Pictured to the left is Coach Billy Henderson and myself at his office at the Holiday Inn in Athens, Georgia across from the University of Ga. campus.
“ I never will forget they put me back in and I had outstanding blocking and that was one of the achievements of breaking Clint Castleberry’s record and I couldn’t believe it”.
Henderson recounts some of the players that his teams competed against in high school as well as college. On of those he states was Clint Casselberry. He remembers seeing him when Billy was a 13 year old, 9th grader at Lanier High School. Castleberry played for Boys High and he remembers seeing him come around end and he would look like he was hemmed up and all of a sudden he would be like a leap frog jumping back to the inside with all sorts of moves. Billy also said, “My senior year we were playing Benedictine and we had a lead and they took the starters out and Tom Porter the backfield coach went to the head coach and said Billy is close to Clint Castleberry’s scoring record and we want for him to get the record now. So I never will forget they put me back in and I had outstanding blocking and that was one of the achievements of breaking Clint Castleberry’s record and I couldn’t believe it.
On the the hardest hits Henderson took was when he was returning a punt against somebody and we had a guy by the name of Gene Chancellor, when we played against Tech High. I was returning a punt and here comes Gene and it looks like he is coming after me but there is somebody following me. I got tackled and I looked back and this guy is in a three prong landing, blood coming out of his nose and mouth and he remained in Athens in a hospital for two weeks.
Henderson states he remembers like yesterday, the Rams going to Thomaston to play Robert E. Lee and losing that game 12-6. Billy recalls, “The Robert E. Lee Rebels had thrown a pass, which was by Mike Cavan, and the ball was thrown behind the line and the ball was just sitting on the ground. People were just standing there looking at it, and this Robert E. Lee boy start walking slowly toward the ball and he looked at the official and he would walk a little faster and finally he picked it up and sprinted to the end zone and they whipped us 12-6.
Billy remembers some of his Willingham players like Tommy Hinson. He states Tommy and Brad were the best of friends. “Tommy was small in statue but was one of the best linebackers that I’ve ever coached”.
Darrell Parker was another one of those Rams. Henderson recalls, “He was a great athlete”. He remembers in the Baker game, Darrell’s sophomore year. It was that game that the Rams had lost after beating Valdosta, the nation’s number ranked team the week before and putting the Rams in contention for the playoffs. Henderson finally took all the seniors out of that game and put in the sophomores and they marched down the field and scored with Parker taking it in. Henderson remembers seeing Daryl’s father at the next practice in a lawn chair with his cigar. His son had scored a TD in a losing cause. Billy also remembers the game the week prior to this game when Daryl Parker had carried the ball numerous times and when the team got close to the end zone Parker was holding up his hand and Henderson is thinking he wants to run it again. Actually Parker wanted to come out because he was so tired but he scored and the Rams won against the Wildcats. Henderson states, “Daryl was one of the most talented athletes I coached”.
Ben Zambezi. Coach Henderson called him an animal. “ He scared folks to death especially at the high school level”. He was also one of Henderson’s baseball players when he was at Mt. de Sales. Ben played on both of those state championship baseball teams in 1971 and 1972.
Dwight and Ricky Payne were outstanding people, hard nose 105 per centers who gave it everything they had.
Mark Bowen was one of those talented athletes who played first base on the baseball team and end on the football squad. He had great hands and is probably still pouting with me because we didn’t throw the ball to him enough.
Jimmy Clay was and outstanding all around. I just can’t say too much about his attitude. He was a team person.
Carson Hardison was killed in Vietnam. He was very similar in his running style to Daryl Parker. He was an outstanding halfback with a great attitude.
Jeff Wagner was a fullback and he was an outstanding one.
Buck Carroll was one of those youngsters that were small not big but buddy he gave it all he had. He was a center on the 63 Willingham football team. He was a winner.
Claudie Brown was a quarterback taking over for Brad when he was killed.
Ronnie Thompson was the mayor of Macon while I was there. He was very supportive and interested in high school football. He was a good asset to both schools there. I always compared him somewhat to JFK because he was young, had a lot of enthusiasm. He also had a big influence on us going to football camp at Jekyll Island”.
