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Today's Tidbit... Six Players To Watch In 1954
Comparing preseason predictions to the end-of-season outcomes is always fun. It can also be educational when looking back in time, such as the 1954 season since most of us have little awareness of a season played almost seventy years ago.
So, here's a page from a promotional booklet with background information and the schedules for about 200 college teams. The booklet's writers looked at the 1952 and 1953 seasons to identify 6 Players To Watch for 1954. Nearly seven decades later, we can check their prognostications based on individual player statistics, the team record, NFL draft position, and Heisman Trophy votes.
Don King set Clemson's game rushing record for freshmen versus Fordham in 1951 by gaining 234 yards as a Single-Wing tailback. He became a T-formation quarterback his sophomore season when college football returned to the single platoon game. In addition to leading the team in passing four straight years, he was named second-team All-ACC in 1953 and 1954. However, perhaps the top collegiate achievement for the undrafted King was winning the Boston Globe's "Swede" Nelson Sportsmanship Award in 1953. He earned the award by instructing his team to avoid tackling the Wake Forest quarterback low after the QB injured his knee early in their game.
Frank Brooks of Georgia Tech caught the nation's attention by making 18 tackles versus SMU in 1953. He helped lead Georgia Tech to the Sugar Bowl as a sophomore and the Cotton Bowl as a junior before being named the Sugar Bowl MVP as a senior. Tech’s team voted to play Pitt in that Sugar Bowl, allowing Bob Grier to become the first Black player in a bowl game in the Deep South. Brooks went in the 25th round of the NFL draft but became an assistant at Georgia Tech instead. Brooks died at 42 from mesothelioma after handling asbestos at a factory during high school summers.
Joe Mastrogiovanni, a Brooklynite, was a halfback that became Wyoming's first throwing quarterback when they converted to the T formation in 1952. He led the team in passing for three years, punted, and kicked three game-winning field goals in 1954. Joe was a two-time All-Skyline quarterback, earning second-team honors for the 1954 season. Drafted in the 17th round by the Eagles, Mastrogiovanni did not play in the NFL.
Vince Lombardi, then an Army assistant, recruited Pat Eubel to West Point, where he had two rushing TDs and a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown in the 1953 Army-Navy game. The 1954 team led the nation in total offense, finishing 7-2 and ranked #7. He captained the 1955 team to a 6-3 record and went in the 14th round to the Washington Redskins, but his Army duties prevented him from pursuing pro football.
Ralph Guglielmi quarterbacked Notre Dame to a #2 ranking in 1953 as teammate John Lattner won the Heisman. As a senior in 1954, he was a consensus All-American and finished fourth in the Heisman voting after leading Notre Dame to a #4 rating and a 9-1 season. The Redskins took Guglielmi with the fourth pick in the 1955 NFL Draft, after which he played with four teams over eight seasons. (He missed two seasons while in the Air Force following his rookie season.) He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Kurt Burris played center and linebacker as one of five brothers to play for Oklahoma under Bud Wilkinson. A team leader when the Sooners finished ranked #3 in 1954, Wilkinson and the Oklahoma SID promoted him for the Heisman, mailing 3,500 letters to sports editors nationwide. Perhaps it worked as he finished second in the voting. Drafted in the first round by the Cleveland Browns, Burris chose to play in Canada, where he won the Grey Cup his first two seasons in Edmonton. He played three more years in Canada and is enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Despite not being named as a player to watch, Alan Ameche, the Wisconsin fullback, won the 1954 Heisman, while Ohio State and UCLA finished the year ranked #1 by one poll or another.
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