East Central Community College will add two members to its Athletic Hall of Fame at the 2012 Homecoming celebration scheduled Saturday, Sept. 29 on the Decatur campus.
Former football standouts Tom McCullough (Class of 1958) of Philadelphia and Granville Freeman (Class of 1967) of Lake, who also experienced success as a high school football coach, will be enshrined into the prestigious group during the Alumni Association Awards Luncheon, which begins at 11 a.m. in Mabry Memorial Cafeteria.
Granville Freeman was a standout member of the 1965 and 1966 East Central Community College football teams.
The speedy halfback and defensive back garnered All-Star and honorable mention All-State honors after helping lead the Warriors to a combined 11-8-1 record under head coach Dan Chatwood.
The former Morton High School star caught the attention of several four-year colleges and universities to continue his athletic career after East Central but instead chose to concentrate on his academic studies and career.
And what a stellar “first” career he had at Lake High School, where the then 26-year-old head football coach not only led the 1974 Hornets to an undefeated season at 11-0, the talented squad was unscored upon and unchallenged while racking up 321 points – 32.1 points per game (the final win of the remarkable season was via forfeit).
Freeman and team members were recognized by the 2012 Mississippi Legislature prior to reunion activities held earlier this year “to celebrate and reminisce about the “un” team’s remarkable season.
When contacted about receiving the prestigious award, Freeman said he found himself at a loss for words, obviously an unusual situation for the Forest resident who recently observed more than 30 years as a State Farm Insurance agent.
“It’s overwhelming,” Freeman said of the honor. “The Athletic Hall of Fame is a very, very unique group…it’s like being awarded a blue ribbon; they don’t give but one. Words cannot describe the feeling.”
Freeman’s accomplishments on the football field began at Morton High School, where he provided many memorable moments for Panther fans.
His proudest moment probably came in the 1964 game with Brandon, when Freeman, at 5-10, 117 pounds, scored all of Morton’s points, which included a 99 ½ yard interception return. But Freeman did more than just return the pigskin for a score; he added a little “showboating” during the run.
“When I got to about midfield, I turned around and started running backwards toward the end zone while waving to the Brandon fans,” Freeman laughed while recalling the special moment. “The fans went wild, of course…but Coach (Dale) Brasher (head coach) and Coach (Jack) Taylor (assistant) were not amused one bit. Let’s just say I never pulled such a stunt again!”
Freeman was a four-year letter-winner at Morton and was selected team captain and best back. He was an honorable mention All Little Dixie Conference selection and played in the Mississippi High School All-Star Game in 1965.
He also excelled in track and twice won the 100-yard dash in state competition. His best time in the event was clocked at 10 seconds flat!
Freeman’s athletic abilities caught the attention of several college coaches, especially then Warrior head coach Tommy Guthrie who offered him a scholarship. But when Freeman arrived at East Central, a coaching change was made and Dan Chatwood was head coach.
Unbeknown to Freeman and the other signees, scholarship offers were made “to about 200 players,” he recalled, “but only 30 players would receive scholarships.”
Freeman said he can still remember hearing the conversation between Coach Chatwood and his assistant, Hansel King.
“Coach King said, ‘Dan, what are we going to do with this many football players and so few scholarships?’ And Coach Dan replied, ‘We’re going to run a bunch of them off.”
Freeman clearly remembers turning to teammate Keith Holt and stating, “Keith, we’re in for a treat, brother. We’re in for a treat! And sure enough, we were in for a treat!”
Freeman “survived” his freshman season and helped lead the Warriors to a 7-3 record.
Highlights included a 13-6 win over archrival East Mississippi, led by the legendary Coach “Bull” Sullivan.
Freeman helped set up East Central’s first touchdown when he intercepted a pass near midfield and returned the ball to the Lions’ 15-yard-line.
Another highlight came in a 15-12 upset of nationally ranked Holmes Community College. Freeman’s interception of a Holmes pass during a two-point conversion attempt following a late first half score allowed the Warriors to maintain an 8-6 margin at halftime.
The 1965 Warriors also recorded victories over Southwest (6-2), Northwest (14-13), Hinds (28-7), Delta (10-8) and Itawamba (17-0). The lone setbacks were to Gulf Coast (18-14), Pearl River (27-9) and Jones (10-6).
