Friday, February 22, 2008

Remembering: Doug Williams' historic Super Bowl win

Play by play, Williams built a Super Bowl legacy 20 years ago
Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

By Nick Deriso
There was actually some indication of what was about to unfold.

Sure, no team had ever come back from being down 7 or more points in any Super Bowl.

But Doug Williams and the Washington Redskins — losing 10-0 to Denver Broncos after one quarter of play 20 years ago at San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium — kept telling themselves the same thing.

"We had been down like that already against Chicago," Williams said.

The Redskins had fallen back two touchdowns before overtaking the Bears 21-17 in 1987’s divisional round.

"And it was frigid there," said Williams a Grambling product. "In San Diego, we had 80-degree weather."

A moment that grew into a cultural symbol — Williams, after a startling comeback, would become the first black quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl, and the first to earn MVP honors — was just a game back then.

And Washington was losing.

The NFC’s eventual representative in Super Bowl XXII had changed quarterbacks and running backs over the length of the ‘87 season.

Then Williams nearly blew out a knee.

He was still confident. But he might have been the only one.


Redskins rookie Timmy Smith started the contest, rather than the injured former Heisman trophy winner George Rogers, and was going nowhere.

Williams’ initial third-down pass was dropped, too, giving Denver the ball for the first time.

One play later, Broncos’ receiver Ricky Nattiel — then just 22, the youngest player in history to score in a Super Bowl — was hauling in a 56-yard touchdown pass from Elway.

That was the fastest score in Super Bowl history.

Washington was stymied again on its next possession, which included another third-down drop. Williams was 1-of-4 for nine yards as Denver added a field goal to go up 10-0 with nine minutes still remaining in the first period.

"I think the average betting man would have gone with Elway," Williams said. "They didn’t give Doug Williams a prayer. Well, the good Lord does answer some."

But not before Redskins returner Ricky Sanders fumbled the resulting kickoff, nearly giving Denver the ball back in Washington’s red zone. Williams would go on to complete this stirring 40-yard strike to Art Monk.

That drive, and the next one, eventually also stalled — and Williams found himself twisting on the ground, grabbing a hyperextended left knee.

The injury was so excruciating that Williams instinctively released the ball, though he was ruled down. San Diego’s squishy turf had already forced the Broncos to switch to a deeper cleat.

Former starter Jay Schroeder returned to finish the drive, but was summarily sacked and then suffered yet another Redskins drop — their fourth already.

The air, it seemed, had gone out of Washington — but not Williams, even though he was just four-of-10 for 78 yards as the second period began.

"No question, I was in tremendous pain, but I was there to play the game," Williams said. "That’s how I looked at it. I couldn’t worry about that. You are on the biggest stage of your life. To me, it was like growing up — you throw a little dirt on it and keep going."


Williams returned from the sidelines and, 53 seconds into the quarter, threw an 80-yard touchdown to Ricky Sanders, his first-ever postseason score. The Redskins had managed just 63 yards on offense during the entire first period.

Washington held as Elway threw what was then his sixth consecutive incompletion. Four plays later, Williams hit Gary Clark for a 27-yard score to take the lead.

Williams was well protected behind an offensive line so talented that he had been sacked just once in the playoffs.

"If the offense line did what I’d like for them to do, and receivers did what they can do, I knew we could get back into it," said Williams, who played for the legendary Eddie Robinson. "I just had to get the ball back."

Denver, fading badly now, turned the ball over on a missed 43-yard field-goal attempt.

Williams and the Redskins still had seven minutes remaining before the half.

Two plays later, Smith ran 58 yards for a touchdown — his first score ever — and a 21-10 lead. He had just 126 regular-season yards, but 204 in this game alone.

Denver had worked all week on stopping the Redskins’ vaunted counter running play. It didn’t matter.

"‘Coach Rob’ used to say it’s all about blocking and tackling," Williams said. "If you block it right, they can’t stop you — and our line did that. We knew from a physical standpoint, we were the better football l team. That was proved as game went on."

That last touchdown had tied the Super Bowl record, set by San Francisco in XIX and Chicago in XX, of 21 points in a single quarter.

Washington needed just three more plays to score its fourth consecutive touchdown, as Williams hit Sanders on a 50-yard slant — tying a record for most TD receptions by a player in the Super Bowl.

"When everybody is working on all cylinders like that, it’s the epitome of execution," Williams said.

Washington, ahead now 28-10, stopped Elway on an interception in his subsequent possession.

Smith dashed 45 yards to set up Washington at the Broncos’ 35. Denver’s defenders were distracted, then deflated.

