By: Josh Bryant and Adam benShea
In 1954, Texas A&M hired Paul “Bear” Bryant as their new head football coach. Upon his arrival in College Station, Texas on February 8, 1954, Bryant came out guns-a-blazing and began cleaning house.
Bryant sensed that many of the current players were physically flaccid, mentally weak and spiritually deflated. They were victims of unsuccessful habits cultivated from the low expectations of past coaches.
Reminiscent of when the wealthy Rocky Balboa returns to his roots and trains for Clubber Lang in the Spartan gym in Rocky III, Bryant relocates his team to the most austere conditions possible. To do this, Bryant takes the team to the rural environment of Junction, Texas. Far from the distractions of easy women and soft living, Bryant could mold these young men into grid iron warriors and rid the team of dead wood.
At the time of the camp, Junction was experiencing a drought of biblical proportions. As a consequence, the weather was hot enough to make the devil sigh.
In this brutal environment, practices began at the ass crack of dawn and many times lasted deep into the evenings; the players were on the field daily for a minimum of six hours. Nonetheless, during practice, water was forbidden. This flies in the face of modern day Texas football, where athletic trainers hand out vagisil if the heat reaches triple digits.
Given this reality, it is not surprising that few could endure such harsh circumstances. Approximately 100 players left to go to Junction, less than 40 returned.
Jailhouse Strong is about honoring and believing in heroes—here is list of the survivors, whom we considered heroes, which came to be known as the “Junction Boys.”
• Ray Barrett – G 5-9 195 Sr. San Angelo, Texas
• Darrell Brown – T 6-1 190 Soph. Dayton, Texas
• James Burkhart – G 6-1 185 Soph. Hamlin, Texas
• Donald Bullock – HB 5-11 165 Soph. Orange, Texas
• Henry Clark – T 6-2 205 Jr. Mesquite, Texas
• Bob Easley – FB 5-11 190 Jr. Houston, Texas
• Dennis Goehring – G 5-11 185 Soph. San Marcos, Texas
• Billy Granberry – FB 5-7 155 Soph. Beeville, Texas
• Lloyd Hale – C 5-10 190 Soph. Iraan, Texas (Died 15 April 2014)
• Charles Hall – HB 5-10 185 Sr. Dallas, Texas
• Gene Henderson – QB 6-1 175 Jr. Sonora, Texas
• Billy Huddleston – HB 5-9 165 Jr. Iraan, Texas
• George Johnson – T 6-3 200 Jr. Ellisville, Mississippi
• Don Kachtik – FB 6-1 185 Sr. Rio Hondo, Texas
• Bobby D. Keith – HB 6-0 175 Soph. Breckenridge, Texas
• Paul Kennon – E 6-1 185 Sr, Shreveport, Louisiana
• Elwood Kettler – QB 6-0 165 Sr. Brenham, Texas
• Bobby Lockett – T 6-3 190 Soph. Breckenridge, Texas
• Billy McGowan – E 6-1 180 Sr. Silsbee, Texas
• Russell Moake – C 6-3 215 Soph. Deer Park, Texas
• Norbert Ohlendorf – T 6-3 200 Sr. Lockhart, Texas
• Jack Pardee – FB 6-2 200 Soph. Christoval, Texas
• Dee Powell – T 6-1 210 Sr. Lockhart, Texas
• Donald Robbins – E 6-1 188 Jr. Breckenridge, Texas
• Joe Schero – HB 6-0 175 Sr. San Antonio, Texas
• Bill Schroeder – T 6-1 200 Sr. Lockhart, Texas
• Charles Scott – QB 5-8 160 Soph. Alexandria, Louisiana
• Bennie Sinclair – E 6-2 195 Sr. Mineola, Texas
• Gene Stallings – E 6-1 165 Soph. Paris, Texas
• Troy Summerlin – C 5-8 145 Soph. Shreveport, Louisiana (Died 19 September 2010)
• Marvin Tate – G 6-0 175 Sr. Abilene, Texas
• Sid Theriot – G 5-10 195 Sr. Gibson, Louisiana
• Richard Vick – FB 6-1 185 Sr. Beaumont, Texas
• Don Watson – HB 5-11 155 Soph. Franklin, Texas
• Lawrence Winkler – T 6-0 225 Sr. Temple, Texas
• Herb Wolf – C 5-11 185 Jr. Houston, Texas
• Nick Tyson- WR 6-1 181 JR. Norman, Oklahoma
While “The Junction Boys” gained mental strength from this experience, it did not translate into immediate success on the football field. The 1954 team went 1-9.
The key is to remember the only place success comes before work is the dictionary and this would be the only losing season on Bryant’s 38 years as a head coach.
The work ethic and model of success set during that first summer would serve future endeavors on the grid iron. Subsequently, the 1955 team went 7-2-1 and the 1956 team went undefeated. With time, success breeds success and the cream eventually rises to the top.
Many Aggie football analysts believe that Bryant resurrected the A&M football team from perennial damnation to a state of pig skin salvation that had been maintained in the over 60 years since the 1954 season.
While they don’t erect statues for critics, to this day “The Junction Boys” are honored throughout the A&M campus.
If you looked at what happened to the 30+ “survivors” from Junction, you notice a pattern, the pattern is success. This is not a UC Santa Cruz metaphysical success, or success in the abstract. This is a bottom line type of success. The original Junction Boys team members are now CEOs, NFL coaches, attorneys and basically a who’s who of achievement and accomplishment in all aspects of life.
