— By SALLY SEXTON
MILLSAP — Though there are just a couple of weeks left before another season of Millsap football concludes — for some of the program’s pioneers 50 years ago, it’s been a long time coming.
Millsap wasn’t always known as a football community. Like its neighbors, Peaster and Brock, Millsap had a reputation as a basketball powerhouse.
But with the determination of a new superintendent and willing participants, Millsap embarked on creating its first football program in school history.
The first football team was formed in 1963 at the encouragement of superintendent Frank Stretcher, and played a light JV schedule as it eased into competition.
“That was my junior year and we played several different schools,” Millsap graduate Earl Day said. “I remember playing Everman and Boswell. We beat Everman every time, but when it came to Boswell, we just couldn’t get past them.”
Millsap’s first football coach, known simply to his players as Coach Morrison, came in with coaching experience at the six-man level.
“Coach Morrison had a sports equipment store that he owned, and that’s where we would go to buy our equipment,” Ron Youngblood, who was a freshman on the first varsity team, said. “I remember socks were 50 cents and jock straps were a couple of bucks.”
Things were simple that first year. Players practiced in the bus parking lot after school until it got dark.
“Nobody missed practice and we didn’t have water to drink during the evening, but we practiced very hard because there were so few of us,” Youngblood said. “To this day, the smell of freshly cut grass still makes me a little sick.”
A makeshift field was built by agriculture students and, by the 1964-65 school year, more and more students began to get involved.
“A family had moved in during my junior or senior year, the Freemans, from California,” Day said. “Their dad was a truck driver, but their son, Robert, was in my grade and knew what football was.”
Freeman helped train his new team and was named team quarterback because of his knowledge on the field.
“A lot of us had never even touched a football before,” Youngblood said.
The beginning of his senior year, Day played the fullback position and enjoyed “busting through the line.”
“Later that season, Coach Morrison told me, ‘the problem is that you graduate this year, and I need you on the line because you’re a fairly good size,’” Day said. “I was upset, but there was nothing I could do about it so I made the switch to left tackle on offense and right tackle on defense.
“I did get to keep No. 23 all the way, because I wasn’t going to give that up. At least I got to do that.”
For some of the younger team members, the upper classmen were seen as role models, showing dedication to a brand new program.
“I felt like our Millsap seniors never really got what they deserved, because some of them really only got to play a year and it was over,” Youngblood said. “At the beginning, there weren’t many people in the stands. Our family was our faithful, but we feel like we really started something.”
Half a century later, the Bulldogs are continuing on their pigskin journey as they try to build upon the tradition from 1963.
“We’re still a young football program compared to most schools,” current head football coach Kyle Coker, who has been the head coach since 2007, said. “Football is something that we’re still trying to develop here as a tradition.”
In the 50 years of the program, the Bulldogs have had five playoff teams, something Coker hopes to increase as the program moves forward.
“It’s been a goal of ours to restructure the athletic program to be more consistent and more successful in athletics, whether it be football or other sports,” he said. “Like any small town, we have groups come through and we go through ups and downs, but we’d like to eliminate that and become more consistent.”
The Millsap Bulldogs will host Scurry-Rosser at Bulldog Stadium tonight at 7 p.m. while celebrating Senior Night.