The Texas high school football season begins again this week, so it’s an opportune time to reflect on the history of the game.
Herewith, the top five Commerce-area players of all time, Commerce area being defined as the neighboring counties having county seats within about 35 miles – so basically, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, Lamar and Fannin Counties. (I’ll slightly cheat on one player, as you’ll see.)
First, an admission that “best high-school player” here is defined as players who ultimately made the biggest impact on the national scene. So, in one case in particular, these are not necessarily the players who were the greatest at the high-school level.
Next, some names that would be on a list of the top 10 Commerce-area players, all of whom had significant NCAA and NFL careers: Ron and Bam Morris of Cooper; Jimmy and Earl Thomas of Greenville; Damione Lewis of Sulphur Springs. Great players all, and no doubt someone will argue each of them should be in the top five.
So, David Letterman-style, going from lowest to highest:
5. Dandy Don Meredith, QB, Mount Vernon
Right off the bat, this is the one I’m cheating on. So sue me. Mount Vernon is the county seat of Franklin County, and about 45 miles east of Commerce. But KETR’s Mark Haslett and I share a hero worship of “Jeff and Hazel’s baby boy,” and ultimately, I could not resist Mark’s relentless lobbying for Dandy. Of course, Meredith was an SMU All-American, the “original Cowboy,” and the quarterback, who, with any luck at all, would have won the Cowboys’ first Super Bowl. And, as one of the original “Monday Night Football” commentators, easily one of most entertaining and engaging athletes to ever hold a microphone.
The youngest and greatest of the three Greenville Thomas brothers who played in the NFL. The 1975 Offensive Rookie of the Year with the Washington Redskins. Almost 4,200 yards rushing, over 2,000 yards receiving and 30 touchdowns in six NFL seasons.
3. Wade Wilson, QB, Commerce
Not a homer pick. The former Tiger and East Texas State Lion had a 17-year career as an NFL quarterback, mostly with the Minnesota Vikings, but also the Cowboys, and he’s now the Cowboys quarterback coach. Over 17,000 yards passing, 99 touchdown passes and a Pro Bowl player in 1988.
2. Raymond Berry, WR, Paris
Berry is the player I had in mind who apparently was not an exceptional high school player for the Paris Wildcats, though he did go on to play at SMU. But he’s Pro Football Hall of Famer, a three-time All-Pro and played in six Pro Bowls. Thirteen years and three NFL titles with Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts before going on to a successful coaching career.
1. Forrest Gregg, OT, Sulphur Springs
Another SMU product (obviously SMU beat a well-traveled trail through Northeast Texas in the 1950s), a 15-year career with the Green Bay Packers (and, in his last season, the Cowboys), six-time NFL champion, a seven-time All-Pro, a nine-time Pro Bowl player, and a highly respected coach at Green Bay, Cincinnati and SMU. Like many rural boys of his era, Gregg grew up poor, famously sleeping in the Sulphur Springs gym part of the time he was in high school.
Let the great debate begin. Next week: The five greatest ET/A&M-Commerce players.