On a show that included great memories of great times in Razorback football history, the Sports Brew Show covered a mix of topics that included the ever-changing high school and college sports landscape that is a reflection of the post-COVID sports world. On the day of this show, the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) issued a statement that it was moving forward with plans to play fall high school sports as scheduled, pending further guidance and direction from the governor’s office and the Arkansas Department of Health. And today, the Ivy League became the first Division 1 athletic conference to make a decision on the fate of fall sports. In a decision announced today, the Ivy League suspended all sports operations until January 2021 when it will review and consider the resumption of sports in the spring of 2021. Inclusive of those sports, is Ivy League football that is being considered for play in the spring.
It remains to be seen if the “Power Five” conferences, such as the Southeastern Conference, will follow suit. According to who you read, no league commissioner wanted to be the first to announce such a move as the Ivy did today. Now that the Ivy League has made the first move, fans and media are anxiously awaiting to see if other FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) schools and / or conferences will make a similar move. According to Brett McMurphy in the tweet above, he believes, for example, that Ivy League schools are less-dependent financially on sports, especially football, than their other Division 1 conferences counterparts and may not make the same move as the Ivy League did today.
So in this time of uncertainty in both Arkansas high school sports, and collegiate sports both in Arkansas and across the nation, yesterday’s sports brew show entertained it’s record number of listeners to three former Razorback football greats, as well as a special appearance by former Charleston basketball great and Parade High School All-American, John Stewart.
Show hosts Tim Johns, Marvin Wiggins, and myself kicked off the day with the news release from the AAA. Paris head football coach Tyler Clark stopped by to give his reaction to the news. As has been the theme all summer, the Eagles coach was “cautiously optimistic” but was very much taking a “wait and see” approach to the AAA’s announcement. A lot of things still have to happen, such as the governor’s reinstatement of contact sports, for the fall seasons to resume. Coach Clark commented, “The AAA sent something out saying that right now we are planning on playing in the fall, but as with everything, so many things can change.”
So, to the music of the Arkansas fight song and to recorded hog calls, the show moved on to its first Razorback guest, Brad Taylor.
Brad Taylor played his high school football at Danville High School. He was named to the state’s super team his senior year, being the very first small school player to be named to that prestigious team. Taylor played for Razorbacks head coaches Lou Holtz and Ken Hatfield.
Sitting next to fellow teammate and offensive lineman Ronnie Trusty, Taylor mentioned several times that Ronnie and other members of the Razorbacks’ offensive line made it possible for him to have the career he enjoyed at Arkansas.
Both Trusty and Taylor played their high school football in the River Valley schools of Paris and Danville, respectively. The “trip” to becoming a Hog was a great tribute to both players who later went on and had a significant impact on the Division 1 college football level. Trusty described his journey from Paris to the University of Arkansas. Trusty, having been recruited by Notre Dame and the University of Southern California, recalled, “I can remember meeting Coach Holtz. Being at a small school, I needed to stand out and show them something. He told me I had “quick feet”. He said you are 6’5″ and have quick feet, so we will take a chance on you. And I can remember actually asking Coach Turner, who was our offensive line coach at the time, about what attracted you to Brad? He said, “He is not the kind of quarterback that has to read (read defenses and pass coverages). He can raise his head up and see the whole field.”
Taylor and Trusty were teammates for the 1981 season. Taylor said, “I was just glad that I had Ron on my offensive line when I was at Arkansas. I knew I could turn my back (to the defensive rush) and not have to worry about someone hitting me in the back of the head with Ron taking care of me.”
Neither Trusty or Taylor wavered on their commitments to Arkansas during their recruitment. Both Arkansas high school football players dreamed and wanted to play for the Razorbacks.
Former Razorbacks offensive lineman, Grant Freeman, played for the Razorbacks under coach Bobby Petrino. Freeman, another product of Paris High School, was recruited by former head coach Houston Nutt as a tight end. And then, in just a matter of days, Freeman was asked to move to offensive tackle and the Razorbacks made a coaching change to Bobby Petrino. Freeman had the opportunity to follow Coach Nutt to Ole Miss where the former Arkansas coach had been named as the new Ole Miss coach. But Freeman wanted to play at Arkansas and thus began his development and transformation into a SEC offensive lineman that would later play against some of the top NFL draft talented players from opposing SEC schools.
Freeman developed his 6’7 frame into a muscular 305 lb lineman for the Hogs. Due to an in-game injury to one of the Hogs’ offensive linemen his red shirt freshman year, Freeman was forced into action against the Florida Gators’ defensive end Carlos Dunlap ,now a member of the Cincinnati Bengals. And speaking of the Bengals, Freeman was invited to Cincinnati’s NFL training camp and was eventually one of the last players cut at the end of training camp. Quite an accomplishment for a small school player who went to Arkansas and worked hard to develop his body and playing skills into a starting SEC lineman. “I was sitting about 270 lbs, which was pretty light for an offensive lineman. I was still on this program (strength training) and was working my way up, and the day before, I felt that there was no way I was going to play in this game because it was the Gators, and they (the Arkansas strength coaches) put me through a torture workout (as part of his developmental training); it actually turned my legs into “jello”.” But as fate would have it, “jello” legs and all, Grant Freeman was forced to play against a Florida team that entered the game ranked number one in the nation that day. Quite a story for the former Paris Eagle.
