University Of Southern Mississippi

1952 - 58 Golden Eagles
(Authentic Reproduction)





Many changes would affect the MSC program in 1952 including a change in the uniform. Star fullback Bucky McElroy who would complete the year with 803 of the team’s total 2903 rushing yards in its explosive offense, looked the part of his nickname, “The Black Knight” as the old gold Riddell RT helmets with one-inch black center stripe and black jerseys with gold Northwestern sleeve stripes gave a close resemblance to the West Point teams. There was also off-season disagreement with the Gulf States Conference decision to admit senior college status McNeese State and Northeastern Louisiana into the fold, and the edict that all members had to annually face other football-playing schools in the conference. With plans to expand its schedule to include more Southeastern and Atlantic Coast Conference opponents in order to gain widespread exposure for the university and seek future major conference affiliation, playing only GSC programs would prove to be an obstacle. Thus in the spring of ’52, Mississippi Southern withdrew from the Gulf States Conference it had worked so hard to form, and make a go of it as an Independent. Needing a big season to prove its point, they stumbled out of the gate with a 20-6 loss to Alabama despite the Tide’s twelve fumbles. Behind McElroy’s 6.28 yards per carry and halfback Laurin Hugh Pepper who gained 1191 yards, the big time offense carried the squad to a 10-1 mark and its first trip to a “real” bowl game as it faced College Of The Pacific in the January 1, 1953 Sun Bowl. Suffering the loss of injured McElroy and what Coach Vann referred to as “bowl-itis” with its big game jitters, the team never got untracked but the 26-6 defeat did little to take away from a very successful season. The offense in particular was spectacular, with school records of 402 points scored, 3651 rushing yards, and 4575 total yards of offensive production.


While 1952 was an historical season, the ’53 team would see the completion of the careers of two of the Southerners all time greats, McElroy and Pepper, and success versus the SEC that provided national attention. With a career total of twenty-four rushing TD’s, 2560 yards, and a school best 5.6 yards per carry, McElroy more than fulfilled the potential he had shown at Monroe, Louisiana’s Neville High School and at Hinds (Mississippi) JC where he was inducted to their Hall Of Fame.  Drafted by the Chicago Bears, he played with Hamilton in the CFL in ‘55. Pepper was no less spectacular, a Little All American halfback drafted by the Steelers who was great on returns and as a defensive back. His 1868 career yards and long standing record 8.2 yards per carry guaranteed his place, with McElroy in numerous regional Halls Of Fame. Pepper threw the first no hitter in USM baseball history and joined the Pittsburgh Pirates for the ’54 season, playing with them through 1957 and then in the minor leagues until the end of 1963. After twenty-nine seasons as the head football coach of Ocean Springs (MS) High School, the stadium was named after him in recognition of his service and 190-81-3 record. The ’53 squad presented more than two great players and the stunning upset over Alabama in the opener set the tone for the season. Playing in MontgomeryAlabama as a five touchdown underdog to a pre-season Top Five pick and everyone’s choice for the Southeastern Conference title seemed to motivate rather than frighten the Southerners. Soph receiver Leonard Williams took a long pass from quarterback Billy Jarrell to the two yard line and fans then watched reserve back Jim “Brick” Mason run the winner in to seal a 25-19 win. Pepper of course was terrific and McElroy booted the extra points and ran hard and national acclaim followed, especially as the MSC train continued to roll through its schedule. They notched a 14-0 victory over Zeke Bratkowski and Georgia, another SEC opponent and only a 27-13 mid-season loss to Memphis State marred a perfect record. Once again, the team was rewarded with a Sun Bowl contest on January 1st. They lost to Texas Western by a 37-14 score but McElroy and Pepper were named as First Team Little All Americans, freshman tackle Don Owens was fearsome, and end Jackson Brumfield later spent 1954 with the Forty Niners.