"You get he defense out of place, get them confused," Williams said. "All of a sudden they’re looking at each other, trying to make judgment calls. When they’re making all of these late changes, there is a chance that somebody is going to be out of place."

Williams’ fourth touchdown pass, tying another Super Bowl record, to Clint Didier extended Washington’s now insurmountable lead to 35-10.

TV announcer Frank Gifford, in a line that Williams can repeat from memory, said it best: "If this was a fight, they might stop it."

In 222 previous post-season games to that point, no NFL team had ever scored more points in a single quarter. Oakland came closest in 1968, putting up 28; the Giants scored 27 all the way back in 1934.

Williams ran into former Denver coach Dan Reeves this week. "He just shook his head and said: ‘That second quarter was a nightmare.’"


Washington only scored once more, preferring instead to run the ball in long, quarter-eating drives.

"We wanted to flatten this thing out and keep Elway off the field," Williams said. "You take time off clock, and make it a little more impossible."

Desperate to catch up, Elway began to take more chances, and Washington defenders feasted on multiple turnovers.

The enormity of the moment was becoming clear. A contest marked by personal firsts for Williams, the initial player in Super Bowl history to throw four touchdowns in a single quarter, and to throw four in a half, would have wider implications for African-Americans.

"It’s a great feeling when you realize that people still recognize you and are grateful for what you did," Williams said. "They’ll come up and say: ‘God bless you; you don’t know what you mean to us.’ That’s a great feeling to have that kind of impact."

The announcing team for Super Bowl XXII — Gifford, Dan Dierdorf and Al Michaels – were a microcosm of that sudden revelation.

"Those guys were dumbfounded," Williams said, chuckling. "The last thing they expected was for it to be like that."

Elway was portrayed as the golden-boy sure thing, while Williams would be largely disregarded as an all but forgotten outsider. Too often, the conversation had entered on Williams’ race, rather than what his team did well.

"The problem with that Super Bowl was it wasn’t so much the game itself, as it was who the quarterbacks where," Williams said. "You had Doug Williams against John Elway, and we all know who’s going to win that game."

Williams’ performance, resilient and eye-popping in its complete efficiency, opened eyes and opened doors.

Two other black quarterbacks have followed Williams to the Super Bowl, though neither Philadelphia’s Donovan McNabb or Tennessee’ Steve McNair would win.

"The opportunity now," Williams said, "is more than it was then."

Super Bowl XXII remains an afternoon where race relations achieved a rare vista — even if, at first, it started as just another football game.

"That day still has significance," Williams said, "because it touched so many people’s lives — not just as a fan but from an emotional standpoint. From a time when there was no black quarterbacks to winning it, so many older people talk about what that game meant."

In the smaller vernacular of sports, he’s the consummate underdog-made-good, too.

"When somebody is down and out," Williams said, "they’ll put that game in."

As he walked off that San Diego field, in a lingering image, Williams raised his helmet in triumph.

"I had been to place people only dream about," Williams said, still taking it in. "You don’t get to that point too often."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Recruiting: Grambling State's 2006 signing day class

Here are Grambling State University's announced football signees, with same-day analysis, from National Signing Day in February 2006:

Grambling State's 2006 haul
By Nick Deriso
Breakdown: 27 signees (15 offense, 12 defense)

Local ties: Four of the local prospects listed on the original verbal commitment list were not announced early Wednesday - West Ouachita's Demarious DuBose and Carroll's Jesse Smith Jr., Desmond Lenard and Derrick Johnson.

Sudden impact: Mobile fullback Corey Patterson, like GSU's Ruben Mayes, just makes plays.

One that got away: OG Nigel Bolden (Cedar Hill, Dallas). Selected 2005 All-District 2-5A by, he would have made this fall's camp battles intriguing.

Instant analysis: Signing running backs and offensive linemen isn't flashy, but it will improve a team that's solid at the skill positions. Ironically, Grambling didn't have a single commitment from an offensive lineman going into the final recruiting weekend - a glaring need. By Wednesday night, five had signed.


7-Number of signees who played running back or fullback in high school

13-Louisiana prospects who signed with Grambling

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An in-depth look at the 2006 Grambling signees:

· QB Derrick Wilhite, 6-0, 180, Wossman (Monroe): Was 55-for-102 passing for 733 yards with 12 TDs and just three interceptions in regular season. Rushed 94 times for 900 yards and 10 touchdowns. District 2-3A co-Offensive MVP with LSU signee Richard Murphy from Rayville. Also named to The News-Star/Glenwood SportsCare All-Northeast team.