It was an exciting afternoon visiting with the former Razorbacks yesterday. As a student trainer at the University of Arkansas from 1977-81, I had the privilege of watching Ronnie Trusty and later, Brad Taylor who was a freshman in 1981. In every program, there are talented players, and some of those players know it. They may not be the easiest to work with. But both Ronnie and Brad, along with others during that time, such as All-American Razorbacks kicker Steve Cox (from another River Valley school in Charleston) are among those players who were classy individuals then and remain so today. They were not only great athletes, but great men, and it was my honor to get to work with them many years ago, and yesterday, it was my pleasure to visit with them on the show. The fans of the River Valley high schools that they represent can be very proud of their contributions to their communities and the University of Arkansas.
For an encore, the Sports Brew Show was privileged to have a special guest from Charleston High School; former basketball player John Stewart.
Stewart was named by Parade Magazine in 1976 as a “Parade High School All-American”. To put this in perspective, the Parade list was one of, if not the highest honor a high school basketball player could receive. The list of players named to the teams are a list of “Who’s Who” among high school basketball across the nation. Stewart’s 1976 class of Parade All-Americans included such players as Darrell Griffith who was an All-American at the University of Louisville, James Wilkes and Kiki Vandeweigh who starred at UCLA, and Albert King who later played at the University of Maryland and was the 10th overall pick by the New Jersey Nets in the 1981 NBA draft.
Stewart was recruited by many college basketball programs, but chose the University of Arkansas and new first year head coach, Eddie Sutton. Earlier in his high school career, then Arkansas basketball coach, Lanny Van Eman, entered Charleston’s locker room after a win and asked Stewart if he was going to play that well after he gets to Arkansas. Coach Van Eman was replaced by Eddie Sutton who was moving from Creighton University where he had success as the Blue Jays’ coach. Stewart recalled how nice and encouraging Coach Sutton was and the impression it made on him. “About half way through my senior year of high school, I called Coach Sutton and he was in touch with me pretty regularly, as well as the assistant coaches. Coach Sutton came to a few of my games. But along that line, I went through a period of time where I was very displeased with myself. I was making some bad choices.”
Stewart gave a testimony that was a story of “rocky times” that he experienced after leaving high school. “There for a while, I went through a rough time. Things just weren’t going the way that I thought they should, and I was made to think that way from being pretty good at a sport and and you tend to lose sight of what is really important in life. I got to the point that I was putting myself above everything else. God gave me the ability to play the game, and it was selfish of me to think that I could play ball and just go through life because I was at that point where I really didn’t have to do anything. Things were given to me, didn’t really go to class.”
Stewart’s testimony was something every young person, and especially every young aspiring athlete should hear. It was a very honest and revealing account of Stewart, the man, who had achieved great notoriety in high school sports, but did not have his life in proper perspective. It is also a story of a man who overcame his own displeasure of the person he had become, to go on and play college basketball, but more importantly, hand his problems over to God and set out himself on a path to living the life that God wants all of us to follow. It was a great testimony, and I hope many young people were listening.
Stewart never played a minute for the Razorbacks. He instead transferred and played under the great Westark College basketball coach, Gayle Kaundart. Kaundart coached several players who went on to play both college and professional basketball in the NBA such as Ron Brewer and Darrell Walker,two Razorback greats. “It was right after the All-Star game and I talked to some other players, and I knew what Coach Sutton was building at Arkansas, but I didn’t like the idea of going to Arkansas and having to sit. Again, that was selfish on my part. So, I got it in my mind that I wanted to go somewhere where I could play. When I made the decision to go to Westark, that’s when it started to kick in about the realization that I was making bad choices. Coach Kaundart was one of the best experiences that I have had. It was Coach Kaundart that told me I had too much ability (when Stewart contemplated giving up basketball) and needed to play somewhere.” That somewhere became Arkansas Tech University where Stewart finished his playing career.
So, on that great, emotional testimony, the Sports Brew Show concluded its July 7 show with a record number of listeners. Next week’s show (July 14) will feature members of the Paris High School Class of 2020 that will walk in their high school graduation ceremony later that week on Saturday, July 18.
And as I have said before, and I will say it again, if you have not listened to this show, you need to! The Sports Brew Show is streamed live on the internet every Tuesday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Just click on thesportsbrew.net at 4 p.m. on Tuesdays to catch the latest on Paris and River Valley high school sports!
And as always, Resident Press will be there to give our readers a recap of each week’s show…see you next Tuesday from the Grapevine Restaurant in Paris!