Reflections begins the second segment of our three-part series concerning Shaw football with this segment focusing on the 1951 through 1954 seasons.
The 1951 season saw the Shaw Thunder Jets continue to improve with each contest led by their …
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The 1951 season saw the Shaw Thunder Jets continue to improve with each contest led by their running backs Anson, Wyndham and Wilcoxen, one of the best running combinations featured in the Southern service football league. Anson had also developed into an outstanding passer, and the team was rapidly becoming a powerful machine, which they proved by defeating a heretofore unbeaten Donaldson Air Base team. This game was watched by more than 5,000 spectators in the Furman University Stadium. The 1952 season saw continued success for the Shaw football program. This was made possible by the increased turnout of athletes and the expansion of the coaching staff. This included a new Head Coach, Capt. George Wright; assistant Coach Leonard Pitts; backfield Coach Edgar Lewis; and line Coach Martin Richman. The team defeated Donaldson Air Force Base before a crowd of 2,500 Sumterites with a score of 27-0 in what was referred to as the Community Chest Bowl. The team dedicated the proceeds of the game to the local Community Chest drive.
The 1954 team marked a major milestone in the development of the Shaw football program. The fallout for practice saw 75 candidates report. "An air of enthusiasm spread over the Flyer team as a result of the outstanding talent assembled for the first practice. In contrast to the earlier gridiron teams at Shaw, the 1954 club would be loaded with experience, weight, speed and ability."
The team was led by Coach Mel Bray, "who played fullback for Wally Butts' Georgia Bulldogs in 1939, '40, '41 and 46. Coach Bray also served as an athletic officer while stationed in Europe during World War II. Following his return to civilian life, he coached at East Georgia College and Fitzgerald High School before being recalled to active duty in the summer of '54 at Pope AFB. He coached the Pythons to the Fort Bragg championship prior to receiving his transfer to Shaw that July as athletic official and football coach."
Some of the outstanding players on the roster were Bill Driver, "who held a contract with the Cleveland Browns; Bill Baldwin from Sumter, who played at The Citadel; D. F. Neely, a star at Navy during his collegiate days; Claude Sharp from the University of Mississippi; Burle Ullom, former star at Arizona University; Bill Koehler of Colorado A&M; and Paul Burns, a former starter for Notre Dame, head the list of offensive and defensive line candidates."
In the backfield, Coach Bray had George Maloof, who played ball at Georgia Tech; Frank Silva of Oklahoma University fame; Ernie Swain, former Georgia University back; and Bob Hennessy, who played two years for the Fightin' Illini; and a host of other players who could claim extensive college and service experience. Coach Bray wasted no time in starting his conditioning program. "Bray, a coach with an outstanding record in service ball, had a reputation of producing well-conditioned teams. The team was scheduled to play six games with two others still on the tentative slate."
The highly skilled and talented football team also featured Tom Wilson from Durham, North Carolina. Wilson was a veteran of the 1953 Pope team and while playing for that club led the Fort Bragg League in touchdowns. Standing 6 feet tall and weighing more than 200 pounds, he signed a contract with the Los Angeles Rams and would join that team when he completed his service in the Air Force.
The team remained undefeated through its first six encounters and after defeating Parris Island accepted invitations to play in two postseason bowl games. They were scheduled to play in the Electronics Bowl at Keesler Air Force Base on Dec. 12 and in the Shrine sponsored Charity Bowl on New Year's Day. Their opponent in the latter bowl was Fort Jackson, which would decide the "mythical" championship of South Carolina's four service teams.
Tom "Touchdown" Wilson, Shaw's breakaway fullback, was named on the All-Air Force first team, according to the Air Force Times, the unofficial newspaper of the Air Force. Halfback George Maloof was picked for the second team, and guard Paul Burns landed honorable mention recognition. It was the first time in the history of Shaw that any footballer had gained All-Air Force recognition, and by placing three men on the list, Shaw moved into the football powerhouses of the Air Force. Both Wilson and Maloof received watches as a result of being named to the two top teams of the Air Force.
The Shaw Fliers lost their first game on Dec. 4, bowing to the Pensacola Air Station 34-12 in the third-annual Conch Bowl football game. J. D. Smith, former Georgetown star, led the Pensacola attack. The navy team used its depth to wear down the Fliers, and in the final quarter Pensacola ran through the tired Shaw team. The Fliers returned to Shaw Field and immediately began making preparations for the Electronics Bowl against Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi.
On Dec. 15, the Fliers won the Electronics Bowl, defeating Keesler AFB 20-19 in Biloxi, Mississippi. Fullback Tom Wilson came to life in the second half and led the Shaw team to victory. For this, he was named the game's outstanding back as he picked up 173 yards rushing on 24 carries.
The Shaw Fliers would face their rival, the Fort Jackson Eagles, on Jan. 1, in the Palmetto Shrine Bowl. "The surprising Shaw team, regarded by many observers as no match for the powerful Eagles, outplayed and outfought their rivals and came within a few ticks of the clock of upsetting the soldiers. Fort Jackson, trailing by nine points and with less than five minutes left to play, uncoiled a sensational air attack that boosted them into a 26-21 lead that they held the rest of the way."
"Touchdown Tom" Wilson made one of Shaw's most spectacular runs in the second period when he took the ball on the 45-yard line, broke through the left side of the line, and reversing his field, avoided the Jackson defenders all the way to the goal. George Maloof was also a backfield standout for the Fliers as he kicked all three of the extra points. The Shaw line was charging and blocking hard the entire game."
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