The official papers say the new football structure at Abilene Christian University was designed by HKS Inc. and built by Hoar Construction. But ink doesn’t tell the whole story.
One look at the brand spanking new Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium, which Saturday night becomes ACU’s first on-campus gridiron digs since FDR, and you’ll see the magnificent confluence of brick and mortar. What you can’t see are the layers of legends who laid down their lives – some almost literally – to provide the stadium’s foundation.
When the university began its transition from Division II to Division I in 2013, we asked the man most integrally connected to the football program – former player, head coach and athletics director Wally Bullington (’53) – to voice a pigskin paean that would kick off every broadcast of Wildcat games on radio. We called it This is ACU Football.
With so many ACU fans coming to campus for the first true home game in more than half a century and so many new friends and folks peeking in on Wildcat football for the first time, let’s break down coach Bullington line by line.
Hello, my name is Wally Bullington. And I want to tell you what ACU football is.
This needs no explanation.
It’s two-a-day practices in three-digit heat.
Neither – as you know if you’ve ever been to Abilene in August – does this.
It’s poodle skirts, pep rallies and perfect seasons.
You could’ve found all three in 1950 when head coach Garvin Beauchamp led the Wildcats to an 11-0 record, a Texas Conference title and a victory in the Refrigerator Bowl in Evansville, Indiana. While the poodle skirts have yet to make a comeback, the unbeaten regular season did in 2008 (10-0) and 2010 (11-0).
It’s the school song and three cheers for the Purple and White.
Our alma mater true.
It’s a long line of great coaches from A.B. to C.T., Tonto and Beach. And Dewitt to D-1.
The initials refer to A.B. Morris, the winningest head coach in school history, as well as a former head basketball coach and the first athletics director the university ever had; and Chris Thomsen, who, with his brother-in-law and later head coach Ken Collums, revived ACU football when they arrived in 2005, leading the Wildcats to their first conference title in 30 years, sending multiple players to the NFL and for all intents and purposes creating the momentum that turbocharged talk of an on-campus stadium into action. Tonto Coleman (’28) was an assistant to A.B. Morris before becoming head coach in 1942. He left ACU to become an assistant at the University of Florida, then Georgia Tech before rising to commissioner of the Southeastern Conference. Garvin “Beach” Beauchamp (’41) succeeded Coleman at ACU. He not only produced that perfect season of 1950 but also – along with his wife, Judy (Jones ’41) – a daughter, Priscilla (’66), who married Dewitt Jones (’65), the last in that long line who led the Wildcats to a national championship in 1977.
It’s Lone Stars like Vitamin T and Tiny. Sitton and Smitty.
V.T. “Vitamin T” Smith Jr. was one of ACU’s first superstars. He went on to NFL stardom with the Los Angeles Rams, leading the league in punt returns in 1949 and kickoff returns the following year. “Tiny” is defensive lineman E.J. Moore (’55), though at 272 pounds the reverse was never technically true. Ted Sitton (’54) was the quarterback of the 1950 team and later became the mastermind of Bullington’s innovative passing offense and eventually head coach. “Smitty” is forever Don Smith (’53), a teammate of Sitton’s and Bullington’s, an all-conference defensive back and an all-world recruiter who helped stock the national championship teams of the 1970s with the likes of …
Lindsey, Longley, Lamberti.
Three great gunslingers, one each from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Golden boy Jim Lindsey (’71) was the Southland Conference’s first prolific passer – nearly 50 years later, he remains in the league’s top 10 for career completions and passing yards – and when he graduated, he was the leading passer in all of college football. Clint Longley (’74) led the Wildcats to the 1973 NAIA national title before going on to play for the Dallas Cowboys. Rex Lamberti (’88), who played from 1984-86 then came back for a victory lap in 1993 under head coach Dr. Bob Strader (’76), is still in the top four of every significant career passing stat at ACU.
Wilbert and Cleotha.
The brothers Montgomery. Wilbert (’77) became college football’s career touchdown leader in 1976 before a successful career with the Philadelphia Eagles. Little brother Cle (’78) followed Wilbert to Abilene, then the NFL, winning championships at both levels – the NAIA title at ACU in 1977 and the Super Bowl with the then-Los Angeles Raiders in 1984.
Wolfie and Charc.
Jerry “Wolfie” Wilson (’71) was a player whose career as a beloved assistant coach spanned four decades. Charcandrick West (’16) scored 35 touchdowns in four years at ACU and is still hitting paydirt as a running back for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Danieal and Jerale.
This dynamic duo teamed up to terrorize Lone Star Conference opponents in the mid-2000s. Danieal Manning (’07) played offense, defense and special teams, twice earning all-America honors, and in 2006 was a second round draft pick of the Chicago Bears, who reached the Super Bowl in his rookie season. Tough-as-nails wideout Jerale Badon (’08) is still ACU’s all-time leader in career catches with 235.
