1969 Catamounts
(Authentic Reproduction)


Two previous HELMET HUT features about the University Of Vermont football program were very well received, but it was surprising that so few of our readers were aware that Vermont had fielded a football team at one time. It may be rather obvious that a minimal number of National Football League players came from their program and of the six who did, only one played in the AAFC with the five others, products of the 1920s, yet they often had good teams and as noted in our two other articles, [ see HELMET HUT

many of their best players were part of Head Coach Bob Clifford’s teams of the mid to late-1960s. As a member of the Yankee Conference, Vermont earned respect in the Northeast region. The conference recruited locally and usually had players a step too slow or a few inches too short for Boston College, Penn State, and Syracuse, but as a “small college” conference, it was often among the best and routinely had players that gained national recognition. Vermont may have been jammed in the middle of the pack at the conclusion of most seasons, but they were just as often solid and under Clifford, played hard. A former Williams College assistant and Colby College head coach, Clifford knew that he always had to make the most of his material.

Captained by offensive tackle David Lucaroni who completed his UVM career as a two-time All Conference honoree, the return of twenty-five lettermen and an influx of talent from an undefeated 4-0 freshman squad of the ’67 season made hopes run high for 1968. With that air of expectation came an alteration of their existing helmet design. The squad had worn a white shell with dark green flanking stripes and dark green “walking Catamount” decals on each side. The helmet was dressed up a bit with a change in the decal that now featured the same Catamount design placed upon an underlying Green Bay gold “V” that was outlined in dark green.

Bob Mitchell runs against the University Of Maine in 1967. Coach Clifford updated the helmet for the 1968 season.

As the season began, Coach Clifford and his staff expected a lot more than the 3-6 record that eventually resulted from the 1968 season. There was certainly work to be done on offense with the graduation of Little All American halfback and school record setter Bob Mitchell as well as ends Keith Keiderling and Jeff Kuhmann but the real problem arrived as the injury rate soared. The toll was heavy, at one point leaving but thirty-eight players able to suit up and represent the University at game time. However, the defense looked big and loaded, especially with Ron Tice, tackle Paul Ardell, linebacker John Wojciechowski, and defensive end Harry Canning, who had come to Vermont as a highly touted running back from Plattsburgh, N.Y. St. John’s Academy.

Francis Peterson, a fine athlete who had been a starting defensive back and punt returner as a sophomore in ’67, was shifted to quarterback. After failing to generate significant offense in the first seven games of the season and limited by injuries to four running backs, former UVM star Mitchell, serving as the frosh team assistant coach after being cut in the Denver Broncos camp, pushed to move Canning to the running back position. Clifford took action and moved Canning, perhaps his best defensive player, to halfback in the UVM Triple Option offense against Williams College and gave him the football.

Playing both ways, Canning gained a school record 292 yards on thirty-three carries and another 171 against C.W. Post in the season finale, thus his 463 yards and 7.5 yards per carry average led the squad. Gerald Elliot filled the defensive end spot superlatively and was named to the All New England team as a sophomore. If nothing else, the team had adapted its material and expectations were elevated for 1969.

1969 brought excitement based upon the manner in which the ’68 season finished, and the 100 Year of College Football Anniversary sticker was affixed to the rear of all of the Vermont helmets that carried forth the design alterations of 1968. 

Still in gear with the Triple Option, it was expected that “Lighthorse” Harry Canning who had single-handedly given the Catamounts a rushing attack at the end of the ’68 campaign, would continue his assault on the UVM record book. However fall camp uncovered another rushing gold nugget in sophomore Bob Rodger and the versatile Canning who had also been such an outstanding defensive end, was moved to fullback. Francis Peterson, again at the controls, and operating behind big 6’6”, 275 pound tackle Bob Lynch, added another dimension to the offense, passing for 1108 yards and nine touchdowns, and was exceptional as a leader. He personally set eleven of the twenty-one new UVM offensive marks that the team recorded and was named to the All Yankee Conference, All New England, and All East Coast teams. On the other end of a new school, conference, and New England record fifty-one receptions for 573 yards and seven touchdown catches was former kick and punt return specialist Gene Monahan who excelled at the end position. The offense was potent but it was Rodger who truly stood out, with a new school rushing record of 1158 yards and eleven rushing touchdowns. Despite numerous individual accolades that included ECAC Division II Sophomore Of The Year recognition for Rodger, the won-lost record was a repeat of the 3-6 of ’68.

The defense, again anchored by Second Team All New England defensive end Gerald Elliott who put his wrestling skills to good use, was generally stout enough to win more games but had some critical breakdowns, especially against UMass. Linebacker Kevin Lynch and defensive guard Larry Kull also stood out, with the latter twice winning ECAC Division awards as Lineman Of The Week. Despite having given Vermont some of their best seasons in the mid-1960s, the disappointment of ’68 and 1969 left Clifford out and paved the way for new head coach and former CFL Montreal Alouettes Offensive Coordinator Joe Scanella. Clifford however, could be proud of his body of work and the type of individuals he helped to develop. Quarterback Peterson completed his career as a Dean’s List student in Biology and attained a PhD in nutritional biochemistry from Cornell. Ron Tice became a successful attorney who eventually settled in the Toledo, Ohio area while Canning, who had such a marvelous season in ’68, became a highly respected high school Computer Science teacher and football coach in his native upstate New York. Monahan too taught and coached for years in New Jersey. Elliott completed his career in 1970 on Scanella’s first squad. Despite a winless senior year in which he served as team captain, he completed his stay at UVM as an All ECAC player who was not only All Yankee Conference but the Defensive MVP. He was also Vermont’s best wrestler and took his skills and awards first to the Hartford Knights of the Atlantic Coast Football League where he was a league All Star after going through the New England Patriots camp, and completed his football sojourn with the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL for the 1972 season. A cum laude student, Elliott earned a Masters Degree in Political Science and like a number of his teammates, became a respected high school instructor and coach.

While the demise of the Vermont football program following the 1974 season has left a void, the obvious quality of the student-athletes that were drawn to both attend school and represent the beautiful university in collegiate athletics resonated for years. The club level team that now represents the Catamounts is a true reflection of the dedicated student-athlete and is a reminder that the re-establishment of football as a varsity sport would certainly enhance the fall season in the magnificent Vermont setting.