Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Recruiting: South side of Monroe has been a Grambling talent pipeline

Grambling's great provider
South side of Monroe has been talent pipeline
February 6, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - James Harris grew up right around the corner from Sammy White.

Who lived down the way from Lane Howell. Who lived near a street that would eventually produce a flinty talent named Brandon Landers.

Who shares a zip code with Desmond Lenard.

The south side of Monroe sent them all to Grambling State, in an unbroken storyline that continued through last week's National Signing Day.

"I grew up in that neighborhood," said Sammy White, a Richwood product who played and now coaches at GSU as offensive coordinator. "It gives me great joy to see where these guys progress and how they move along."

In 1965, a Carroll High product was quarterback at Grambling. Forty years later, Landers is likely to follow Harris into the role.

White was a star wingback for former GSU coach Eddie Robinson - after winning both football and basketball titles at Richwood in the early 1970s. Lenard, Carroll's wingback last season, committed to Grambling after earning All-Northeast honors as a kick returner.

Derrick Wilhite, a 2006 signee out of Wossman, contributes to a legacy that includes ex-Wildcats assistant Lee Fobbs, a former player under Robinson, and current defensive back Bakari Guice.

"There's no question that the south side of Monroe has added to that Grambling mystique," said GSU coach Melvin Spears. "From the Howells to James Harris to Goldie Sellers and on down to Brandon Landers - our freshman sensation in '04."

Landers shot to conference freshman of the year honors in relief of injured quarterback Bruce Eugene, then redshirted last year when Eugene returned for a final season of eligibility.

"I think this is a good place for finding highly skilled athletes - and that's true at many inner-city schools," said Carroll coach Jesse Smith Sr., who is also a Grambling product.

"There is a lot of talent in this area. I think that through the years, we've proven that."

Carroll's connection to GSU goes deeper than the head coach.

Back in 2001, current Bulldogs assistant Levi Washington Jr. led all receivers in yards as Grambling won the second of three straight SWAC titles. The team uses an offense patterned on GSU's, as well.

So, it's perhaps no surprise that Carroll split end Jesse Smith Jr. joined Lenard in signing with Grambling last week - along with teammates Derrick Johnson and Xavier Lee, both of whom play linebacker.

In the end, though, all three of the southside schools - notably Richwood and, more recently, Wossman - have been an important thread through the tapestry of Grambling's football legacy.

"It's great coming from that tradition," said Landers. "I'd like to have that same impact - not only as a player, but as an individual."

Harris, perhaps the south side's most legendary product, led Grambling to 31-9-1 record between 1965-68, winning a conference title every single year. He was voted the team's most valuable player his final two seasons.

But Landers reminds, Harris' most important contribution came after he left Grambling.

Harris would become the first black athlete to be drafted as a quarterback. His NFL career - which included stops in Buffalo, Los Angeles and San Diego - was capped by an MVP performance in the 1974 Pro Bowl.

Harris later moved into even more rarified air, working in the front offices of Baltimore and currently Jacksonville as one of the NFL's highest ranking black executives.

Smith said Grambling provided a platform in that journey, and for the scores of southside youths who followed him.

"Anytime you've got a kid who goes on and does well, that's an example that you can stir these kids with," said Smith. "It makes them understand that you can dream and it can happen."

Carroll's Lane Howell, a two-way lineman for Robinson, was the first of three brothers to star at Grambling, beginning in 1960. Michael, a cornerback nicknamed "Trackdown," followed two seasons later. Delles, another defensive back, would arrive seven seasons later - but by then the family had moved to California.

Grambling won its first Southwestern Athletic Conference title with Lane up front, establishing a 23-5-2 mark between 1960-62. Michael's 1964 squad went 9-3, winning the Sugar Cup over Bishop before falling in the Orange Blossom Classic.

One of Michael's teammates that season was cornerback Goldie "Spider" Sellers, a Winnsboro native who eventually moved to the south side and played for Richwood.

In 2004, White joined Harris in the SWAC Hall of Fame, recognition for a career that included three conference championships and co-offensive player of the year honors in 1975 at Grambling.

"It was passed down to me," said White, later an NFL rookie of the year at Minnesota. "James Harris and Delles took me to a Grambling basketball game when I was in junior high. I was always around it. There were other places I could have played, but this was the only place I was ever going."

Quarterback Matthew Reed, born in Winnfield, would prove so dominant at Richwood that he once threw nine touchdowns in a single game. Later, he was named Grambling's MVP as a junior, then made All-America as a senior in the early 1970s.

White grew up idolizing Amos Augustine and Charlie "Tank" Smith at Richwood, then played after them at Grambling. Between 1968-71, former Carroll guard Solomon Freelon Jr. protected Harris, Reed and Frank Holmes.

White says many of those greats called a neighborhood known as Bryant's Addition home. He still scouts for talent there, giving another generation the Grambling road map out of one of the area's most impoverished communities.

"The thing about it is, we thought we were pretty good - and these guys could be that too," said White. "It's all about hard work."

Landers, for his part, says he can't account for the staggering impact such a small geographic area has had on Grambling. But, when he's home, he sees the next group working to get there.