INSTANT ANALYSIS: Wilhite is talented enough to play anywhere, but it likely won't be quarterback. Even with record-smashing senior Bruce Eugene gone, GSU returns former conference freshman of the year Brandon Landers - a Carroll product who took over when Eugene went down in 2004. Houston-LaMarque product Larry Kerlegan, Eugene's backup last season, is also back.

· FB Marcus Frazier, 6-1, 255; BC Rain (Mobile, Ala.): A two-year starter; helped team to a region-winning 7-5 record and a second-round playoff run. Also played defensive end, where he was team's best tackler. Ran 4.55 in the 40-yard dash at a Birmingham combine event. Named the No. 15 prospect from southwestern Alabama by The Mobile Register.

· FB Corey George, 6-2, 225; Bossier (La.): Starter on the 2005 Bossier Press-Tribune All-Bossier team. Rushed for 1,200 yards and 27 touchdowns, averaging seven yards per carry. Dandy Don's No. 60 Louisiana prospect. Brother Brandon signed with GSU last year. Part of a 2004 squad that reportedly became the first in parish history with three players to gain more than 1,000 yards rushing.

· RB Patrick Henry, 5-9, 175, Covington (La.): Listed at 4.4 in the 40-yard dash. … One of Dandy Don's Top 100 Louisiana prospects. … Rushed for 1,340 yards on 262 carries for 15 touchdowns in 2004.

· FB Robert Jones, 5-9, 230; Natchitoches Central (La.): Ran for the lone touchdown in the Chiefs' 45-6 loss to eventual Class 5A champion West Monroe on Sept. 30. Jones was used as a tailback in a spread offense that finished 3-7, with two of those wins coming over Southwood and Minden.

· FB Kenneth Matthews, 6-1; 250; Clinton (La.): Two-way starter at both fullback and middle linebacker. All-District 8-2A second team on offense for a second straight season in 2005. Brother of GSU defensive lineman Melvin Matthews. Team went 10-1 before falling to OCS in playoffs.

· FB/RB Cory Patterson, 6-0, 235, Davidson (Mobile, Ala.): First-team Class 6A All-State in 2005 by the Alabama Sports Writers Association. Team switched from a shotgun passing offense to the power running game to fit his talents. Starting fullback for the South team in the 2004 Alabama High School Athletic Association's North-South All-Star Football. Named the No. 22 prospect from southwestern Alabama by The Mobile Register.

· RB Ben Rogers, 6-1, 180; Parker (Birmingham, Ala.): Chosen by the city's head football coaches as a Birmingham All-City co-offensive player of the year. Class 5A All-State honorable mention by the Alabama Sports Writers Association. Rushed for 1,500 yards and 18 scores in 2005 as team advanced to the second round of the ASHAA playoffs.

INSTANT ANALYSIS: It's easy to see many, if not most, of these prospects moving into other positions. Grambling's scheme values speed in its linebackers and secondary defenders, and running backs easily transition into those roles. That said, George, Patterson and Rogers have the prep credentials to push their way into eventual playing time. Matthews is a punishing blocker in the mold of current starter Ruben Mayes.

· ATH Terrence Bell, 5-9, 163, Clinton (La.): Multi-position performer who played quarterback, wide receiver and kick returner in 2005. Part of an offense that averaged 300 yards of offense and 30 points per game. Second-team all-District 8-2A in 2005. Runs a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash; also ran track for Clinton, competing in the 100 and in the last leg of the 400 relay.

· WR Jeremy Sylve, 6-3, 190, Bastrop: Played in 11 games including the playoffs and had 30 catches for 698 yards and seven touchdowns. Second-team District 2-4A. An evacuee transfer from Port Sulphur.

INSTANT ANALYSIS: Grambling has enough depth, not to mention talent, percolating in its prop program, to offer more scholarships in other positions of need, and that's what the coaches did. Both look to be eligible.

· OL Randle Bennett, 6-6, 337, Valley Forge (Wayne, Pa.): Will likely compete for tackle spot. Runs well, great feet. Recruited by defensive coordinator Luther Palmer, a longtime coach in the area.

· OG Jerome King, 6-5, 230, Davidson (Mobile, Ala.): Has great feet, versatile enough to excel either inside or outside. Could fit in on other side of GSU line. Davidson was 12-1 last year.

· OL George Long, 6-5, 350, James Monroe (Fredricksburg, Va.): Named to Group AA All-State second-team by the Virginia High School Coaches Association. Honorable mention on The Washington Post's Fall 2005 All-Met team. First-team all-district and second-team All-Region A as a junior. Played up front on four straight teams that reached the regional playoffs. Considered Morgan State, as well.

