With high school football practice coming up, the anticipation which comes with the start of the new season, will make some football partisans dizzy with excitement.
High school football is as important in some communities as it is in college towns and the NFL. More than a million kids play high school football each year.
There are some storied high school programs in the state of Georgia. You may remember when Valdosta was credited with winning several national championships. They were like Washington High in Massillon, Ohio. Perennial winners.
There was a time in the fifties, when Athens High School, which later enjoyed success as Clarke Central, was the top program in the state. The 1955 Trojan team was a powerhouse that included Fran Tarkenton, the junior quarterback, and five seniors who earned scholarships to Georgia: Bobby Towns, Carlton James, Sonny Dillard, George Guisler and Billy Slaughter.
Towns, Guisler and Slaughter, along with Tarkenton, would letter at Georgia, playing on the Southeastern championship team of 1959. Those guys were good.
Slaughter, who died Friday, was a very productive running back in his heyday at old Athens High. Scoring multiple touchdowns every game, the Trojans played their games between the hedges in Sanford Stadium on Friday night and developed an enthusiastic following. The only scare came when the home team defeated Richman Academy 14-7. In the state championship game, Athens High whacked the perennial state champion Valdosta Wildcats 40-20.
The halfbacks took turns scoring clusters of touchdowns. Slaughter in several games scored three touchdowns. And so did Guisler. Bobby Towns got in on the act by scoring three times against Newton County. Athens High won the state championship, the first since 1941.
Guisler gained 1,120 yards with a 10.9 average and Slaughter 1,093 yards and a 7.9 average. Dillard and James were credited with making more than 100 tackles apiece. The undefeated Trojans could score, and they could play defense.
In addition to a remarkable prep career, Slaughter played four years at Georgia. He was graduated with a law degree and had a memorable practice field highlight which reflected the cleverness of his coach, Wallace Butts, who was a friend of his family.
Butts, whose language creativity was classic, put in a halfback pass for a game. It featured Slaughter. Playing left halfback, Slaughter rolled to his right, pulled up and threw what he remembered was weak effort, with the pass falling way short of its mark, “a dying duck.” Coach Butts, as he often did, cracked the team up when he told Slaughter his pass “looked like the last shot out of a Roman candle.” Slaughter had a teammate to achieve fame as a football coach, his cousin, Pat Dye who became the head coach at Auburn. Billy was also a teammate of Nat Dye, alternate captain on the 1958 team.
Perhaps, Slaughter was best appreciated for owning one of the most popular restaurants in Athens—Allen’s, a hamburger emporium on Prince Avenue. It was a well-known student hangout. When those students became alumni, they would return for home football games and flock back to Allen’s.
Sonny Seiler, of Savannah, would take the mascot, Uga, to Allen’s on football weekends. Seiler could not return to Athens for any reason without heading to Allen’s for a hamburger and a cold mug of beer.
Losing Billy Slaughter is like losing Allen’s. A tough loss but the memories, “how they linger.”