Friday, April 10, 2015

"Quick Six," Roland and Co.: Big winners at La. Tech

(11th in a series)
     He is not the most heralded running back to come out of Springhill, La. -- that was locked up for good a long time ago (John David Crow) -- but Charles McDaniel was a special football player.
     His nickname was special, too: "Quick Six."
     By the time his four-year career ended at Louisiana Tech University in 1974, McDaniel was considered by many -- me included -- as the best running back in school history. If not the best, certainly the most productive.
     The numbers, his then-school record rushing and scoring totals, bear that out.
     Start with his freshman season (1971) with 14 rushing touchdowns (17 overall), 104 points, 913 rushing yards -- all school records then -- and it's easy to see why Tech's team went from a 2-8 record the year before to 9-2.
     There was a lot more to the turnaround, a lot more players responsible, than McDaniel -- one of the six African-American players who integrated the Tech program that year. But the people who were there, and the longtime Bulldogs fans, will tell you that what Fred Dean -- a future Pro Football Hall of Famer -- was to the defense, "Quick Six" was to the offense.
     "He was really the difference for us," said Ken Lantrip, who quarterbacked the 1970 and 1971 teams. "His speed, the threat that he could break any play for a touchdown."
     "That breakaway speed, the great outside threat," said David Wilkins, a junior defensive end in '71.
     McDaniel's career numbers (all school records when he finished): 553 carries, 2,754 rushing yards, 52 touchdowns (15 as a senior in 1974 when he was the Southland Conference "Offensive Player of the Year), 314 points. He led Tech in rushing three of his four seasons and had nine games of 100 yards or more.
     Tech's four-year record: 44-4, two national titles, four Southland titles ... the greatest era in school football history.
     He wasn't big; he wasn't a special-teams player -- factors which probably kept him out of the NFL -- but he was as explosive a runner as North Louisiana had ever had to that point ... and maybe that's still true. It's subjective.
     I can say that if I had to choose, he'd be among the best I'd seen. Of course, I didn't see Crow at Springhill in 1952 and '53 -- well before my time -- but I'd rate McDaniel with Tony Papa of Shreveport-Jesuit (1964-65), Pat Mason of Captain Shreve (1971) and Raymond Tate of Minden (1979-80) in a select group.
     There are many others -- some with great speed and size, some grinders who could break tackles repeatedly, some with great moves. But for excitement, "Quick Six" was as good as any.
     I covered several of Springhill's games in his senior year there (1970) -- the team reached the Class AAA semifinals -- and one of those games and one of my game stories (and I'm not humble about writing this) led to his nickname.
     Against Jesuit at then-State Fair Stadium, McDaniel twice broke long touchdown runs. He was in the end zone seemingly before the Flyers could react. In the story the next morning, I described them as "quick six" touchdowns.
     The Springhill people picked up on that. The next week he was known as "Quick Six" McDaniel. The next time I covered the Lumberjacks, there were banners with "Quick Six" references.
     I can't recall his high school uniform number, but when he went to play at Louisiana Tech, his number was ... 6. No surprise, and what a great marketing tool.
     The Chicago Bears took McDaniel in the 13th round of the 1975 NFL Draft, the 316th overall pick. But he didn't make the team. It was his four-year partner at running back at Tech who did make the Bears' team ... and stuck.
     Because as great as McDaniel had been, the much unheralded Roland Harper was in the long run (yes, that's a play on words) the more durable and versatile back. He was quite a talent, too.