The 1954 season started with a 7-2 defeat of Alabama but this was not the strong Bama team of ’53 that had provided Southern with a national boost, but rather a pedestrian 4-5-2 squad. By the third game of the year MSC was decimated by injury and limped through with a disappointing 6-4 mark despite the excellent line presence of First Team Little All Americas guard Hamp Cook and tackle Jim “Coon Dog” Davis, and Honorable Mention P.W. “Bear” Underwood. Cook, who was only 5’11” and 188 pounds, became a respected high school coach who later served as line coach under both Pie Vann and Underwood at Southern Miss and was a long time scout for the New Orleans Saints, and his son Chuck followed him, playing at USM in the late ‘70’s and then becoming an NFL personnel director. Owens, also injured, was still named to the All American Sophomore Team. Despite the absence of SEC opponents in ’55, Southern’s sterling 9-1 record kept them in the national consciousness among small college powers. Other than a 10-0 loss to Chattanooga, quarterbacks Doug Barfield and Captain George Herring, who had also starred at Jones County (MS) JC, 166 pound halfback Fred Smallwood, fullback Lawrence Meeks, and leading rusher Eddie Cardenas led a consistently potent offense that scored thirty-plus points five times, while the defense was an “as usual” Coach Vann rock solid unit, posting five shutouts. Underwood and Owens, who was named to some All American teams, again led the charge up front. Herring was drafted by the Forty Niners but opted for the Canadian Football League, returning to play quarterback and punter for the Denver Broncos in 1960 and ’61. Despite fielding one of their best teams ever, there was no bowl bid. Prior to the start of the 1956 season, the State Legislature approved bonds that would allow for the expansion of MSC’s Faulkner Field home stadium as the Southerners pushed for games against Ole Miss and Mississippi State. In a move to bring this to fruition, Mississippi Southern adopted the SEC’s eligibility criteria.


The entire starting backfield returned for the 1956 season with quarterback and captain Barfield in the lead. He took the squad to a 7-1-1 record and would later become the head coach at Auburn and a successful business executive. With determined receiving from Bob Yencho, and terrific line play from Underwood and Owens, the 13-all tie with Alabama and 20-19 loss to Florida State were the only missteps. A 20-13 loss to West Texas State in the Tangerine Bowl took little from a fine season and Owens’ All American play served to bring more attention to the small college. Coming to MSC from St. Louis after a Korean tour of duty with the Marine Corps that earned him a Purple Heart, Owens developed into a huge-for-the-day 6’6”, 248 pound speedy tackle who opened holes on offense and gleefully closed them when on defense. He was the Outstanding Lineman in the Senior Bowl and a third round draft choice of the Steelers and played his seven year pro career primarily with his hometown Cardinals. Underwood, another military veteran prior to his enrollment at MSC, also completed his eligibility, played for two seasons in the CFL, and would return as head coach in 1969. Believing that a team could not lose if it did not give up points, Coach Vann’s 1957 Southerners lived by that credo and pitched seven shutouts, giving up only sixty-two points for the entire season despite two poor games against larger programs Houston and Alabama. Bama transfer quarterback Ollie Yates led a good offensive unit that got a lot of mileage out of fullback Bo Dickinson despite the three fractured vertebrae he suffered against Memphis State. He plied his trade with DallasDenverHouston, and Oakland of the AFL between 1960 and ’64. The 8-2 squad again went into the Tangerine Bowl, this time against East Texas State but again lost as they had in ’56, in a 10-9 heartbreaker. Center and middle linebacker Richard Johnston and two-way end Yencho were standouts who would play even better in ’58.




Five shutout victories, fifty-five points allowed for the season, a 109 point offensive stampede in the final four games, an average of 257.5 rushing yards per game, and an epic fourth quarter, four downs goal line stand that saved the win against Chattanooga allowed what had been a regional small college power to finally gain recognition as the best College Division team in the entire nation. They assumed the UPI number one position after the season’s second game in what was the very first College Division poll presented. They put a powerful hold on it with decisive victories against Virginia Tech and the ACC’s North Carolina State and what was a strong finish to the year. Center and middle linebacker Richard Johnston led the goal line stand in the season finale’s 20-13 rebuff of Chattanooga, described by Coach Vann “as one of the best examples of desire that I have ever seen.” However this was no one-player show with All American end Bob Yencho, soph end Hugh McGinnis, leading rusher fullback Buddy Supple and quarterback/safety George Sekul stepping up throughout the year. The 9-0 finish had State legislators and fans throughout Mississippi clamoring for a Sugar Bowl showdown against undefeated and untied SEC and National Champion LSU but the hosts did not want a “small school” in this bowl classic. Shut out of the Sun and Tangerine Bowls, the National Champions and their sixteen seniors had to be content with local honorary dinners and events but most importantly, this thrust MSC into the national spotlight.

If interested in any of these Southern Mississippi helmets please click on the photos below.