Billy and Bernard.
Billy Malone (’10) sounds like he’s straight out of the Wild West but actually came from East Texas to throw 114 touchdowns, still the most by any ACU quarterback. When he wasn’t dropping back to pass, Malone was handing the ball off to Bernard Scott (’10), the Wildcats’ all-time leading rusher. In his two seasons at ACU, Scott ran for more than 4,300 yards and scored 73 touchdowns. In 2008, he won the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s best player.
Mitch, T.G. and Clyde. And Whiteside from the blindside.
ACU has had one 11-0 regular season in school history. That was 2010, and these four are largely responsible. Mitchell Gale (’13) threw a school-record 38 touchdowns that year against just three interceptions and is ACU’s all-time leader in passing yards. Clyde Gates (’10) never played high school football but became an All-America wide receiver and fourth-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins. Before he helped lead the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl appearance in February of this year, Taylor Gabriel (’15) had four electric seasons as a receiver and punt returner at ACU, finishing his career second in receptions, yards and touchdown catches. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, Aston Whiteside (’12) made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks, registering the the Wildcats’ third-most career sacks (31.5) – often while being double- or triple-teamed.
It’s a couple of Chips, two Johnnys, and a pair of Daryls.
Both Chips went all-in to lead Wildcat defenses. Linebacker Chip Bennett (’70) has the top two total tackle seasons in ACU history (184 in 1968, 161 in 1969). Chip Martin (’75) anchored the defensive line on the 1973 national title team.
The Johnnys were two of the greatest receivers the Wildcats have ever had. Perkins (’76) racked up better than 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns in 1975-76 and went on to play seven seasons for the New York Giants. Knox (’12) starred for the 2007 and 2008 ACU teams that led the nation in scoring, then became a Pro Bowl kick returner for the Chicago Bears.
We had to pare the pair of Daryls down from two spellings to one. Daryl Richardson (’15) followed in big brother Bernard Scott’s footsteps in more ways than one, finishing a three-year career at ACU at No. 3 in total touchdowns with 38. Darrell Cantu-Harkless (’14) is the only player in Wildcat history to gain more than 1,000 yards rushing, receiving and returning kicks.
It’s Ove Johansson from the other side of the 50 and a 69-yard world-record field goal.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: soccer player from Sweden follows his sweetheart to West Texas and makes history in a sport he’d never heard of. Forty one years later, No. 41’s world record still stands.
It’s 93 to 68.
Nov. 22, 2008. A month after rolling over archrival West Texas A&M, 52-35, ACU had 15 possessions and scored 13 touchdowns in a playoff blowout that blew out the NCAA record books and saw the Wildcats out-score their men’s basketball team, which totaled 90 in a double overtime game the same day.
It’s playoff runs and national titles. It’s little kids and Big Purple. It’s Go Deep and P4X.
It was a little kid in the midst of a playoff run that inspired an entire community and an acronym. In November 2010, ACU was 11-0 and preparing for a second round playoff game when Rex Fleming, the 10-year-old son of sports information director Lance Fleming (’92), was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. For the next two years, the ACU family surrounded the Flemings with the rallying cry of P4X – Pray 4 Rex. As Rex’s cancer spread and his prognosis worsened in November 2012, then-head coach Ken Collums brought him onto the field before a game for the coin toss and let him call the first play. Rex kept it simple: go deep. He passed later that month, but his spirit still drives the the P4X (Play 4 Rex) Foundation created by Lance and his wife, Jill, to honor their son’s memory.
It’s Fair Park, Shotwell and comin’ home to Wildcat Stadium.
The last three places the Wildcats have called home since leaving the last on-campus stadium in the 1940s: Fair Park from 1946-58, Shotwell Stadium from 1959-2016 and now Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium beginning Saturday.
It’s old friends and a new era.
In the early 1960s, ACU co-founded the Southland Conference and remained for 10 years before leaving for the Lone Star Conference of the NAIA, an association of smaller schools. In 1982, the entire LSC moved up to the NCAA’s Division II. Fittingly, the Wildcats’ transition back to Division I in 2013 took them back to the Southland during the league’s 50th anniversary.
It’s arriving as a boy and learning what it means to be a man.
Though the track record isn’t perfect, this has always been – from its first season in 1919 – the program’s purpose. And the rosters of Wildcats down through the ages bear witness.
I’m Wally Bullington. And this is ACU Football.
Saturday night, on a brand-new field, a familiar voice will call roll up in the home radio booth’s yonder. I’ll be there. Hope you will, too.