"If you ride around, you see little kids out playing in empty lots and at the rec centers - and that's year-round," said Landers. "They're playing everything too, just like we did. Football, basketball, baseball. With small schools, you've got guys going both ways, playing all sports. That makes you better. Who knows? One of those kids could follow me someday."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The time that the Robinson Museum was (finally) funded

State considers $1.3M for Robinson Museum
Long-delayed project, first proposed 8 years ago, in line to receive funding for first time
May 17, 2007

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Earlier this month, the long-delayed Eddie Robinson Museum project found a home.

Today, supporters hope it will receive funding.

The state's Bond Commission will consider a $1.3 million line of credit, money to be used for renovating exhibit space on campus and hiring an exhibit designer.

"The other day was a big one, when we got the building," said local fundraiser and Robinson family friend Wilbert Ellis, "but this will be even greater because we will have the funds to do all the things we've dreamed of."

At Grambling from 1941-97, Robinson retired as the winningest football coach in college history with 408 wins — leading the Tigers to 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference titles over the years. He passed away on April 3 at age 88, sparking renewed interest across the nation in this project.

The museum was first proposed eight years ago — two years after Robinson's retirement at Grambling and several before the onset of the Alzheimer's-related symptoms.

One of the points of contention for years was where the museum would be located, though that was resolved when Grambling and its oversight board agreed to transfer the school's former women's gymnasium for exhibit space.

More consistent has been the issue of funding.

A temporary exhibit of Robinson-related items opened in the lobby of the GSU Stadium Support Facility in June 2005. But Hurricane Katrina's devastation drew away whatever resources might have come from the state to build on that momentum.

The Robinson Museum, organizers say, has never been closer to becoming a reality.

"What the $1.3 million will do for the museum," said governor-appointed commission chairman John Belton, "is allow us to hire an architect, commission the museum exihibit designer as well as a local contractors to renovate and design the building that will hopefully become one of the top museums in the state of Louisiana."

The project's closest brush with funding had previously come as former Gov. Mike Foster prepared to leave office, when he approved a wide variety of favored projects. His final state budget for fiscal year 2004 included $5.5 million dollars earmarked for the Grambling facility.

But the Robinson museum was part of nearly $700 million in projects slashed by his successor, Kathleen Blanco, in an effort at budget balancing.

Renovation costs for the gym — Robinson coached basketball there early in his career — have been estimated at $3 million to $4 million. An additional $2 million, Ellis said, would likely be required to complete the space — money that will need to come from outsider donors.

The museum will be a part of the Department of State Museums Program, administered by the secretary of state.

Jay Dardenne, the third person to serve in that role since the museum board was formed, took over in February — and quickly discovered that it could become the centerpiece for larger economic and tourism goals.

"He's a true Louisiana legend, the benchmark for coaching," said Dardenne, who spoke at Robinson's local memorial. "There is such a broad base of respect for Eddie Robinson as some one who influenced young lives."

The project was originally mentioned during the Louisiana Legislature's 1999 session, when then-Sen. Randy Ewing introduced Senate Bill No. 919. That bill, co-sponsored by the late Rep. Pinky Wilkerson of Grambling and several others, created the commission that has worked off and on since to develop a Robinson museum.

"From '99 up until this point, we've come a long way," said Ellis, a longtime former Grambling baseball coach and athletics administrator. "We are making some progress. We are just going to keep taking it one step at a time until we get there. But we'll get there."

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Robinson Museum, finally, gets more than a million in state funds
May 18, 2007

By Nick Deriso
The long-delayed Eddie Robinson Museum is, all of a sudden, on a roll.

Eight years after first being proposed, the project received quick approval on Thursday from the Bond Commission for state funding of $1.3 million.

"It took less than five minutes," said local museum fundraiser and Robinson family friend Wilbert Ellis. "They made a motion, and it was done."

Organizers sought the money for renovating exhibit space on campus and hiring an exhibit designer, said board-appointed museum board chairman John Belton.

"In 12 to 18 months, we will be able to see one of the greatest museums in the state of Louisiana," Belton said. "I'm looking forward to that day."

The commission voted unanimously to shift $300,000 from an administration project for repairs on state facilities to the museum project, transforming that allocation into available cash.

Another $1 million was allocated as a non-cash line of credit, which means museum officials can make agreements to begin the project — which the state budget will then fund.

State Treasurer John N. Kennedy, who chairs the Bond Commission, said: "We wanted to fast-track this. That's why we did it with lines of credit. They can move right along and get it done."

The Thursday funding came less than a month after Grambling State's oversight board approved transfer of the former women's gymnasium for exhibit space on the Grambling State campus where Robinson coached for 57 years.

At GSU from 1941-97, Robinson retired as the winningest football coach in college history with 408 wins — leading the Tigers to 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference titles over the years. He died on April 3 at age 88, sparking renewed interest across the nation in this project.

"We've had Coach with us that whole time," Ellis said. "I think he's working right along with us on this. I feel Coach's hand in all of it."

This museum was first proposed eight years ago — two years after Robinson's retirement at Grambling and several before the onset of the Alzheimer's-related symptoms that ultimately led to his death.

But these are the first state funds ever specifically earmarked for it.

"We are on our way," said an enthused Ellis, a former longtime GSU baseball coach and athletics administrator. "This is the booster shot we needed! I'm tickled to death."

The museum will be a part of the Department of State Museums Program, administered by the secretary of state.