Sport Magazine's feature on Big Red
From the archives: Sport Magazine, December 1955.
"They Build Football Players In Steubenville" by Jimmy Breslin
[It's at places like the cleat-scraped field of this small Ohio high school that the powerhouse machines that roll at California and Tennessee and Pitt are made]
When you tell the story of what makes a top college football team, you do not begin with the packed stadiums or high-pressured practice sessions at South Bend, Ind., or Knoxville Tenn., or wherever big name institutions play the game. Nor do you go to the coaching staffs at these places. You start, instead, at a place like Harding Field, and the cleat-scraped practice field behind it, where college football teams are made. It is because of Harding Field that the University of Iowa has an All-American guard, a crack end, and a halfback who led the Big 10 in rushing last year. And it is for the same reason that Mississippi State, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have tackles weighing well over 200 pounds-and the United States Naval Academy has a thick-bodied plebe who, in future years, figures to fill a line spot.
It is when you look at Steubenville's football fortunes that this high school becomes important. A close inspection of one Big Red team is like looking college football through a magnifying glass. You see why some institutions of higher learning always seem to acquire the type of student who can batter another for 60 minutes on Saturday afternoon.
In 1951, Steubenville High won nine of its ten games, the only loss coming on a last-minute touchdown by mighty Massillon, another builder of football players. The Big Red dressed 36 players that year and most of them were good ones. The team rolled through typically and tradionally tough state competition-in some cases with shocking ease-and at the end of the season was ranked second in the state.
At one end, Iowa was well covered by Frank Gilliam, 6-2, 185, who was a regular the day he became eligible and has been the team's top pass-catcher for two years. Last season, Gilliam caught 27 passes, good for 294 yards and 3 touchdowns. In 1951 Gilliam was one of the reasons why Steubenville opponents found that outside plays to the end were not desirable.
Iowa isn't the only school to benefit from Harding Field. Pittsburgh, always strong, has had Howard (Tiny) Linn's six foot, 205-pound bulk in its lineup at tackle for three season now. Linn was a starter for the '51 Steubenville team. Then you have Mississippi State, with 6-2, 215 pound Don Conkel at tackle, and Cinncinati, where twin brother Ron will operate, with the same size, at the same position. The Conkel twins were Steubenville substitutes in 1951, as was Milan Moncilovich, a big center, who started toward a Naval career at Annapolis this fall. Nick Medves, who quarterbacked the '51 Big Red, figured to be at Miami of Florida as the season began, but he had plans of transferring to Miami of Oxford Ohio, where he figured his southpaw passes would make a better impression than they have at the talent-crammed Florida school. Willie Stinson, a half-back, traveled to Oregon Tech, a two-year college in the beaver state.
This makes nine Steubenville contrubutions to college football-all from the 1951 squad. As a unit, it was considered to be something of a "Wonder Team" around Ohio. But there are "Wonder Teams" each season, in every state of the union. Because of them, colleges which like winning football come up with strong teams. This season you can trace much of the strength of Iowa, Mississippi State and Pittsburgh and the rest of the schools which list Steubenville products, vintage 1951, back to Harding Field.
By the time school opened, Hoyman had his squad down to 36 men. A natural worrier, he knew he had the material for a fine season-but he had thought the same in 1950 until a shattering, last-game loss to 21 point underdog Wellsburg, West Virginia left him brooding through the months between seasons.
The 36 boys Hoyman had that year were all typical Steubenville products. The city has a population of 37,000 and it is located 50 miles from Pittsburgh and a few strokes across the Ohio River from West Virginia. It is a steel town, primarly, with the Wheeling Steel Company, on the south fringe of the city, employing 8,000 workers and the Weirton Works, across the river in West Virginina, employing 14,000. With such an abundance of sturdy employment, the majority of the town's inhabitants are on the rugged side. Anybody who puts in 8 hours a day at a steel mill does not have to go for weight-lifting to build up muscles. Steubenville itself reflects this physical strength. It is a town very much on the rough and ready side of things. A visitor getting off an early morning train from New York, for example, can expect to find the local bars wide open, juke boxes blaring (with every record except those of home-bred Dean Martin) and glasses clinking-at the merry old hour of 6:19 am., Steubenville appears very capable of accommodating anybody who likes a little action.
Up on the "Hill" section of town, lawns begin to appear and the houses become more expensive looking than those in the sections of Steubenville where most of the steel workers live. It was from the Hill that Howard Linn came to Steubenville High. His father, Howard senior, was a fine Pittsburgh guard in 1926 and now is an attorney. But most of coach Hoyman's candidates were sons of hard-working steel men.
The Big Red started the season by whacking Adams, 26-0 on September 15. A crowd of 7,500 cheered the team on, but after the game Hoyman was worried. "I don't know if this is as good a club as the 1950 team. We didn't score at all from way out. We had to grind out those short yardage touchdowns. I don't know if we can get away with than all year."
The fear went out the next Friday night, against East Liverpool. In the second quarter of the game, Eddie Vincent, used primarly on defense, picked off an East Liverpool pass on the Steubenville 2 yard line and started to run. Little "Punkin," as everyone called him, was half-way up the field before East Liverpool pulled itself together for the chase. The race was really over before anyone could get excited. A dark blur, Vincent ran 10 yards out of the endzone before he pulled up. That gave Hoyman ideas. As the game wore on, and the Big Red moved to a 25-6 win, the coach decided to install Vincent as starting halfback. Once he believed Vincent would never make the team. Eddie reported for football as a 5-2, 90 pound-that's right, 90-pound-halfback three years earlier. But Vincent was starting to grow and get faster if that was possible. So Hoyman decided to use him as a running back.