· OL Sam Onyeaka, 6-4, 350, Valley Forge (Wayne, Pa.): Inside player, long armed. Very athletic. Looks to compete for guard position. Team went 6-2 in 2005 under Jim Burner.

· OL Ramon Otey, 6-2, 300, Huffman (Birmingham, Ala.): Part of a line that averaged more than 300 pounds per man, Huffman averaged 370 rushing yards per game - including a staggering 609 in a win over Hewitt.

INSTANT ANALYSIS: With the loss of three regular starters in Jonathan Banks, Charles Wilson and Tommy Dural, this was a point of emphasis - though you wouldn't have known it early on. Not until the final week before National Signing Day did the linemen begin pouring in, and Grambling's final list was impressive. Any of these prospects could work his way into line coach Carl Roberts' rotation this season.

· DE Jody Ancar, 6-1, 220, Port Sulphur/Bastrop: Started two games, before suffering a knee injury; returned in playoffs to spark 4A state title run. Transferred to Bastrop from Port Sulphur following Hurricane Katrina. Bastrop assistant coach DeCarlos Holmes, a former GSU defensive lineman, also coached Ancar in Port Sulphur. Honorable mention on The News-Star/Glenwood SportsCare All-Northeast Team.

· DL Chris Drummer, 6-1, 265, Ouachita (Monroe): All-district first teamer and honorable mention for All-State. Made 105 total tackles, including 11 sacks - best in northeastern Louisiana. Team's defensive most valuable player. Named to The News-Star/Glenwood SportsCare All-Northeast Team. Ouachita Coach John Carr says he has a 30-inch vertical leap.

· DL Taurean Montero, Northwest (Opelousas, La.): The team's rookie of the year, he was honorable mention All-District selection last year. Suffered a torn medial collateral ligament late last season. Is not expected to qualify.

· DE Jon Nixon, 6-2, 240, North Little Rock (Ark.): Named to's Natural 21 list of top Arkansas prospects. Reportedly received an offer from Purdue, and considered both Vanderbilt and Arkansas, where he went for an official visit. Runs 4.9 in 40-yard dash, according to Named to The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Top 30 Juniors to Watch statewide in 2004.

· DT Vernon Pittman, 6-4, 370, Irving (Texas): A one-year letterman. Team slipped to 4-6 after a 6-5 season in 2004 that included a trip to the Class 5A Division II bi-district game. Was teammates with talented but troubled all-purpose running back Jamaal Evans, who finished with more than 4,000 yards in high school.

INSTANT ANALYSIS: For the second consecutive year, GSU will lose one of its best players from this unit. In 2004, it was defensive end Kenneth Pettway, who also spelled at outside linebacker. This time, it's end Jason Hatcher. Replacing those kind of playmakers is never easy, though Ancar has shown flashes of that kind of brilliance during an injury-marred season. Drummer was the area's most consistent pass rusher and Nixon is a certifiable steal if he's eligible.

· OLB Demario Dixon, 6-2, 220; Southwood (Shreveport): All-district after both the 2004-05 seasons. Lettered for three years. Runs a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash. In a show of athleticism, caught a 2005 two-point conversion to help seal a 29-10 win that ended rival Byrd's 12-game winning streak over Southwood. A regular at GSU's off-season football camps.

· LB Terrance Miley, 5-10, 175, Neville (Monroe): Made 62 tackles and six interceptions. Named to Class 4A All-State team by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. Also played defensive back in high school.

INSTANT ANALYSIS: This unit has a steady center in returning middle linebacker Dimitri Carr, a Farmerville product, but it needs more speed off the edges. Both Dixon and Miley could provide that, as do several of the running back prospects who are expected to get looks for this position.

· DB Mariko Martin, 6-3, 193, Carver (Montgomery, Ala.): Had four passes defended as team advanced to the second round of the post-season. Carver was a semifinalist in the Alabama High School Athletic Association playoffs for the first time ever in 2004. Runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. Also reportedly had interest from Alabama State, Alabama A&M, Sam Houston State and Albany State.

· DB T.J. McCord, 6-1, 180, McGill-Toolen (Mobile, Ala.): An all-region selection. Had 80 tackles and three interceptions as a senior. Also a leader on defense last year with 65 tackles and 12 pass breakups. Named the No. 8 prospect from southwestern Alabama by The Mobile (Ala.) Register. Ran hurdles on high school track team, and played forward on the basketball team.

· SS Michael Oliver, 6-3, 205, Homewood (Ala.): On back-to-back Alabama 5A state championship teams; had 11 tackles in those two title games. Starter on the 5A All-State team. Honorable mention on the 5A All-Metro team. Won state track titles last year in the 110 hurdles and as third runner in the 400 relay. Won the 300 hurdles at the 2004 Class 4A-6A track and field meet, as well.