Freeman returned his sophomore season as a married man. He and his wife, the former Diane Turner of Morton, and Keith Holt and wife, Glenda, moved into the old Army barracks, which was designated for married students and staff.
Chatwood was still head coach and Ken Pouncey was added to the coaching staff.
Freeman said being a married member of the football team brought many challenges.
“Coach Chatwood thought the two married football players would be more physically fit to handle two-a-day and three-a-day workouts if they stayed in the athletic dorm with the rest of the football team,” said Freeman. “So we moved out of the married apartments and left our wives there.”
However, it did not take long for Freeman to come up with a plan so he and Keith could visit their wives at night.
“I noticed that the fire escape ladder outside the athletic dorm was left down each night due to work being done on the building,” Freeman recalled. “So late at night we would slip out and stay with our wives until about 5:30 a.m. But one night
while going down the ladder we were greeted by Coach Pouncey…we obviously did not get to stay with our wives that night!”
However, Freeman said arrangements were later made to accommodate the two married couples.
The 1966 team was not as successful as the previous year but the Warriors did manage to register a second straight victory over rival East Mississippi by an impressive 24-7 margin. Other victories were recorded with Hinds (16-13), Pearl River (24-7) and Co-Lin (21-20.) EC fell to Gulf Coast (33-20), Holmes (13-3), Jones (14-0), Delta (20-7) and Northwest (17-14). The Warriors and Itawamba tied at 14-14.
In the win over Scooba, Freeman amassed 92 yards from his wingback position. His 77-yard jaunt helped set up a Warrior touchdown.
Freeman and Holt, a defensive lineman, signed scholarships with Livingston State College (now University of West Alabama) but Freeman decided to forego the opportunity since housing was not available for the married couple.
He was later offered a scholarship at Southeastern Louisiana University, where he was asked to red-shirt his first season. Freeman decided to forego that opportunity as well and enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he concentrated solely on academics.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in physical education at mid-year of the 1968-1969 term, Freeman began his career in the spring of 1969 as a teacher at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tenn. The following year he served as football and track coach and taught classes at Clinton (La.) High School. He held similar duties at Amite (La.) High School from 1970-73.
But it was at Lake High School, where the Freeman coaching legacy began in 1973.
He still remembers the conversation he had with then principal Huey Stone during the job interview:
“Well, it’s up to you, Mr. Stone,” Freeman said. “If you want a championship football program at Lake, you’ll hire me. If you don’t, go ahead and hire somebody else.”
Stone hired Freeman but probably questioned his decision prior to the start of the 1973 season, when after three weeks of three-a-day practices, the squad was down to nine football players. Freeman was able to convince another 13 players to join the squad when classes started. He dubbed that first Lake team as “The Magnificient 22.” The ’73 team posted a 10-1 record. And another game was not lost for five years!
Victories from the record-breaking 1974 season are as follows: Choctaw Central (18-0), West Lauderdale, (20-0), Stringer (40-0), Beulah Hubbard (30-0), Sebastopol (50-0), Hickory (42-0), Scott Central (20-0), Nanih Waiya (30-0), Clarkdale (20-0), Edinburg (38-0) and French Camp (forfeit).
Only one team came close to scoring on the Hornets in 1974. But the late Willie “Moochie” Wiedman nixed the attempt when the 140-pound nose guard blocked a short field goal attempt in the game’s final moments. The “unseason” was preserved!
Freeman’s following three teams also went undefeated: 1975 – 10-0; 1976 – 9-0-1; and 1977 – 9-0. His final squad in 1978 posted a 7-2 mark.
And what was the reason for his success?
“My philosophy as a coach was that I wanted every individual in school to participate in football, but I knew that would never happen,” he stated. “But the ones that I could recruit to play football, I promised them that if they gave me 110 percent, I would give them 150 percent. If they gave me their best, I gave them my best…and with a lot of hard work and determination, we will all succeed together.”
After just six seasons and a 56-3-1 record, Granville “Bear” Freeman (nicknamed in honor of the other “Bear” at the University of Alabama) decided to step down and pursue a career in the insurance business, which continues today after more than 30 years.
