The rumors started the minute Ron moved to town from North Dakota. He was a big kid, 6’3” and 275 pounds and would be a junior in high school. Someone had seen him and said he was going to make a great addition to our football team. All of us on the football team knew we were going to have a great football team that fall and this big new kid was just going to make us a little better.
That August, when football actually started, there was no big new kid on the team. Everyone was asking, “Where is the new kid or was that just some rumor someone started?” Well football two-a-days started before school did, so when school began, there was this new guy named Ron from North Dakota and he was every bit of 6’3” and 275. The only problem was, he didn’t go out for football that year.
We razed Ron all that school year and the next summer about coming out for football. First day of practice in 1972, Ron was out for football with us. We were excited to have him and told him so. When we finally put on the pads and started hitting each other in drills, we could all tell Ron was not real aggressive. We asked him why he wasn’t hitting anybody real hard? His answer was, “I am afraid I am going to hurt one of you guys.” We told him over and over, “You can’t hurt us.”
Ron became our nose guard on defense. He owned the territory he stood on and even double teams by the other team could not move him away. But he was not aggressive and never got a push into the backfield and never could go down the line of scrimmage to make a play. He just owned the space he stood on.
So one night at practice, after the first or second game, we were doing a tackling drill where the ball carrier had to run between two dummies lying on the ground and the tackler stood on the other end of the dummies. We each had been through this drill a couple of times this day when it was Ron’s turn to be a tackler again. This time the head coach got angry and got up in Ron’s face and I guess I should say, challenged Ron’s manhood. Where I was standing, I could see Ron’s face flush red and he got angry. I could see this perfectly fine, because I was the next ball carrier.
As coach blew the whistle, I started forward with the ball and Ron and I met in the middle of those dummies. Ron hit me hard, wrapped me up and bear hugged me. He then picked me up off the ground and body slammed me into the ground landing flat on top of me. When he got off me, I just laid there a moment and did a quick body scan to see if I was injured. I was hurting, but nothing was broken. I got up and with a two handed chest pass threw the ball at the coach angrily and said, “Thanks a lot Coach.” Coach had this stunned look on his face. I don’t think it was because I threw the ball hard at him. He was stunned, that Ron the Teddy Bear, had finally hit someone.
The rest of the season Ron never hit anyone like he hit me, whether at practice or in a game. Eventually, the coaches took him out of the starting lineup and changed to a four-man front with two safeties and that was when I became a starter on defense at one of those safety positions.
Ron died of heart problems the first part of December this year. The next day another one of my high school classmates died in Texas during a car wreck. The week after that, at a basketball game, one of my other classmates and teammates came up to me and said, “Can you believe we lost two classmates in two days?” I said, “As old as we are getting, our turn could be next. So you better get it right with Jesus.” He then said, “It is funny you said that, because the local doctors want me to go to Wichita next week and see a specialist. They think I have cancer.” He then said, “Doesn’t that make about 20 of our classmates we have lost out of our 116 graduates?” I answered, “Yes.”