· DB Donald Roberts, 5-11, 185, Northwest (Opelousas, La.): Will provide needed depth in secondary. Also ran track, including 55-meter hurdles, in high school. Joins prep teammate Taurean Montero in Grambling. Is qualified.

· SS Dante Thompson, 6-4, 218, Colerain (Cincinnati): Honorable mention on The Cincinnati Enquirer's conference all-star list. Great upside; has impressive speed. Rangy, could move into linebacking unit. Colerain was undefeated in Thompson's junior season. A qualifier.

INSTANT ANALYSIS: A pressing need for depth has arisen with the unit struggling through an off-season of graduation, injury or grade problems. McCord looks to be eligible, while Oliver is a legitimate Division I-A prospect who drew interest from Alabama and Auburn. Coaches are high on Thompson and Martin.

While this is no longer a critical area, since rising junior Tim Manuel handled both punting and kicking field goals last year, the team continues to explore the possibility of signing another prospect. The position might also attract a transfer.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Remembering: Everson Walls' selfless act

Selfless act by ex-Grambling and Cowboys star launches national crusade
January 6, 2008

By Nick Deriso
Hope and love, outside of the storybooks, so often share time with searing pain and uncertainty.

And so it was with Everson Walls and former NFL teammate and life-long friend Ron Springs.

"The last 13-to-14 months," Walls said and paused, searching for the words, "have been trying, triumphant — heavy on my heart. I've just been running the gamut."

Walls, the former Grambling and pro standout, decided to give a kidney to Springs, was inducted into the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame, mourned as his college coach passed, helped spark a national conversation on organ donation, and then watched in horror as Springs slipped into a lingering coma.

"Thank God I have faith," Walls said. "Thank God I have support from my family, because if it wasn't for that, I might have let all of that weigh on me."

Walls has, indeed, remained light on his feet — cross-crossing the country to share this remarkable story, encourage support for a national donor bill introduced to Congress in his honor last September and bolster the spirits of transplant recipients, donor families and those still waiting for the next Everson Walls to come along.

"As I look back, it has surprised me what I have come through," Walls said. "Something that I've really focused on since I decided to donate my kidney: Do not take anything for granted."

That includes the fairy tale conclusion that so many had hoped for.

Walls is just as often found these days at the side of Springs, who remains in a Dallas hospital, alive but not living.

The rewritten epilogue is messier, more real. Media outlets struggled to frame the narrative.

Bryant Gumbel, hosting HBO's "Real Sports," admitted that producers were initially inclined to shelve an already-completed segment on Walls' donation when Springs took the unexpected turn.

But the two men's unordinary bond transcended even this stunning twist.

"We planned," Gumbel said, "for our account of their relationship to stand as a tale of real selflessness and true teamwork. Unfortunately, their story took a sad and unexpected turn — one that, frankly, gave us pause about even airing the piece. Ultimately, we decided we should, because it's still an inspirational tale about the strength of friendship and genuine love."

That simple, timeless emotion opened up a continuing conversation on organ donation of sweeping proportions.

They were teammates on early 1980s Dallas Cowboys squads at first, then best friends, then family.

Godfathers to one another's children, their very lives were already inextricably bound.

They shared a neighborhood. Their wives were close, too.

In these small ways, they shared each other's story — even after Springs retired and Walls left for a successful stint with the New York Giants, where he won Super Bowl XXV in 1991.

That same season, Springs developed Type II diabetes. Over the next 10 years, this once vibrant athlete — the former running back had led Dallas with 12 touchdowns in 1981 — saw his kidneys fail, forcing Springs into dialysis.

He lost a foot to amputation. Finally both hands curled into nearly useless, withered commas, as muscular fibrosis set in.

Walls, shocked at his friend's deterioration, began working out with Springs — hoping, he says, to help him through what ever period of time it took for a kidney donation to arrive.

The search, which included two separate failed donation attempts by incompatible relatives, dragged on for three excruciating years. Springs also rejected an offer from his son, an 11th-year cornerback with the Washington Redskins, out of fear that the surgery would end his pro career.

A year ago in February, Walls decided to step in.

"I used to feel like an old penny," Springs said afterward. "Now I feel like a new John F. Kennedy 50-cent piece."

Walls never struggled with the decision, though he did at first shy away from the media attention that followed — refusing, as Springs often noted, to inhabit the hero's cape.

Walls said he hoped it would just be between the two of them, as so much always had been. Instead, his selfless act became a headline, then a call to action.

"We wanted to keep it in house," Walls said. "We really never thought about what kind of impact it would have, until we started sharing it."