He’s had numerous opportunities to return to the gridiron but the five-time Cherokee Conference Coach of the Year turned them all down to spend more time with his family and continue his passion as a horse trainer and rider.
He won his 12th World Championship Amateur Rider of the Year award in 2011 and has captured 18 World Championship titles.
In addition to degrees previously mentioned, Freeman holds a master’s degree in education from Southeastern Louisiana University and a master’s degree in special education from Jackson State University.
He and Diane have two sons, Bill and David. Bill, an ECCC alumnus who is also in the insurance business, is married to the former Paula Gray and they have two children, Madelyn and Will. Bill also serves as Scott County Justice Court Judge, Post 2. David is single and is employed as a regional sales manager for national poultry equipment supplier.
Tom McCullough was well-prepared for the challenges of junior college football in the mid-1950s, although the opposing players – and sometimes his own teammates – were probably not prepared to handle him!
The Philadelphia resident was among the many student-athletes who in those days completed military service prior to enrolling in college. But McCullough was probably the only veteran who entered military service following the sophomore year in high school. And he was no doubt among the few who did so while also being married. And on top of that, he qualified to play three years on the Warrior football team.
McCullough had tough decisions to make as a teenager, especially after experiencing success as a member of Philadelphia High School football team.
A standout center/linebacker, McCullough was named to the All Choctaw Conference team as a freshman and was an All-State selection his sophomore season.
Instead of preparing for his junior season, McCullough married his sweetheart, the former Faye Hudspeth of Louisville, before completing his sophomore year. She was 17; he was 15. Their parents consented to the marriage but McCullough knew it was up to him to provide a living for himself and his family.
He decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps in 1953 and served two years of active duty and was a member of the football team. He continued his athletic career at then East Central Junior College, and was heralded as one the best centers/linebackers to wear the Black and Gold.
McCullough completed his athletic career as a participant in the 1958 JUCO All-American Game held at Memorial Stadium in Jackson.
Regarding the prestigious honor, McCullough first reply was, “Wow! So many people are more than deserving…but I am truly grateful.”
McCullough chuckled when he thought about his marriage as a young teenager and the reaction of those in the Philadelphia community.
“Everybody said it would not last,” he commented. “But we had our 61st wedding anniversary last year!”
McCullough said he was “very proud” to serve his country as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, where he was stationed at Camp LeJeune, N.C. He added being a member of the “football team” was “quite an experience.”
“It was different…playing Marine football,” he said. “A lot of former college players were on the team but I was the only one who had never been to college. They taught me a lot, as you might expect!”
McCullough said competition was “very fierce” among squad members, “because if you got cut, you would be sent to fight in the Korean War….so nobody wanted to get cut!”
McCullough said a frequent visitor at practices and games was the camp commander and highly decorated Gen. Chesty Puller. “He liked the blood and guts…and made sure we were in good shape,” McCullough said. “And we were all in great shape…I was a size 28 in the waist and weighed about 225 pounds.”
After completing his Marine duties, McCullough returned home and worked about a month as a welder for a local industry but he soon decided he needed to return to school.
He enrolled in 1955 at Newton County Agricultural School, which was then a part of East Central Junior College. He was able to earn his GED® diploma that year while a member of the Warrior football team. He was recruited by head football coach Billy Ray Lindsley but before the season started, Lindsley stepped down and Clayton Blount became head coach.
McCullough said of Coach Blount, “He was a good man…a good leader…a good communicator…but we sometimes had our differences because we were both ‘bulls’ and a little hot-headed!”
McCullough recalled several instances to illustrate his point.
One day during practice, McCullough said Coach Blount “blew his top” because McCullough and quarterback Charlie “Red” Hope kept fumbling the snap.
“We fumbled six straight times and Coach Blount said if we fumbled one more time he will send me to the house,” McCullough recalled. “Well, on the next play, we fumbled…and Coach Blount sent me to the house, which thank goodness for me was the nearby campus apartments.”
