Riverhead grad inducted into his college hall of fame

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Anthony James with his South Carolina State University Hall of Fame plaque.

Two years ago, Anthony James and the 1976 South Carolina State football team finally received the championship rings they’d waited more than 30 years for.

Now the Riverhead High School graduate and his former college teammates can call themselves hall of famers.

The 1976 Bulldogs team that went 10-1 and earned a share of the National Black College Football Championship was inducted into the South Carolina State University Hall of Fame last month.  The men all received official plaques and were honored along with other 2012 Hall of Fame inductees at the school’s home opener Sept. 7.

“It was lovely to go back in time and see all the guys I came up with [at the ceremony],” Mr. James said. “The hall of fame brought all of us old guys back together. It was incredible to see all those guys and who they are now.”

After a standout football career at Riverhead High School, Mr. James left for the historically black South Carolina institution on a scholarship in the fall of 1975. After one season as a linebacker, he moved to the fullback position for Hall of Fame coach Willie Jeffries’ team.

He played at South Carolina State during a stretch that saw the school win 35 games in four seasons. He played alongside 19 teammates that went on to careers in the NFL, including former Giants Hall of Famer Harry Carson.

Mr. James said about 45 teammates and coaches showed up to the induction ceremony, including several who played in the NFL.

He said the best part of the reunion was seeing all the positive things his teammates went on to accomplish.

“There were preachers and principals, a lot of positives,” he said. “A lot of them went back to their hometown and started coaching and getting the next generation of youth ready.”

The Bulldogs saw unprecedented success in 1976, winning 10 games for the first time since the program was founded in 1907. Their one loss was by just one point.

Despite the defeat, the Pittsburgh Courier, the black newspaper empowered at the time with picking a black national champion selected South Carolina State along with unbeaten Florida A&M as co-winners. It was the Bulldogs’ first time garnering the honor, an achievement reached by the team three times since.

When the school won the title again in 2009, Mr. Brown began looking into acquiring rings for all the players on the first title team. In 1976, the college declined to purchase the players rings, saying it could not afford to, according to a 2010 account in the Georgetown Times newspaper of Georgetown County, S.C.

The players finally received their rings in Oct. 2010, at a special ceremony Mr. James attended in Santee, S.C.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Anthony James shows off his championship ring in 2010.

Mr. James, who can be seen cheering at most every Riverhead High football and basketball game, said he believes only a knee injury suffered during his junior season kept him from joining his teammates in the NFL. Even with a bad leg, he was invited to a Jets training camp in the late ’70s. He was one of 24 Bulldogs from the 1976 title team to get a training camp audition with an NFL squad.

Despite the sour ending to his own career, Mr. James, who went on to become a truck driver, said he remains proud of all his college teammates accomplished as their own playing days continued.

“I’m proud to know that I helped them get to the NFL,” he said.

Read more about the induction from the Augusta Chronicle