He was stopped short, however, by the passing of former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson — a towering mentor in Walls' life who succumbed to an Alzheimer's-related illness in April.

Robinson's leadership toward a better America, with a focus on overcoming adversity and becoming a citizen contributor, still resonates.

"It was funny, because when I was telling people my thoughts on this donation, I always came back to Coach Robinson's insights into life — to his testament on being a strong black man," Walls said. "That had a lot to do with all of this. I had been talking about Coach Robinson that whole time, and I still am. It's given me another opportunity to uplift his philosophy."

Walls and a rejuvenated Springs threw themselves into Gift For Life — a national foundation they founded to promote awareness of kidney disease and encourage organ donation — and that became their second legacy, away from the field and that helmet with the star.

They would be teammates, brothers and friends, forever. Not just on the gridiron, but in the public consciousness.

Walls, in a whirlwind now, then found himself speaking before Congress in support of that House bill — called the Everson Walls and Ron Springs Gift for Life Act of 2007, after their nonprofit foundation.

The proposed law would establish a national organ and tissue donor registry center, authorize grants for state organ and tissue registries and create a database to help track long-term health effects for living donors.

"It went from being for one person to being something that the entire world wanted to get involved with," Walls said, still moved. "It has touched so many people lives."

There awaited, however, one more shocking turn in a tale that rivals the dark fables of old.

Springs fell into the coma last October while undergoing elective surgery to remove a cyst in his arm. Doctors still don't know what sent him spiraling away, though Walls says he thinks it was a reaction to the anesthesia.

Springs remains physically well, Walls said, but locked in a quiet place where he can't be reached.

News stories have portrayed his hopes for recovery as virtually nonexistent, even as Springs' son Shawn described his father is "pretty much a vegetable."

Walls remains steadfast in his friendship, and his faith.

"It was not a reaction to the kidney," Walls said. "He's in good shape, and breathing on his own — and has been since a week after the incident. Ron is great candidate to come out of this coma. He still has body movement. The neurologist is very hopeful."

Walls continues the work he started with Springs, refusing to let a moment of enduring inspiration be rendered less significant by this sad footnote.

He's in Missouri this weekend to speak at the Smart Living Expo in St. Louis on behalf of the national donor bill. On Friday, he also visited a local Children's Hospital to visit with transplant patients.

"This is the biggest thing that has happened to me in my entire life, including that Super Bowl," Walls said.

The generation he spoke with at that St. Louis medical facility has no memory of the rest of Walls' considerable achievements in a football uniform. Not the best-in-the-nation mark for interceptions as a senior defensive back at Grambling, nor his Pro Bowl days at Dallas in 1981-83 and '85.

Only that he turned so much attention to their plight.

"As much as I take pride in my career as a player, now it's OK for others to think of football as secondary to how I am known now," Walls said. "To be known for that gives me much more gratification. Hands down, no comparison."

He knows, deep down, that the final chapter hasn't been written yet.

Not until their bill passes. Not until Ron Springs gets up from that hospital bed.

"He will," Walls said. "I know he will."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Recruiting: Grambling State's 2004 football signing class

Here are Grambling State University's announced football signees, with same-day analysis, from National Signing Day in February 2004:

Grambling State's 2004 haul
By Nick Deriso

· Brandon Gultrey, 5-10, 160, McCall (Tallulah, La.) HS: McCall's only senior, finished year with 2,218 yards, completing 64.1 percent of passes.

· Larry Kerlegan, 5-11, 180, La Marque (Texas) HS: Ranked No. 11 nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks by

· Brandon Landers, 5-11, 190, Carroll (La.) HS: The News-Star's Offensive Player of the Year on 2003 All-Northeast Louisiana team.

· Mike Nichols, 6-5, 220, Westbury (Houston, Texas) HS: SuperPrep listed Nichols as 90th out of Top 100 prospects in the entire Big 12 region.

The Skinny: GSU did a good job of preparing for the future, as All-America quarterback Bruce Eugene enters his senior season. Landers was an early target, but the coaches kept working to sign more top-notch talent - including the two Texas quarterbacks. Kerlegan's academic status is uncertain, which probably means the race is between Nichols and Landers. Gultrey, who excelled as a safety at McCall, will likely be moved to another position.


·Michael Rainey, 6-1, 185, Vicksburg (Miss.) HS: Rushed for 359 yards and also caught 22 passes for 207 yards last season.

The Skinny: While Grambling State has decided to use Ab Kuuan as its everyday rusher, he'll need someone to work in relief next season. That had been Henry Tolbert, but the coaches are moving him to the slot. Rainey is a similar runner, rangy and elusive.


