Bear Bryant had the Junction Boys.
In 1954, Bryant took his first football team at Texas A&M down to the middle of nowhere, Junction Texas. In the hot Texas sun, the Bear put the would-be Aggies through all sorts of rigorous drills. A number of players quit or snuck out of town under the cover of darkness.
Before I ever heard of the Junction Boys, I experienced a similar fate in the summer of 1968. The hallowed practice field at Central High was the place. The coaches were Bobby Modrall and Gayle Blair. One hundred and twenty of us came out for freshman football that hot August.
These were the most physically taxing practices I ever experienced in my life. We had heard how tough freshman football was at Central; now we were believers.
I had never met coaches like Mr. Modrall and Mr. Blair. Their favorite phrase was “To the fence and back.” Whenever anybody walked or messed up in a drill, we were reminded, “you are a team; if anyone fouls up, you all foul up. To the fence and back.”
With every run to the fence, more people headed to the field house. Drills like bull in the ring, fire drill, monkey rolls and form tackling began and more freshman quit. One guy said, “Coach, I quit.” He proceeded to head straight across the field to the locker room, after all, it was the shortest distance between two points.
“Son, you give me a lap and then you can quit, but don’t cut across that football field.” The player respected the coach’s wish, ran the lap, ran another half of lap, and hit the showers. I went home that day exhausted and searching deep within me, “To quit or not to quit; that was the question.”
I wrestled with the question for a couple of weeks. This was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. All the cliches Coaches Modrall and Blair preached to us were running through my mind: “quitters never win, and winners never quit.” “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
I held on by the skin of my teeth. Finally, we began to scrimmage. An offense and defense were put in place. The season began with our squad of 21. Games were like a day off. We were the toughest, most disciplined, best conditioned unit imaginable.
Coaching mind games continued. We were told, “you are not good enough to represent Central High School. Until you earn that right, you are the boys from Cedar Snag.”
We lost two close games during the season to Gallatin Junior High and Greenwood Junior High of Clarksville.
A few more quit and a few had injuries. By the end of the year, Cedar Snag had 18 players. David Parsons, our quarterback, broke his collarbone late in the year. Whit Henderson took over as our signalcaller. Whit would become a varsity tackle at Central.
We learned a mental and physical toughness that freshman year that has served us well the rest of our lives.
The Cedar Snag fraternity of young men in the 1960s and early 70s survived freshman football and graduated to become Central High School Tigers. We helped develop a tradition of toughness.
The undefeated 1970 state championship team set the banner high. Murfreesboro schools like Riverdale, Oakland, Blackman and Siegal keep the rugged toughness, hard work, physical style of play alive.
“Life is real, life is earnest” wrote the poet Longfellow. Our culture is soft compared to those who survived the Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam and recent conflicts.
Since I had none of those experiences, I am grateful that freshman football tested my mettle over 50 years ago. I’m proud to shout with all my band of brothers who survived freshman football boot camp through the years: “We are the men from Cedar Snag!”
Joe Dill Rushing lives in Springfield. He has served as a minister for the Main Street Church of Christ for the last 28 years. He is also a chaplain with Comfort Care Hospice.