Bounty of choices for inaugural class of Grambling honorees

If I were going to start a Grambling hall of legends, like most people, I’d begin at a fairly quick clip with the quartet of Eddie Robinson, Fred Hobdy, Collie J. Nicholson and Ralph Waldo Emerson “Prez” Jones — legends in the very deepest sense of the word.

Next, would come those already honored in the pro football and basketball halls of fame: Guys like Willie Brown, Junious “Buck” Buchanan, Willie “Thumper” Davis, Charlie Joiner and Willis Reed. The college football hall, too: Gary “Big Hands” Johnson, Doug Williams and Paul “Tank” Younger.

Who’s next? Well, that gets trickier. The Grambling Legends group aims to announce 20 into its inaugural class of honorees later this year. Conversations about who that might include are ongoing, held through a series of conference calls with a subcommittee for the newly formed nonprofit — which hopes to bolster the athletic programs at GSU as an independent fundraising arm.

Organizers started by limiting the remaining nomination pool for this group to those who participated at Grambling before 1970, and is asking for 11 names not already enshrined in national halls of fame.

That’s not as easy as it might sound. Here’s my list of football standouts — this morning, anyway. It could change by lunch:

Fred Collins
James “Shack” Harris
A. Lane Howell
Melvin “Jim” Lee
Ernie “Big Cat” Ladd,
pictured above
Frank Lewis
Ernest “Monster” Sterling

COLLINS: An underrated figure in the Grambling legend, Collins spent 21 seasons on the staffs of Eddie Robinson, crafting the program’s signature defense — featuring the fearsome “Trees of Terror.” He’s the football program’s version of the criminally underappreciated basketball legend Fred Hobdy, a guy who deserves far more acclaim than he ever got.

HARRIS: Harris passed for 4,128 yards and 43 touchdowns as Grambling went 24-5-1 between 1965-68, winning three straight SWAC titles. In his senior season alone, Harris passed for 1,972 yards and 21 touchdowns on only 225 attempts. He was first-team All-SWAC in 1967-68, and also earned SWAC Hall of Fame honors.

HOWELL: A two-way lineman for Eddie Robinson, was the first of three brothers to star for Eddie Robinson, beginning in 1960. Grambling won its first Southwestern Athletic Conference title with Lane up front, establishing a 23-5-2 mark between 1960-62.

LADD: At 6-9 and 315 pounds, Ladd arrived in the late 1950s as arguably the biggest GSU star ever. A first-team all-league defensive lineman in his final season at Grambling in 1960, he helped Grambling to its first-ever SWAC championship. Inducted into the GSU hall in 1989.

LEE: As quarterback of the offensive line at center on Grambling’s undefeated 1955 championship squad, Lee had an astonishing impact on generations of men at his alma mater. He would work for the next 40 seasons as a Robinson assistant, tinkering and perfecting Robinson’s fabled Wing-T offense.

LEWIS: A do-it-all player who led Grambling in receiving in 1969-70 and in rushing in 1969, as well. He scored 28 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons, averaging 18.65 yards per catch. Lewis was named first-team all-conference as a junior and senior, and was second team as a sophomore when Grambling won the SWAC in 1968.

STERLING: A lineman on multiple SWAC title teams, Sterling would then put in more than two decades as an assistant at Grambling. “He was like a rock and my foundation guy,” Eddie Robinson once said of Sterling — who was one of just two coaches who stayed on when Doug Williams took over.

Obviously, I placed a high value on guys who worked alongside Robinson. I think they had the most lasting influence over the generations of great players who followed.

I’d round out my group of 11 initial nominees with memorable basketball standouts Hershel West, Bob Hopkins and Charlie Hardnett.

Others also being mentioned by the nominating group: Jerry “Ghost” Robinson, a two-time first-team All-Southwestern Athletic Conference halfback from 1960-61 who led all Grambling rushers over those two seasons; Richard Harris, a 1970 All-SWAC selection then a first-round draft pick who played seven seasons in NFL; Edward “Bo” Murray, a critical piece of Grambling’s 1955 undefeated team; Matt Alexander, Leroy Carter, Howard Davis, Sam Holder, Bunny Hudson, Stone Johnson, Albany Jones, Richard Stebbins, Foster Thomas, Robert Williams and — a favorite for me, too — Mackie Freeze, who helped GSU to one of its first national titles in baseball before starting a pipeline of talent to the Grambling football program as a legendary prep coach at north Louisiana’s Richwood High.

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