· Clyde Edwards, 5-11, 170, Westbury (Houston, Texas) HS: Good academic performer; received first-team District 18-5A honors this season.

· Xavier Jackson, 6-3, 195, Parker (Birmingham, Ala.) HS: Had more than 900 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.

· Kenneth Miller, 6-2, 180, Winnsboro (La.) HS: Honorable mention on 2002 Class 3A All-State team. Also played basketball and ran track.

· Albert Rogers, 6-3, 180, Northeast (Zachary, La.) HS: Two-way player, received second-team All District 8-2A honors. All-around athlete, excelled at safety as well.

· Frank Green, 6-1, 185, Moncks Corner, SC/East Tennessee Univ.: Had 16 receptions for 242 yards and touchdown; also returned kick for another score last season.

The Skinny: Miller gives GSU the speed it so clearly craves, while Green brings valuable experience. Still, wide receiver wasn't a point of great need for the Tigers - despite the graduation of senior All-American Tramon Douglas, who broke Jerry Rice's record for receptions in a Southwestern Athletic Conference game. Freshman Tim Abney proved he was ready to audition for the No. 1 spot after tying for second in total touchdowns scored last season. Moses Harris and Paul Hardiman are also locks for playing time.


· Antonio Shannon, 6-4, 220, Mansfield (La.) HS: Member of Class 3A All-State football team.

· Travis Singleton, 6-3, 245, O. Perry Walker (New Orleans, La.) HS: Louisiana's No. 10 tight end prospect on the Zems Gems recruiting Web page. Impressive athlete, also plays basketball for Walker.

The Skinny: Shannon is the day's steal, a center on his school's basketball team who goes for passes like an aggressive rebounder. Singleton is listed at 4.8 in the 40-yard dash. Both of last year's tight ends are gone, meaning there will be a wide-open race to replace them. Gershone Jessie, an All-America candidate, has graduated. Jason Hatcher has been moved to defensive end.


· Mike Smith, 6-5, 315, Vicksburg (Miss.) HS: Smith joins former VHS linemen Andre Bennett and Charles Wilson, sophomores who both started at GSU last season. Wilson is Smith's brother.

· Quentin Smith, 6-2, 295, Centennial (Roswell, Ga.) HS: Son of former New York Giants OG Lance Smith, was part of group that gave CHS coach Mike Cloy his 100th career victory in 2003.

· Tavarus Cockrell, 6-3, 295, Parker (Birmingham, Ala.) HS: All-State as offensive tackle and defensive tackle, also played basketball.

The Skinny: GSU coaches feel that they have the type of runner in Kuuan who can return some balance to the Tigers' offensive attack. The problem last season seemed to be the lack of athleticism up front, especially with the reintroduction of the Wing-T formation in the scheme - one that calls for lots of pulling linemen. Cockrell in particular is a signing aimed directly at correcting that.


· Guy Henderson, DB/WR, 6-0, 190, Karr (New Orleans, La.) HS: Superior athlete, also played quarterback for Karr as junior.

· Deshon Pennie, DB, 6-0, 195, Nimitz (Houston, Texas) HS: First-team all-district as senior. Runs a legitimate 4.4, according to his prep coach.

· Robby Smith, DB, 5-11, 170, Ruston (La.) HS: First-team pick on 2003 All-Northeast Football Team. Adept at both man-to-man coverage or stopping run.

· Dee White, DT, 6-2, 260, Richwood (La.) HS: All-district pick as senior and honorable mention for 2-3A in 2002.

The Skinny: The defensive line and linebacker corps went largely unaddressed since GSU coaches are happy with the development of several players there. But a pair of new defensive backs were desperately needed with the graduation of both starters. That means Smith, Henderson and Pennie - perhaps the most accomplished of these backs coming out of high school - will get immediate reps and, possibly, playing time.


· William Mathis, KR/WR, 5-6, 155, Shades Valley (Pleasant Grove, Ala.) HS: Solid academic performer but also track star. Coaches say he is low 4.4 40-yard dasher.

· Larry Anderson, P, 6-4, 215, Redemptorist (Baton Rouge, La.) HS: Received second-team all-District 7-4A honors last season. Also played forward on school's basketball team.

The Skinny: Grambling State didn't have a reliable kickoff returner last season, often using starters from the defensive back and wide receiver units. So, Mathis will get an immediate look. Meanwhile, Anderson was badly needed at punter. Darien Morgan wasn't consistent enough in 2003 to be relied upon on an every-game basis.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The time that Clyde Edwards played his last game

Edwards ends GSU career on bittersweet note
December 16, 2007

By Nick Deriso
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It wasn't supposed to end like this for Clyde Edwards.

