Blakeney, Lucas, Thomas named to College Football HOF ballot
Published 2:27 pm Monday, June 5, 2023
On Monday, the National Football Foundation (NFF) and College Football Hall of Fame announced the candidates on the 2024 College Football Hall of Fame Ballot and former Troy coach Larry Blakeney and former Troy players Frank Thomas Al Lucas are among the 179 players and 41 coaches from the FBS and FCS on this year’s ballot.
To be eligible for the ballot, a player must have been named a First-Team All-American by a national selector, as recognized by the NCAA, along with having played their last year of intercollegiate football at least 10 years prior. A player must have played within the last 50 years and cannot be currently playing professional football to be eligible, as well.
For a coach to be eligible for induction, a coach must have been a head coach for at least 10 seasons with at least a .600 winning percentage of 100 games minimum and players that have received First-Team All-American honors.
This is the fifth consecutive year that Blakeney has appeared on the ballot. He coached Troy State/Troy from 1991 until 2014 and is the all-time winningest coach in Sun Belt Conference and Troy history. During his stint with the Trojans, he led his teams to eight conference championships, seven FCS playoff appearances, four bowl games and won Conference Coach of the Year on four separate occasions. During his Troy tenure, his Troy teams went a combined 178-113-1. No other Try coach in school history has more than 40 career wins.
Blakeney may be most notable for having guided Troy in the school’s jump from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I-AA (FCS) and then Division I-A (FBS), as well. His 2004 Troy team made the first FBS Bowl appearance in school history and the 2006 team won the first bowl game in school history. His 1993 team, Troy’s first year in Division I, made it all the way to the NCAA FCS Semifinals and his 1996 team also made the Final Four.
Blakeney’s individual accolades include being a two-time American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Regional Coach of the Year, two-time Southland Conference Coach of the Year, two-time Sun Belt Coach of the Year, the Johnny Vaught Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Sun Belt 10th Anniversary Most Outstanding Coach Award and Camellia Bowl Alabama Football Legend Award. He’s also been inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame and Troy University Sports Hall of Fame.
Blakeney, a Gordo native, was a star athlete at Gordo High School before going on to play college football at Auburn University. He was the first sophomore quarterback to ever start a game at Auburn under legendary coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan. He moved to safety in 1968 and also played for the Auburn baseball team.
Blakeney started his coaching career as the head coach at Southern Academy in Greensboro and led his team to an AISA State Runner-Up in 1971. He took over as head coach at Walker High School in 1972 and then became head coach at Vestavia Hills in 1975.
Blakeney returned to the college ranks as offensive line coach at Auburn in 1977. Blakeney remained at his alma-mater for the next 13 years, serving under both Jordan and Pat Dye. During his time at Auburn, he coached the offensive line, tight ends and wide receivers before becoming offensive coordinator. Blakeney was hired by Troy in 1991 to replace former Trojan coach Robert Maddox as the Trojans were coming off their first losing season in nearly a decade.
Lucas was also on the ballot last year. The Macon, Ga., native was a two-time All-American defensive lineman at Troy and won the Buck Buchannan Award as a senior in 1999. That award goes to the most outstanding defensive player in FCS. He finished his senior campaign with a staggering 126 tackles, 20 tackles-for-loss, four sacks and four forced fumbles.
In 43 career games at Troy, Lucas tallied 255 tackles, 36 tackles-for-loss, 11.5 sacks and also scored nine rushing touchdowns at fullback during his junior and senior seasons.
Following his Troy career, Lucas played for the Carolina Panthers in the NFL in the 2000 and 2001 seasons as an undrafted free agent. During those two seasons, he totaled 50 tackles, a forced fumble and a sack.
After being selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2003 NFL Europa Draft, the NFL’s former development league, Lucas opted instead to play for the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League.
In his rookie season with the AFL, Lucas record 25 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, blocked a kick and earned a safety as the Storm won the 2003 Arena Bowl. He earned AFL All-Rookie honors and signed a three-year contract with the Los Angeles Avengers following the season.
Lucas was again a standout for the Avengers in his second year in the AFL, totaling 20 tackles, three sacks, three fumble recoveries, a safety and a touchdown.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck Lucas in his third year with the AFL, after suffering a head injury in a game against the New York Dragons on April 10, 2005. During a kick return, Lucas tackled Dragon returner Corey Johnson and Johnson’s knee made contact with Lucas’ helmet during the play. Lucas did not get up from the play, after suffering a spinal cord injury. He was rushed to a nearby hospital and was pronounced dead soon after.
Following his death, the Avengers retired Lucas’ No. 76 jersey and the Tampa Bay Storm created the Mariah Lucas Scholarship Fund to benefit Lucas’ daughter and wife. The Lucas family also started the Al Lucas Memorial Scholarship Fund, which provides college scholarships to high school athletes. The Maxwell Football Club also renamed its AFL Player of the Year Award the Al Lucas Award.
Also on the ballot, is Troy Sports Hall of Famer Freddie Thomas. Thomas started his Troy career as a walk-on and went on to become a two-time All-American with the Trojans. As a junior, he recorded 85 tackles, five interceptions and eight pass breakups.
Thomas was a team captain on the 1987 Division II National Championship team and earned Consensus All-American honors with 85 tackles and one interception. His 11 career interceptions ranks 12th all-time in Troy history.
The announcement of the Class of 2024 will be made in early 2024 and the class will officially be inducted at the 66th Annual NFF Awards Dinner on Dec. 10, 2024, and permanently immortalized at the Chick-Fil-A College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Ga. They will also be honored at their respective schools with an NFF Hall of Fame statue on campus.