The legendary coach gave a motivational speech and the 37 young men who were honored came with proud coaches, papas and mommas to the 10th Annual Awards Dinner of the Greater Austin Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame on Wednesday night.
However, it was Bernie Kish, the director of the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind., who set the tone for the celebration of amateur football in America when he said, "without high school football, there would be no college football."
That is why Bo Schembechler, who won 234 games as the head coach at Michigan, accepted the invitation to come to Austin and be introduced by Texas head coach Mack Brown at this intimate gathering recognizing the top student-athlete football players from 37 Austin area high schools.
That is why, a distinguished advisory board, including Brown, UT football Associate Athletics Director Cleve Bryant, Rooster Andrews, Frank Denius and former Longhorns greats Hub Bechtol, Noble Doss, Pat Kelly, Randy McEachern, James Saxton and Gene Vykukal join with chapter head David McWilliams to support the effort.
Ten years ago, with the efforts of the late Bob Rochs and the dedication of then-Longhorns head coach John Mackovic, the Greater Austin Chapter of the Foundation took root and took off. Wednesday night, with the help of dedicated sponsors and philanthropic support of men such as Denius, 37 high school seniors were honored and the scholarship total, which began with only a handful, has grown to $1,000 presented to the top 17 chosen by a committee from the group.
The Greater Austin Chapter has a decidedly Texas burnt orange tint to it, but it is not really about The University of Texas. It is about the value of the game of football, and with the recognition of the young, the legends reflect on what the game has meant. In the audience on Wednesday night were four of the 14 Longhorns who are members of the elite College Football Hall of Fame, including Gilbert, Saxton, 2002 honoree Jerry Sisemore and legendary head coach Darrell Royal.
With Royal and Schembechler in the same room, Brown noted that there were, between the two, 418 victories, 33 bowl appearances and 26 league championships. That is a lot of football excellence.
The chapter, as has been its custom, also recognized people who have earned what is called the "Contribution to Amateur Football Award." This year, the award went to three who have served in school administration. The winners were Dr. Dean Andrews, the superintendent at Liberty Hill, Dr. Jerry Major, the superintendent of the Waco ISD, and Joddie Witte, the retired superintendent from the Hayes Consolidated ISD.
But the stars of the evening were the high school seniors and a look back at the previous ten years of banquets would explain why. This year, since it was the 10th anniversary, Sheila Eveslage, who runs the banquet for the chapter, did a little research on past honorees.
Henry "Cuatro" Bell, IV, a 1994 honoree from McCallum, went to Vanderbilt University and is now serving overseas as a captain in the U.S. Army. Drew Calvert (St. Michael's Academy, 1994) graduated from Texas A&M and is now an attorney. Kyle Cooper (Wimberley High, 1994) is an assistant football coach at Liberty University. Eric Gronberg (Reagan High, 1995) went to Harvard and is now in seminary, seeking a Master of Divinity degree. Eddie Marshall, one of the first honorees from 1993 (Manor High), went to Moorhead State and Southwest Texas and is now a software engineer who owns his own tax service. Jason McKinley (Westwood High, 1996), went to the University of Houston and is pursuing a professional football career. John Peays (Westlake High, 1996) went to Wheaton College and earned Division II All-America honors and is in a graduate business program at the University of Chicago. Ryan Tibbetts (Hyde Park Baptist High, 1996) graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor of science in biomedical science from Texas A&M and is in his second year of medical school.
The list goes on, but you get the point. For some, the $1,000 scholarship was an important gift to begin their college careers. For others, the recognition solidified the reason for taking care of business on the football field and in the classroom.
Wednesday night's gathering recognized young men who range from Andy Bertelsen of Wimberly, the son of former UT great Jim Bertelsen. Andy played linebacker and running back and ranks 22nd in a class of 146 students. The biggest cheering section belonged to Charleston Knight of LBJ, who not only earned all-district honors as a player, but he also ranks 10th in his graduating class out of 154 students, is an usher in his church and plans to attend Ottawa University and major in architecture. Knight's proud mother amened just about everything Schembechler said about honesty, loyalty and attitude. Tyler Gatewood grew up helping his father, Craig, cater the press box at football games when the family owned Lakeview Café. He was an all-star linebacker at Westlake and ranks in the top 20 percent of his class of 552. He'll attend UT and major in business and the little kid who used to hustle to get to see the game from the photo deck between serving tacos to the media has grown up enough that he gave the acceptance speech on behalf of all of the honorees.
Some, such as Quinton Smith of Cedar Park (Rice) and Paul Thompson of Leander (Oklahoma), will continue their football careers at the next level. Most, however, have taken the lessons learned from the game and will apply them in their life.
As Schembechler reflected on today's challenges and responsibilities — that this generation of young people will be called to meet — you had a good understanding of the creed of the National Football Foundation. It was founded in 1947, dedicated "to mobilizing the constructive forces of amateur football, at all levels, for the benefit of society as a whole."
Its mission statement says, "To preserve and encourage these values in our nation's youth, The National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame helps to bring together all of the organized groups that play, coach, administer, support and report amateur football. It seeks to establish the true concept of the game as an amateur sport and to gain recognition of the important role it plays in the preservation and advancement of our way of life."
Bernie Kish says that it is "always Saturday at the College Football Hall of Fame." For the young men honored on Wednesday night, the Friday night lights of high school football in Texas may have dimmed, but they themselves will continue to shine and reflect on the values of the game and the gifts given them by their parents and coaches. It was a celebration of not only what they have done, but what they will do in the future.