With his lowest output over four stirring seasons at Grambling State.

With his team down 28-12 at the half, then finally falling 42-31, and with no touchdown receptions.

With some thinking his coach would be gone to Florida A&M in the morning.
Without a second title to put the finishing touches on a career like no other receiver in the remarkable history of this passing offense.

"I'm caught up in the moment," Edwards said, still in his pads. Still taking it all in.

"That hurt," he said, slowly, finally, definitively.

Edwards will perhaps be remembered as much for a school-record 37 career receiving touchdowns as for carrying a 3.9 grade-point average through graduation at Grambling on Friday.

He raced over here to Birmingham later that day to participate in what once looked like a coronation.

Grambling had won seven straight games by the first Saturday in November.

And Edwards was one his way to claiming a spot among the program's very best — a list that includes Louisiana Sports Hall of Famers Charlie Joiner and Frank Lewis, as well as more recent standouts like Scotty Anderson, Tramon Douglas and Henry Tolbert.

Something happened on the way to the crowning ceremony.

Grambling lost two straight going into Saturday, even as its coach began an extended flirtation with at least two other programs.

Then it lost one more, the first time Grambling had ever fallen in a SWAC Championship Game.

With Clyde Edwards somehow at the center of everything, but outside the circle of light.

His initial pair of catches were for first downs, one for 15 yards and another for 13 — getting Grambling to the JSU 11 within the game's first two minutes.

Even when things were supposed to be right, they somehow came out wrong.

Edwards moved into history, passing Douglas in the Grambling record book for career receptions, on an early-second quarter pitchout — but ran into team mate Nick Lewis. No gain.

He'd already broken the GSU record for career touchdowns, and was closing in on Anderson's mark for career yards.

But he was losing. Again.

"We gave everything we had," Edwards said. "They were just playing a little better."

Honored at midfield before the game with the U.S. Army Strong Leadership Award, Edwards actually earned it later.

He entered the locker room at the half down 16 points to Jackson State. But not down.

Edwards never quit, even while the same couldn't be said for fans that should have been supporting him and his team mates in the final Football Championship Subdivision contest of the season.

An announced crowd of 43,236 — second highest ever for a SCG — saw Jackson fans outnumber their counterparts by a factor of what looked like 10-to-1. Grambling supporters stayed away in shocking droves.

No matter.

Edwards needed just 14 yards in the second half to overtake Anderson as the school's all-time leader in receiving yards. He got 47.

In fact, Edwards somehow finished with a game-high number of catches, and yards.

Yet scoreless during his final night inside a Grambling uniform.

Still, Edwards never got discouraged, never stopped playing. Never stopped bleeding black and gold.

He is, quite simply, the greatest player, the greatest man, of the modern Grambling era.

A pleasure to watch, and an even greater pleasure to know.

"Clyde is special, not only as a football player," said first-year GSU coach Rod Broadway. "Clyde is such a good, solid person. We would like to have an entire football team with the character of Clyde Edwards."

He has, since 2004, made memories that will last longer than wins on the field — longer than even his trio of staggering school records.

In this way, his tenure will never be over. We shouldn't think all that's left to celebrate is what Edwards did on the field.

He's always been much more than that.

"He's my brother, my right hand," said quarterback Brandon Landers, who has shared the field with Edwards through three years of starting at Grambling. "He's a man's man, a great American."

If you didn't see Edwards' last game, and there are a numbingly large number who didn't, you missed a final moment with a Grambling hero for the ages.

He didn't really have a great day.

He didn't really have a great season, not the season he should have had.

Not when Edwards had gone without a 100-yard night since facing Texas Southern back in October, when he exploded for three touchdowns. Edwards only other times to reach the century mark were against Prairie View and Jackson State, in the previous regular-season meeting.

A new run-first attack didn't always feature him.

Edwards took that in stride, too, as he had so many catches. He never spoke ill of the scheme, or the new staff. He never did anything that would draw attention to himself, or his own hopes.

"I set some goals before the year, but in this offense it doesn't always call for that," Edwards said. "I've had to make the best of my opportunities."

He only wanted to win a championship, he often said.

Even that dream failed Edwards this season, though he helped reverse a disastrous 3-8 record from his junior year.

There would be no trophy raising for him as a senior, making the lone championship of his sophomore year all the more bittersweet.

"I feel like you come out the same, giving the same effort each season — you give it your all," he said. "Life is funny like that. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn't."

It wasn't supposed to end like this for Clyde Edwards.

NICK DERISO is assistant managing editor at The News-Star. Contact him at (318) 362-0234 or at