In his Houston Chronicle article, journalist David Barron notes this pattern of success among the Junction Boys. Jack Pardee went All-Pro in the NFL and was the coach of the Oilers. Similarly, Gene Stallings went on to coach at the collegiate and professional levels. However, for the Junction Boys, success is not limited to the football field.
Barron notes that “Marvin Tate became A&M’s athletic director and the mayor of Bryan, Bobby Drake Keith was CEO of Arkansas Power and Light, Norbert “Dutch” Ohlendorf earned a doctorate in education from A&M, Billy Pete Huddleston and Jim Burkhart became energy company CEOs, and Don Kachtik owns one of the nation’s biggest Christmas tree farms.”
There is a parable of wisdom to be gleaned by these Junction survivors: successful people have the ability to endure tough times and stay the course during difficult situations.
To illustrate this lesson further, let’s focus on one of the stars from the original Junction Boys’ team.
In particular, we recently talked with Billy “Pete” Huddleston, who was A&M’s best half-back and the fastest player in the conference.
While Huddleston is very proud of being one of the Junction Boys, his whole life is a story of success, hard work, and a positive mindset.
Huddleston successful mindset is evident from the moment he begins to talk. Rather than taking a victim mentality about his advanced years, Huddleston says that is “only” 81 years old and, as a consequence, he still runs the day to day operations at the oil and gas company he founded in 1967.
Before he started Huddleston & Company, Inc., Huddleston already had an established work ethic. At only 12 years old, he started working in the oil fields. In college he ran three miles every morning before class. Although, in retrospect, he thinks that he should have done more short sprints for a more football-specific workout. Nonetheless, this conditioning habit helped Huddleston survive Coach Bryant’s grinding practices.
Before the actual practice began, Bryant would have the A&M squad perform 20-30 minutes of calisthenics with little rest. The training consisted of drills like jumping jacks, push-ups, toe touches, burpees and sit-ups (very similar to Jailhouse Strong Bodyweight Training!).
After this initial workout, football practice began. In many regards Bryant was ahead of his time; instead of mindless “road work” Bryant conditioned the players with football-specific drills, rep after rep of blocking and tackling drills.
To insure conditioning was not a factor at the end of every practice, Bryant had players run 30-50 yard wind sprints for 20-30 minutes. Football is usually played at an even shorter distance, but, nevertheless, this interval training was decades ahead of its time.
While long practices in the hot Texas heat could break many young men, Huddleston believes that the high attrition on Coach Bryant’s teams had much more to do with players being broken mentally than facing insurmountable physical difficulties.
In fact Coach Bryant would often test the mental fortitude of his most physically dominating players. For example, one time, Huddleston returned kicks against eight linemen for three hours straight; the linemen rotated turns attempting to tackle Huddleston in the open field, but Huddleston was over looked for a break. Coach Bryant concluded that Huddleston, the fastest man in the conference, no matter how tired, should be expected to out run a lineman in the open field.
These high expectations did not end with Huddleston. Starters went both ways! This was the day of ironman football, where you put the best 11 on the field and went with it. Unlike modern-day high school football where even the smallest schools insist on having players go one way, you had to be in shape and ready to endure long days on the field.
Along with developing mental toughness in players, Coach Brant also believed in installing accountability in his youth athletes. In particular, Coach Bryant always held his leaders accountable.
One wind sprint session, Huddleston did not finish first because he slipped at the start and lost by half a step. As a consequence, Huddleston was forced to stay after practice and run by himself for an hour.
Being a captain of the team meant that Coach Bryant entrusted Huddleston to make sure players were upstanding off the field. One day there was a report of some linemen drinking beer in jock straps outside of their dorm. Coaches sent Huddleston to bring the linemen to the coaches. Upon delivery, Huddleston believed his work was done. However, he soon learned that he would be running with these guys because it happened on his watch.
This lesson of accountability stayed with Huddleston into his corporate career. At a time when it is common to see CEOs escape scot-free from the harsh realities of corporate downsizing, the lessons installed by Coach Bryant allow Huddleston to be leader who takes his responsibility for his actions and the actions of those under his leadership.
It is interesting to see the way in which Coach Bryant organized his practices and it is astounding to realize that Bryant could develop such innovative training methods.
Beyond that, when speaking with Huddleston it is clear that the real lesson of the Junction Boys is a lesson about a particular mindset, a successful mindset. Central to this successful mindset are three qualities: optimism, tenacity, and accountability.
Every day when you wake up, you have a choice to be optimistic or pessimistic. While you cannot always choose the challenges you face, you can choose how you face the challenges. In the midst of whatever state you currently find yourself, a positive outlook will improve your experience.
Anyone can be tough when they are fresh, well rested, and physically powerful. It is, however, at the moments when you compromised emotionally or physically that you find out about your tenacity. It is important to be tenacious because you can rely on this power on the days when you are physically ‘off’ or when you face times of tribulations.
Accountability separates a child from an adult. While a child will look to pass blame for outcomes that do not go his way, an adult takes responsibility for his actions. This is even more the case for leaders. A real leader is accountable for himself and for those under him.
Like any type of strength, a successful mindset can be cultivated and sharpened. Once attained, a successful mindset will serve you for the remainder of your life.
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