Roland Harper
     Roland Harper blocked for Charles "Quick Six" McDaniel. Then he blocked for Walter Payton. But he was a lot more than a blocker; he was a quiet leader.
     "I thought he was our most valuable offensive player in 1971," Lantrip said. "Not only did he block for Quick Six; he did so much. We put in a dive option that season, and he got the tough inside yards for us. He was a great blocker; he was a great receiver; we screened to him a lot."
     As a high school senior at Captain Shreve -- part of the integration of the football team there -- he was a standout as Shreve won its first district championship (in the school's fourth year). I thought the 1970 Gators were the second-best of Coach Lee Hedges' annual powerhouse teams, topped only by the undefeated state champions of 1973.
     That Shreve team lost a second-round playoff game at Sulphur, lost on first downs in a 20-20 tie in which Shreve's usually reliable placekicker missed the PAT that would have won the game.
     Pat Collins was the Tech assistant coach mainly in charge of recruiting Shreveport players. He had been looking at Harper, and in the game at Sulphur, assistant coach E.J. Lewis -- back in his hometown -- also got a look.
     "I saw him play one quarter," Lewis recalled, "and I knew we wanted him. After the game, I went down to meet him, put my arm around him and said, 'We want you on our campus (for a visit) next week. He said, 'I'm coming.' "
     He did, he signed, and he started as a freshman alongside McDaniel. Tech was on its way to a tremendous era.
     Four years later the Bears also had scouted a complete running back and drafted him in the 17th round, the 420nd pick overall. It was quite a bargain.
     He developed into a starter as a rookie, the main blocker for and good friend to fellow rookie Payton, a first-round pick who began the journey to becoming the NFL's all-time leading rusher (until Emmitt Smith topped him).
     Harper was with the Bears for eight seasons, missing one with a knee injury, and he ran for 3,044 yards, with 15 touchdowns.
     He remained in the Chicago area, runs a trucking and excavating company, and has been -- according to the website -- "a passionate advocate" for Little Angels, a home for children and young adults with severe disabilities and complex medical needs. 
     Joining McDaniel and Harper in the 1971 freshman class and as four-year regulars were two  offensive linemen, tackle Roy Waters and guard Randy Crouch. Both eventually were all-conference selections. The same was true for 1971 recruit Gerald Eddings, a guard who redshirted the first year.
     All-conference offensive linemen, in fact, became a tradition. Center Phil Israel made it in 1971, his replacement (Russell Bates) did so, as did tackle Pat Greer twice.
     At wide receiver, split end Eric Johnson -- a small "least like to succeed in college football" type -- developed into a two-time all-conference player. Denny Duron was productive at wide receiver, too, in 1971 before moving back to his high school position (QB) to be a terrific passer and runner and even better leader -- setting the tone for a devout Christian group of student/athletes at Tech.
     At QB, Duron led Tech to 12-0 and 12-1 records, two national championships in NCAA Division II. He was the SLC "Offensive Player of the Year" in 1973.
     But the best receiver on the team was a lanky, very fast white kid from a small town, Cotton Valley, who didn't play high school football. Roger Carr came to Tech as a track-field athlete and wasn't sure he wanted to stay with college football. He came and went, and came back again -- the coaches had to go get him several times -- but in 1971 he began to fulfill his enormous football promise.
     He led Tech in receiving each of his last three years, wound up with 19 career TD catches, in 1972 was the Southland Conference "Offensive Player of the Year," and made enough plays, especially as a deep threat, to develop into a first-round draft pick (24th pick overall) by the Baltimore Colts in 1974.
     Soon he was an All-Pro receiver, on the end of Bert Jones' passes for playoff teams, and he played for 10 seasons in the NFL.
     (Starting in the 1972 season, Tech's receiving corps also included tight end Mike Barber and split end Pat Tilley. Both would be standouts and NFL Draft pick -- Barber in the second round, Tilley in the fourth -- and play for a decade in the league.)
      In 1970, Tech's team had enough talent on defense to keep it close in most games,but the offense had a middling running game, with no real speed threat. There were losses by 6 points, 2, 3, 4, 3 and 7; eight losses overall, six in a row after an opening victory.
      Lantrip, taking over at QB after backing Terry Bradshaw for two seasons, proved he was capable of throwing the football well enough to continue Tech's strong QB tradition. But typical of the frustration of that season was the last game, a 27-20 loss to Northeast Louisiana.
      After falling behind by two touchdowns early, the Bulldogs -- with Mickey Slaughter, the assistant coach calling plays -- just abandoned the running game.
      Lantrip threw 74 passes, shattering the school record for a game, for a school-record 492 yards (Bradshaw's best was 445). But it was still a loss.
      In 1971, though, Lantrip -- with those linemen, receivers and at least three good backs (Glen Berteau had started before "Quick Six" and Harper arrived) -- had plenty of help.
      The impact of the 1971 freshmen, especially McDaniel and Harper, is evident in the team per-game statistics compared with 1970. The running game went from a paltry 80.4 yards to 193.1; total offense went from 299.3 to 411.1; the scoring average went from 16.5 to 27.4.
       The passing game was almost identical -- 218.9 to 218.0. But Lantrip, who threw for 2,156 yards and then 2,105, had five few interceptions and five more TD passes in 1971.
       "Coach Slaughter always wanted to be 50-50 run-pass," Lantrip said. "We tried to balance it out, and we did that in my senior year."
       So with "Quick Six," Harper and the 1971 recruiting class came a formula that worked for most of the 1970s, a winning tradition, and what became a yearly recruiting haul.
       (Next: Making it work at Tech)


No comments:

Post a Comment