On the next Friday night, Steubenville went into a small wave of hysteria. Mighty-and mighty hated too-Massillon High was in town. This fabled high school football powerhouse had whacked all oppenents before this game, scoring 102 points while shutting out the opposition. But for the first time since 1931, when the Big Red had won 68-0, Steubenville was given a chance to upset the Massillon machine, then coached by Chuck Mather, the present Kansas mentor.
A crowd of 11,000 turned out-and went home groaning in disappointment after huge Henry Grooms, a transfer student from Brownsville Pa., shoved his 200 pounds into the Steubenville line, felt it give, then stepped away for a last minute touchdown to give Massillon a 13-6 victory. Jones, in this game, was everything Hoyman said he was. A vicious bear, he upended everybody within reach of his powerful body. This was top-flight opposition and Jones was wrecking it-and getting a good dose of confindence from it.
A week later, Steubenville rebounded with a 37-0 win over Lima South as Vincent, learning his trade now, scooted 48 yards for one score. Catholic Central, Steubenville's in town rival, went down 38-0. Powerful Canton McKinley took a 63-6 beating-it's worst in a quarter century. Martins Ferrry was stopped 21-0, Warren Harding High was a 13-12 victim, and Weir, West Virginia reeled from a 41-0 beating as Vincent scored 3 times.
"The Warren game, I still remember that one," says Gilliam. "It was was like a college game. I've never been in a harder game, in high school or college. Only the Notre Dame game (the famed "fake injury" tie in which Gilliam scored one Hawkeye touchdown) came close to it for hard playing. When I came out of that one in good shape-the Warren game, I mean-I knew I could play anywhere. They'd never be too rough for me."
As the '51 season wore on, the road from Harding Field to Iowa City and the other college centers became a heavily-traveled highway. In mid-season, alumni from Tennesee approached Linn and his running mate, Bob Yohn, a big 215-pounder who wound up in the Army instead of in college. Linn had his mind made up, however, to enter Pittsburgh.
The Jones-Gilliam-Vincent move to Iowa was not so simple, however. Calvin, after mulling over a flood of offers, chose Ohio State. Vincent and Gilliam had made a contact at Iowa. The three preferred to stick together-the way things had been since Grant Junior High. But Woody Hayes, the Ohio State coach, made it clear that Jones was the only one whom he was interested. They quoted Hayes as saying, at the time, the he would get Jones and dodge any package deal for the other two athletes.
So, when Iowa announced Jones had enrolled, Hayes roared. He took his case to Big Ten Commisioner Tug Wilson with the attitude of a guy who just got robbed. Wilson's investigation showed, however, that Jones had driven out to Iowa with his buddies and after hanging around for a few days suddenly burst into Evashevski's office and said, "I don't want to leave. Can I enroll here?"
In view of what Jones can do on the football field, and the importance attached to this around Big Ten schools, the story is pretty hard to believe. Gilliam, however, says that's just the way it happened.
It usually starts with a letter. In Medves' case, for example, he has a scrapbook filled with them. "Dear Nick," each starts out, "your coach has recommended you as a fine football player. I want to congratulate you on your fine career at Steubenville. Now, (name of college goes here) is a highly desirable place to continue your education. With graduation not far off, you have an important decision to make. I would like to stop and have a talk with you about your future." The signature normally is that of the head coach or his chief assistant.
Scholastic ratings play a big role in determining where a boy goes. In the case of the '51 team, Gene Locust, the center, and Yohn, the tackle, along with Benny Bunch, the fullback, could have written their own tickets except for their poor academic records. No major college was willing to gamble on their passing a four-year course, so the Army grabbed the boys.
Medves had a hard time getting proper marks at Steubenville and he wound up in book trouble at Miami last year. But the three Iowa boys have done well so far. Gilliam and Jones are majoring in physical education and Vincent is taking business courses.
"I stick to Physical Therapy-and so does Jones," Gilliam says. "I want to come right out of school and work with polio cases. Or maybe get on the staff at a veterans' hospital. Calvin wants to do the same thing, but I guess he'll go into pro football first. That boy thinks only about football."
Coach Hoyman, who built the '51 aggregation, spent only two more season as head coach, then retired. He still teaches in the school, but leaves immediately after classes for his farm in Richmond. At the time of his retirement, Hoyman said that he was quitting because of the pressure. Steubenville has a long history of winning football and some fine names have come out of the school, including Don Joyce, now with the Baltimore Colts, and Cas Myslinski, an Army All-American in the early 40's. The sports minded steel workers around town let out a howl if the Big Red even loses on game.
When Hoyman left, 30 applications were received for the job. It went to burly, mild-talking Bill Abraham, who had been at Ford City Pa. Abraham who had played at Auburn and Pittsburgh as a fullback, started off with, as he put it, "an open season." He dropped eight of ten games in 1954, but looks forward to better years.
He can look forward to them because of a solid system of teaching Steubenville youngsters how to play football. The system has been in effect for several years and it starts with the boys as soon as they are old enough to play. The six assistants on Abraham's staff are spread through-out the Steubenville school system. All teach regular academic courses, but receive extra time off-and money-to run a system which starts with a touch league for fifth and sixth graders and ends with the varsity.
"We have several touch leagues around the city," Abraham, a history teacher says. "Then in the seventh and eighth grades we have junior high teams. They play a regular schedule. The same for freshman in senior high. All these kids are coached throughout the process. By the time they come to the varsity, we don't have to waste much time."
Abraham keeps telling his players the value of good marks in obtaining a free college education and boasts that more than half his club this year has top-ranking grades.