But since he was off the team and without a scholarship at that point, McCullough said he had to come up with the $21 rent that was due the next day. “Heck, I did not have 21 cents…much less $21,” McCullough said with a laugh. “However Coach Blount let me come back to the team and I did not have to worry about paying rent anymore.”
McCullough and the Warriors experienced a successful 1955 season, which included victories over Northeast (26-2), Northwest (19-13), Holmes (18-0), Hinds (13-7), East MS (39-0) and Itawamba (14-0). Losses were to Co-Lin (26-20), Delta (19-6), Pearl River (6-0) and Jones (34-12).
Of the six victories, McCullough said the Hinds and East MS games stand out most.
Hinds was led by fullback Jim Taylor, who was later an All-American at Louisiana State University and was an All-Pro selection for the Green Bay Packers.
“We were told that Taylor was kept locked in a cage before kickoff,” McCullough recalled. “And that really fired us up!”
McCullough also remembered how frustrated the legendary “Scooba” coach “Bull” Sullivan got when the Warriors kept piling up the points.
“On one scoring drive, we ran the same play eight straight times and got 10 yards each time,” laughed McCullough. “But not only was Coach Sullivan mad, so was Coach Blount…because I changed the play Coach Blount called each time. But it worked….and we won the game!”
Although he reluctantly admitted it, McCullough said another “highlight” of his freshman year was that he was thrown out of the first three games – each time before halftime - by game officials. And what did he do to deserve such action?
“I did not do anything…but my forearm did!” McCullough stated. “We did not take much junk off anybody in those days!”
McCullough was known for his powerful forearms on offense and defense…in practice and in games.
“One day in practice part of a teammate’s tooth got lodged in my forearm, where it remained until the end of the season. Dr. (Austin) Boggan (team doctor) was very surprised when he operated on my swollen arm and pulled out the tooth…he thought I was kidding when I told him the tooth was in my arm!”
McCullough soon got his forearms “under control” thanks to his mother, who promised him $5 if he did not get thrown out of a game. “And I never did get thrown out again…that was a lot of money to me!”
The sophomore season was highlighted by a second-straight win over arch rival East MS (13-7) and victories over Northwest (20-6), Itawamba (20-14) and Northeast (forfeit). Losses were to Northeast (25-7), Co-Lin (27-12), Holmes (14-0), Delta (26-19), Hinds (14-12), Pearl River (20-6) and Jones (46-15).
Since he was classified as a high school senior his first year as a Warrior in 1955, McCullough qualified to play a third season in 1957.
The 1957 Warriors managed wins over Holmes (12-7) and Jones County and posted ties with East MS (7-7) and Co-Lin (20-20). Setbacks were to Delta (6-0), Hinds (45-0), Southwest (14-7), East MS (20-6), Itawamba (39-13) and Pearl River (53-0).
It was the Pearl River “setback” that provided another “standout moment” for McCullough.
McCullough, who admitted he was not the fastest player on the field, tried to catch a speedy Wildcat running back only to be blocked from the blind side, which sent his helmet into the home stands.
“The Pearl River fans would not give my helmet back,” McCullough said, “until Coach (Dobie) Holden retrieved it for me. Marcus Gordon (Circuit Court Judge from Union) played end and still kids me today about the helmet incident and why I tried to catch someone so much faster, especially when we were getting beat so badly!”
McCullough concluded his athletic career with his participation in the East-West JUCO All-American Game in Jackson. He said he was ready to “hang up the cleats” and have time for his body to heal. He noted he often played with broken wrists in practice and in games.
Following graduation he began a 20-plus year career with Merchants Truck Line.
For the past 25 years, he has been a self-employed businessman in Philadelphia, where he operates a fireworks business and flea market.
McCullough, now 76, said he enjoys life every day, especially after he was basically sent home “to die” about 15 years ago, when he was diagnosed with a fatal liver ailment. He recalled losing 74 pounds in six weeks, but since that time his health has been restored through medicines “and a lot of prayer.” He also wanted to mention that he got “saved” at age 40….and commented, “If God can save me, He can save anyone!”
McCullough and his wife had a daughter, Debbie, who is deceased. Debbie served as the young mascot when McCullough was a member of the Warrior football team. The McCulloughs also have a granddaughter and three great grandchildren.