Oliver Hunnicutt was the Head Coach in Lagrange and Billy remembers Willingham’s first season and the Grangers had them 39-0 in the 4th quarter and the Rams had started a drive on their own 20. They slowly drove the ball almost 80 yards and finally scored. The referee came over to the bench and told him that if those kids had not scored he was going to put the ball in the end zone for them. He admired them so much because they didn’t quit even though they were beaten soundly.
Billy has special memories of two players in particular over the years of his coaching. They were Fran Tarkenton and Bobby Bryant. He recalls, “I had the privilege when Foskey went to Minneapolis to have surgery on her back for schools of going out to watch the Minnesota Vikings practice. He had called Fran and Bobby and they invited him to the practice. He met the Minnesota, Bud Grant at that time. He recalls how he used to threaten players and learned not to give an ultimatum especially when your are angry. In 1962, he had done just that with Bryant when he had told him one day in practice to either go full speed or get off the field. He at that time reminds Bryant to remember who the baseball coach was. Bryant was an outstanding player who had played four sports at Willingham”. Bryant didn’t play any more football that year but did return the next year but before that Henderson had asked him to come back out for baseball.
Billy coached Fran Tarkenton in football and baseball at Athens High School. In Henderson’s words, “He was one of the all time natural leaders that I coached. When he was a 9th grader, he was in the huddle telling seniors what to do and in baseball he was a pitcher. He never lost a game. I never shall forget we were playing Commerce and they were getting a lot of runs and I called time and went out to the man and said Francis I hate to tell you this but you’ve got to leave the game. We’ve got another pitcher coming in. He couldn’t believe it and Chester Leathers his dear friend and a first baseman was in on the conference and then he said Francis didn’t know where to go. He had never been knocked out of a game before in his life. Chester had to point to the dugout and said you go sit down”.
Henderson had these comments to say about defense in football. “I shall never forget at Athens High School as the assistant to Weyman Sellers in 1954, I forget what team we were playing and the 5-4 defense had just come out and I went over to Coach Hardness’s office and he diagramed it for me. If I was still coaching today, I’d still be using that defense but in reality it doesn’t matter what offense or defense you use. If the coach believes in it and the players believe in it, it will work”.
Henderson made these comments on college football. “I would like to see a playoff system that would be the most logical way to get the desired champion, but not matter what is decided, there will always be a controversy.
He remembers some of his favorite coaches at the college level. People like Vince Dooley, Mark Richt, Bill Curry, Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Bill Curry, who recently decided to come back to coaching at Georgia State in 2010. Coach Henderson has a special memory of him. Henderson states, “Foskey and I went to a national coaching convention in Miami and when we got out of the car to get the luggage and Bill Curry came personally and got their luggage and put it in his rental car. That’s the kind of person he is. He is not only an outstanding coach but a great human being”.
Henderson states that Bobby Bowden, who recently retired as Head Football Coach at Florida State, is a gentleman too as well as an outstanding coach. He got real acquainted with Bowden at some of the national coaching conventions.
Henderson remembers Bobby Dodd the Georgia Tech Coach. Billy states, “We would get upset hearing about Bobby Dodd because we were here in the hot sun going 3 a day with Coach Wally Butts and the biggest thing I learned from Coach Butts was what a human being can bear physically but we would read about Bobby having the Yellow Jackets playing volleyball over the goal posts and that infuriated us.
I have several books that Bear Bryant wrote. One time in particular I was stranded in the airport in Atlanta because of mechanical failure. I had gone to one of those clinics probably in Los Angles and here comes Bear Bryant. We were waiting in the lobby and he recognized me. I played against his team when he was at Kentucky when I was at Georgia and he invited me into the elite room where people wait he was just a complete gentleman. I visited his school several times”.
Billy also has found memories of Goot Steiner. He and Coach Henderson were at Georgia at the same time. Steiner had been injured and Coach Butts left him on scholarship because of his injury. Henderson says of Goot Steiner, “I have never seen a more fierce competitor. We argued 30 minutes before a baseball game over ground rules”.
Henderson on getting elected to the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1962 said, “It was a great honor”. He also was honored by being selected into the Macon Sports Hall of Fame.