Vigrinal Polytechnic University

1966 Hokies Richard Mollo
(Authentic Reproduction)


A charter member of the Southern Conference that was founded in 1921, Virginia Polytechnic University underwent significant growth and a number of name changes after its founding as an agricultural and mechanical college. Football was an integral part of the student body experience with most players recruited locally or from the surrounding southern states. Entering the 1960’s, most football playing schools located in rural areas like Virginia Tech, discovered that it would be difficult to maintain a high standard without recruiting out of their home state and immediate region, and they thus expanded their reach. When Bear Bryant’s former Alabama football teammate and Kentucky assistant Frank Moseley who had served as Virginia Tech’s head coach and athletic director from 1951 through the ’60 season decided to put his full efforts into his administrative job, it was Bryant who recommended his current defensive coach Jerry Claiborne for Tech’s top spot. A former Bryant coached player at Kentucky, Claiborne was a solid end and safety and became a brilliant coach and persuasive recruiter. He immediately understood the need to enlarge his recruiting area for the quick, disciplined, and hard-nosed athletes needed to run his Bama type of system. He established connections in New Jersey and New York and brought down players who proved to be successful as they bought into his demanding program. Among these was Richard “Bop” Mollo of Long Island’s Lawrence High School.

Fortunate to attend a high school with a tremendous winning tradition and one of the early strength training programs, Mollo played with a number of athletes that later made their own mark in collegiate football, including Purdue’s Sal Ciampi. Best friends and training partners, Mollo and Ciampi had the advantage of being the center of a lifting group that called the Mollo garage headquarters. Richard’s father, “Big John” Mollo was in fact, exceptionally big and strong, a former Lawrence football legend whose employment in the school district allowed him to keep an eye on many of the boys he believed had potential, and the opportunity to continuously encourage them. With Sal leading the way as the Thorpe Award winner, denoting the best player in the County, and the Lawrence championship team that was nationally ranked for 1961, Mollo would complete a successful junior year that attracted recruiting attention. Expanding the northern influence of Virginia Tech, Claiborne convinced the 5’9”, 190 pound Mollo to bring his intense approach to the game down to Blacksburg after he captained the ’62 Lawrence squad.



Short, strong, and quick, Richard quickly established himself and entered his 1964 sophomore season as a key member of the defensive line that played in Claiborne’s innovative Wide Tackle Six alignment. Depletion of the offensive front however necessitated his move to tackle and wearing number 75 he became a starter on what was forever referred to as “The Mighty Mites,” an offensive line that averaged just over 190 pounds per man. Taking a redshirt year in ’65, Mollo’s low-to-the-ground leverage and strength were again targeted for the defensive line where he spent most of spring ball but his blocking prowess was needed on attack. Once again a starter in ’66 at his customary right tackle spot, he switched to number 64 but his season was cut short by a knee injury suffered against Kentucky at the season’s mid-point. Missing the team’s Liberty Bowl game against Miami, he battled back via a concerted strength training and conditioning program to complete his collegiate career as a starter at right offensive tackle for the 7-3 1967 contingent.

Richard Mollo went on to become an exceptionally successful coach at his high school alma mater, with teams that very much mirrored those he played on at Virginia Tech. They were known for their high levels of strength and conditioning and he sent many of his students on to play college football. He remained a positive force in the community during incidents of racial tension and violence, and continues in his role as a mentor. He had the privilege of playing for Jerry Claiborne, whose success as a head coach at Tech, Maryland, and Kentucky, with an emphasis on churning out Academic All Conference and All Americans, earned him entry to the College Football Hall Of Fame. When Claiborne first arrived at Va Tech, the uniform had an appearance similar to the one he left behind at Alabama; a white shell that displayed a one-inch center stripe and identifying numerals on each side. The Hokies went to a maroon shell with white player numerals on each side and wore these during Mollo’s sophomore season.


When he returned to action in ’66, Richard and the squad were donned in maroon helmets with an attractive striping arrangement of a one-inch orange center stripe with three-quarters-of-an-inch white flanking stripes. A distinctive decal on each side that featured an orange “T” atop a white “V” that was outlined in orange remained a staple of the Virginia Tech helmet into the 1980’s and is still utilized as part of the modern day array of multiple helmet designs displayed by the Hokie team. The Tech squad was also one of the first to adopt the significant utilization of what were then, new and innovative Dungard face masks.

This helmet was worn with pride not only by Richard Mollo, but also by members of a terrific secondary that included legendary All American Frank Loria and Hillsville, Virginia former All State quarterback and captain Frank Mitchell Beamer. Beamer of course led the Hokie program to great heights as the head coach from 1987 through the 2015 season which marked his retirement. Coach Claiborne left Tech for a one year stint as coordinator at Colorado, and then turned around suffering programs as the head coach at Maryland and then Kentucky before retiring after the 1989 season.

His “VT” design however, has remained as an immediate reminder of Tech’s move out of the Southern Conference, to a much broader stage as an Independent that allowed them to take on a slate of typically tough opponents from numerous conferences. To this day, as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Virginia Tech remains an opponent, when exceptionally talented or when perhaps less than top-of-the-charts, that will deliver a full complement of physical play, similar to the week-to-week presentations of the Claiborne teams that Mollo was an integral part of.