefcoat was the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator. People more knowledgeable than me about O-line techniques say Coach Jefcoat was one of the best teachers of offensive linemen anywhere.
- Program boosters chartered two Greyhound buses to go to Hartselle. The buses pulled into the stadium about an hour and 15-minutes before kickoff. A track circled the football field and the buses drove around the track toward the locker rooms. I remember that the visitors’ bleachers were already packed when we pulled up and I still remember the roar and standing ovation that greeted those buses.
– Coach Jefcoat and several of my teammates have now passed away. But they still live in my mind, as they always will.
– I can’t remember the opponent – maybe Headland – but after one road victory, the team went back to the building which was the visitors’ locker rooms. The same building was going to be used for a school dance that night. When we got in the locker room, the DJ was setting up. While we were pulling off our shoulder pads, the DJ played Queen’s “We are the Champions,” one of the hit songs and albums of 1980. Talk about a sign. That team did become the champions of 3A football that year. Forty-two years later the happy memories seem as fresh as yesterday.
… So thanks to the 2022 CHHS team for making more Trojans remember how special that 1980 team was. Now let’s make it two!