Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Arnold Heflin is an Auburn graduate and the author of the book Mockingbird’s Song: Hettie Keller's 10 Maxims for Peace and Happiness.
Imagine a high school football team of 29 boys winning the Alabama Class 2A state championship three years in a row in the late fifties and not losing a game. I asked, David Hill, former tackle for Auburn University, how did you guys do it?
“Arnold, when I started to kindergarten in Lanett we entered at one end of the school building, and when I finished the 12th graders were at the other end of the building. There were 40 teen-agers in my graduating class, and you couldn’t get any closer than we were.”
Hill, a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and also an inductee into the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame, says, “We started playing football when we were nine-years old. One of the most important parts of the game is teamwork. The biggest factor in our success was the fact that we had played together all those years and we had the greatest coach I ever played for.”
Dave, you played for Coach Shug Jordan and then for Coach Hank Stram for 12 years. Stram is recognized as one of the best football minds in the history of the game. You’re telling me that your high school coach was better?
“Not just better. A lot better.”
I was shocked. Who was your coach in high school?
“Coach Mal Morgan. We had four guys from those Lanett teams that played pro ball: Richard Wood, Bobby Hunt, Jimmy Jones and me. And we had a great player, Mailon Kent, who quarterbacked Auburn to a victory over Alabama in 1963. Never met anyone who knew football like Coach Morgan.”
What made him so good?
“He was innovative. In the fifties, all the high school teams ran either the T formation or the single wing. Coach Morgan designed plays our opponents had never seen. He’d take the backs out of the backfield and send five guys out for passes.”
Dave lives in Panama City, and I smiled when he told me this over the telephone because I thought, “Gus Malzahn 60 years ago.” Before I interviewed Hill again, I decided to google Mal Morgan and learn more about a high school coach who was a lot better football coach than Hank Stram.
The 6-2, 200-pound Morgan lettered in football, baseball and basketball in 1937, 1938 and 1939 at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn). He was named All-SEC in football and baseball and was one of the top scorers in basketball in 1939. He played in the 1938 Orange Bowl and the 1939 Blue-Gray Game.
His real heroics were on the battlefields of Europe. He was a field artillery captain in World War II. He was a recipient of five campaign battle stars for distinguished service. He received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart during action in the Battle of the Bulge. He graduated with a BS degree in textile engineering in 1939. In 1957 he earned his masters degree. Not many people received their masters degree in their mid-fifties. He returned to Lanett High in 1947 and was the athletic director, head coach and teacher until 1959.
The next time I spoke with Hill, I was better prepared to talk about Coach Morgan.
“Arnold, he was a genius, and he was the most fierce competitor I ever saw. He hated to lose. I mean he could not stand it. When we took the field, losing was out of the question. Right before I played my first game in high school, he sat down on the bench next to me and said, ‘Dave, if you do your job on every play and the other ten guys do the same thing there is no way we can lose.”
Dave Hill is shown in 2011, the year he was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
How big were you in high school, Dave?
“I was six-foot-five and weighed 220.”
That was a big guy in the fifties. What position did you play?
“Played right tackle from pee wee ball through 12 years of pro ball with the Chiefs.”
Who recruited you out of high school for Auburn?
“Shug and Hal Herring, but I was only 25 miles away, so they didn’t recruit me hard because they assumed I was a lock.”
Dave, what is the biggest transition--going from high school to college ball or going from college to pro ball?
“With all the interviews, over the years, I’ve never had anyone ask me that question. I tell you, Arnold, for me the largest transition was from high school to college. I guess you are more mature leaving college and going to the pros. I missed home when I arrived in Auburn.”
What kind of record did Auburn have, and who was the best player on your teams?
“My first year, in 1960, we went 8–2, and I think we finished around 13th in the AP poll. Ed Dyas led us that year. He set the college football record for most field goals in one season with 13. He was an All American and fourth in the Heisman voting. Don’t know that I have ever seen such a competitor. And tough. Boy, was he tough. He played hurt more than anybody I ever saw at Auburn.
“Ed was a smart guy and he hated to lose. Tore him up on the inside when we lost. He was as lot like Coach Morgan in that respect.
“In 1961, we lost to Georgia Tech and Mississippi State by one point, we lost to Kentucky by two points and we finished with a 6–4 record. In 1962, we won six, lost three and tied Florida State.
Dave, you were a draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1963 and like Ed Dyas you were an expert in playing hurt, you started 143 consecutive games for Kansas City. That is amazing. How did you do it?
“Playing banged-up is part of the game. It’s a mental thing, really. The more you do it, the easier it gets, and you have to be lucky, too.”
Dave Hill (73) is shown in the pre-game introduction of players prior to the first Super Bowl.
Tell me about playing in the first Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers. I remember watching the game on television and there were a lot of empty seats.
“Yeah, we played them in the Los Angeles Coliseum that holds about 95,000 people, but the game only drew 66,000. They were a better team than us, but we got our revenge in Super Bowl IV. We played the Minnesota Vikings in Tulane Stadium. They were favored by 13 and we beat them 23-7. It was not a fluke--we had the better team.”
Who was your toughest guy to block in the pros?
“Deacon Jones. As soon as the ball was snapped, he gave you a head slap with such force it knocked you off balance, and then he was in our backfield. His hands were so big and he was so strong--it felt like someone hitting your helmet with a frying pan.”
Dave, I have enjoyed our talk. I never knew about the championship teams of Lanett, and you introduced me to one of Auburn’s greatest heroes in Coach Mal Morgan. Thank you, and War Eagle.
More from Arnold Heflin:
Like Father, Like Son
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