This past fall, if things were normal, ETBU would have celebrated a rarity in the history of ETBU sports—the centennial of ETBU’s forerunner, the College of Marshall’s, 1920 mythical national football championship.
Research first released in 2008 by three rating services; including SEK Sports Research, Harry C. Frye, and the Wood System, by evaluating all two-year colleges in the United States listed College of Marshall as their 1920 football National Champion. Marshall was the first team named in all three of the agencies’ lists of junior college champions, which ironically began with the 1920 season. Marshall finished with the best record of 6-0.
Football began at the College of Marshall (COM) in 1917, the year the college opened its doors to students (the school was chartered in 1912). With many Texas high schools in those days going only through 11th grade, junior colleges often sponsored high school programs too.
With some younger boys playing for the college, the first COM teams also scheduled high school opponents, including Marshall High School. Understandably, the high school boys, who in some cases were 18 to 20 twenty years old, got the best of the college boys, who were often younger than their high school counterparts. COM that first season in 1917 failed to win a game.
The gridiron became an afterthought in 1918 as World War I raged in Europe through November of 1918, and the young men trained on campus with a student cavalry unit. By 1920, football returned with older men of college-age and World War I veterans making up the roster, coached by former Mercer College Herschel Forrester. The College of Marshall swept through its six-game football schedule not only unbeaten but held its opponents scoreless. Victims of the Marshall team included Centenary College and East Texas Normal (now Texas A&M University-Commerce) as the team racked up high scores on most opponents.
Football in 1920 had limited substitution rules, and players once leaving a game could not return during the half in which they left, even if temporarily injured. Uniforms were minimally padded, with malleable leather helmets, and “iron men” players often played hurt rather than leave a game. So, the squads were small. The 1920 team had 16 young men, only 12 of whom saw much action.
Outstanding players for COM included team Captain “Doc” Jones, a quarterback who won many games with his “cool-headed” end sweeps; Arthur Edmondson, a 165-pound halfback who could run 100 yards in 10 seconds on a dirt track, and “Kid” Forester, a line-busting 205-pound transfer fullback from Georgia, who had already played two seasons of college ball.
The COM boys ran behind “Big” Warren, a guard who had never played football before the season. Warren could reportedly slash through opposing players without being told what to do (The cocky line star had his picture taken with his helmet flaps turned up).
Most linemen were small, given their need to play on kickoffs and punt returns while playing both offense and defense. The Tiger defense was headed by 170-pound guard Mayes “Sallie” Osbourne, who according to the 1921 school yearbook could “stop the Hindenburg Line of 1915” (a reference to German defenses on the Western Front during the World War I).
Other players on the all victorious state and mythical national champion College of Marshall team included pass-catching end Elbert Nordling, starting halfback Frank Mason, backup quarter and halfback “Kink” Adams, starting tackles “Hoss” Bacchus and “Baby” Whitehurst, guards Tom Taylor and “Fritz” Pitchford, ends Ralph McAlister, Jess Dodd and “Pay Day” Fraley, and starting center Sid Cowles. Hal Griffin served as student manager.
College teams after the great 1920 season also played some pretty good football. The 1935 squad, led by head coach C. T. “Sue” Hamel and ETBU “hall of fame” brothers Dick and L. V. “Dugan” Hightower, the College of Marshall that fall won the North Texas Junior College Championship with an 8-0-2 record.
Football continued through 1940 before the Great Depression and World War II intervened and the sport was dropped until 1947 when East Texas Baptist College restored football following the conversion of the College of Marshall in 1944 to a four-year institution. Football was again canceled following the 1950 season and not restored until 2000 after a comprehensive study led the ETBU Board of Trustees in 1998 to approve starting an NCAA Division III program.
With football waning during this pandemic season, it is well to remember 100 years ago, when the college gridiron in Marshall was king.