Many of them still live in town and they are as revered today as when they were standout high school athletes.
They are the members of the 1974 Lauderdale County High School football team. As teenagers the boys from Rogersville became the first team in the Lauderdale County school system to win a state football championship when they claimed the Class 2A title.
Almost 38 years later, they are still the only county team to win a football state title.
Current Lauderdale County coach Bob Grisham was nine years old and served as team manager when his father, Earl, coached that team to the 1974 state title. Bob Grisham, who will lead his team into the Class 3A semifinals on Friday, said the 1974 team was truly special.
“A lot of people don’t realize that team is the only one in the county to ever win a state championship,” he said. “I think that makes it even more special because they accomplished something that no other team in the county has ever done. When you talk about those guys in Rogersville you are talking about legends.”
The Tigers were led by a strong senior class. The 15 seniors had played together since junior high, going undefeated and not allowing a single point during one season.
“The seniors had played together since we were eighth-graders,” running back Mike Haraway said. “We played as a team — there was no jealousy from anyone. It was just a great bunch of guys.”
Ray Hester, defensive coordinator for the 1974 Tigers, said the players took care of business on and off the field.
“We had a great group of seniors and just a great group of kids,” Hester said. “They were smart kids. They understood what we were doing and we didn’t have to worry about their grades because they did well academically.”
The Tigers were primarily a running team, although Grisham also loved to throw deep when opposing defenses began crowding the line of scrimmage. LCHS had a stable of outstanding running backs, led by seniors Haraway and Mike Roberson and a sensational sophomore in James Haney.
“Daddy always ran Wing-T plays out of a Power-I formation,” Bob Grisham said. “Haraway and Roberson were just hard-nosed runners and Haney was unbelievable. They pulled him up to the varsity as a ninth-grader, which says a lot with the type of backs we had. Haney was a special player.”
Junior quarterback Terry Ingrum was an effective passer, although the Tigers rarely threw the ball. Offensive linemen such as Danny Springer, Tad Bedingfield, Gregg Davis, Keith Masonia and Daniel Patterson paved the way for the powerful running game.
“We had a really big offensive line for that time and they did a great job blocking,” Ingrum said. “Our offense has so many tools. Haney set a state record in the 220 (dash) and Roberson could fly, too. Haraway was just a bull at fullback.
“We were primarily a running team. Earl believed in running something until the defense showed they could stop it. We would sometimes run the same play three times in a row.”
The defense allowed an average of 9.6 points per game and recorded three shutouts. Haraway and Springer were also leaders on defense, while players such as Don Nance, Raymond Nance, Rickey Green and Dennis Davis consistently came up with big plays.
Hester said Grisham was a master at game planning. The coaching staff, which also included Travis Butler and Ted Talley, worked well together.
“Earl always wanted us to personally scout our opponents,” Hester said. “We would pick out the three or four best plays our opponent ran and make sure they didn’t beat us with those plays. We were going to make them do something else. Offensively, we would take our best five or six plays and make their defense stop them.”
Bob Grisham recalls his father also showed the utmost confidence in his team.
“Daddy approached every game the same way — when he walked out on that field he always expected to win,” Bob Grisham said. “I remember him talking at home about how good one of our opponents was and then he said, ‘But those boys will come up with a way to win.’”
Earl Grisham took practice very seriously. The Tigers normally practiced hard Monday, Tuesday and Wedneday.
“When we scrimmaged you really got beaten up,” he said. “Those practices were not much fun, but they made you a better player. I won’t say the games were easier than our practices but you certainly were ready for the games because you were used to getting hit.”
Expectations were high as the 1974 season began. The Tigers were coming off a 10-0 in the regular season in 1972 and a 9-1 mark in 1973. Both of those seasons, however, ended with a loss in the first round of the state playoffs.
The season started with easy wins against Tanner and Lexington. In the third week of the season the Tigers turned the ball over four times in a 20-13 loss to Central.
“The loss to Central really woke us up,” Haraway said. “It showed us that we could be beaten.”
Hester points to the loss to Central as a turning point in the season.
“That loss helped us more than it hurt us,” he said. “It made everyone understand that we have to give our best effort every week. Things got very serious after that.”
Lauderdale County responded to the loss with back-to-back shutouts against Rogers and West Morgan. The Tigers were not seriously threatened again in the regular season.
After going 9-1 in the regular season, LCHS began the playoffs with an easy 38-7 victory over East Limestone.
Next up came a quarterfinal game at Crossville. The score was tied at 6 at the end of regulation. LCHS got the ball first in overtime and Haraway went 10 yards for a score on the first play to put the Tigers up 13-6.
Crossville then got its chance with the ball and scored on the third play. Instead of kicking the extra point to tie it and force a second overtime, the Lions went for the win with a 2-point conversion.
“They went for the win and we stopped them,” Haraway said. “They faked a run and threw an incomplete pass. Looking back, they should have just tied it up.”
A showdown with Red Bay was up next for LCHS. Red Bay featured a high-powered offense, along with a defense that had posted six shutouts. Red Bay came into the game with a 12-0 record.
The game lived up to its billing as the lead changed hands six times. Red Bay led 26-23 in the fourth quarter when Don Nance batted down an option pitch and LCHS recovered deep in Red Bay territory. Roberson then scored his third touchdown on a 7-yard run and LCHS held on for a 29-26 victory.
LCHS then hosted Ashford in the state championship game. Roberson scored an early touchdown and Haney dazzled the crowd with an electrifying 98-yard punt return that put LCHS up 14-0.
“Haney’s punt return was amazing,” Bob Grisham said. “I remember coach Hester yelling ‘Let it go, let it go,’ and then when Haney picked it up he started yelling ‘Run.’ He took three steps toward the middle of the field and then broke down the sideline. It looked like smoke coming up behind him because he was running so fast.”
Ashford cut the margin to 14-7 in the third quarter and scored another touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Ashford decided to go for the 2-point conversion and the Tigers held to retain the lead. Mark Nesmith and Haney each intercepted a pass late to seal the win and the Class 2A state championship.
“I think the entire stadium emptied onto the field to celebrate,” Haraway said. “I still remember it well and think about it from time to time. We really wanted it badly and it was such a great feeling to be state champions.”
Bob Grisham said his father was thrilled to bring a state title to the school and community that he loved.
“Daddy loved the kids and that’s why he coached,” he said. “He coached for the kids, the school and the community.
“I know he loved to talk about that team. When the talent level was a little down he would make the team watch the game films from the championship season.”
While there have plenty of good football teams in the county since that time, none have claimed a state title.
“It was great to win it because this town is football crazy. They live and breathe football 365 days a year and they supported us so well. It does make me proud to be the only team in the county to have won a state championship.”
Ingrum was one of the few non-seniors to start on the championship team. He said the state title was a tribute to the group of seniors that led the team.
“I was 16 years old when we won it and it was an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “Sometimes I think about it and wonder how we did it. Then I realize that it all started with that group in junior high. It was just destined for that bunch to win a championship.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.