Best-selling author Rick Bragg wrote an article entitled “Greatest Show on
Gridiron,” mentioning Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker but featuring a 150-pound
Jacksonville State running back.
Bragg described Boyce Callahan as “slick as a boiled owl.”
“He would get hammered on one play, and the next, and the next,” the former
Anniston Star writer wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in August of
2005. “I saw him actually stagger back to the huddle.
“But there would always come a time when he would hit the pile, bounce off,
shake loose and bust it outside, running like he stole something.”
Turns out that Callahan was just running scared.
So says the former JSU and Saks High School star as he nears his induction
Saturday into the Calhoun County Sports Hall of Fame.
“I tell people, I really didn't have many talents,” Callahan said. “People
think you're being modest when you say that. I look back, and I really didn't. I
tell everybody, my best quality was fear.
“I tell everybody, you see a rabbit running away from a pack of hound dogs,
that's not mean or tough. That sucker is scared.”
Callahan ran scared all the way to 4,237 yards for JSU between 1970-73, a
record that still stands.
After his senior season, he made The Associated Press Little All-America team
and even received a Heisman Trophy vote. His No. 33 jersey is among two the
school has retired.
At Saks, he scored 39 touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons,
leading the Wildcats to their first-ever victory against Alexandria and a berth
in the Class 3A state title game in 1968.
Now an Anniston chiropractor, Callahan has the backs of all that helped him.
There was Pee-Wee coach Harold Warren, Saks coach Jack Stewart, JSU coach
Charley Pell and running backs coach Clarkie Mayfield.
Oh, and there was Doug Crowe, whom Callahan describes as a “vicious”
160-pound guard who opened many a hole for him at Saks.
Viciousness and fear made quite a combination.
Callahan gained 172 yards and scored all three touchdowns in Saks'
groundbreaking, 19-13 victory over Lou Scales-coached Alexandria in 1968.
Callahan went on to rush for 181 yards in a 27-18 victory over Oxford and 177 in
a state-semifinal victory over Fairfield.
By the time Callahan finished his run at Saks, he was the first player in
Calhoun County history to score 100 points or more in a season twice.
Still, major colleges had little use for a 150-pound running back. They sent
Callahan lots of letters but made few attractive offers.
“As I look back, if I was a college guy, I wouldn't want to sign me,”
Callahan said. “I surely wasn't big enough to put on much more weight, and I
wasn't some awesome speed demon.”
He had something, and it came through on film. Stewart had a film session
with Pell after Callahan's senior season, and Pell offered Callahan a
Stewart gave Callahan a key piece of advice: “He said, whatever you do, I
don't want you to quit,” Callahan recalled.
He would learn why later.
Rules allowed incoming freshmen to participate in spring practice, and
Callahan emerged as the second-team tailback in JSU's newly installed
I-formation offense. He was the starter by the end of two-a-days.
He averaged 150 yards during JSU's first three games, all away games. As he
went through chow line before the Gamecocks' first home game game, he got a note
to report to Mayfield's office.
“He said, 'I want to tell you something, because you're going to find out
sooner or later,'” Callahan said.
Remember that film session between Pell and Stewart in the spring of that
Pell promptly went to Mayfield's office and told his assistant he planned to
sign Callahan. Mayfield had already told Pell he shouldn't.
Mayfield's exact words, as he relayed to Callahan months later: “I told him,
'Charlie, we're going to waste a damn scholarship.'”
Three games into Callahan's remarkable freshman season, Mayfield had called
Callahan into his office to apologize … in his way.
“I want you to know I was wrong, and I want to tell you that,” Mayfield told
his star freshman.
Callahan went on to rush for 1,293 yards that year, including three 200-yard
He would finish his career averaging more than 100 yards a game, never
missing a game because of injury despite setting the school record for 39
carries in one game against Livingston State in 1972.
He caught the eye of a future famous writer.
“He had this habit of cocking his head back when he was in the clear, like he
was daring them to catch him,” Bragg wrote.
Turns out, Callahan made a habit of looking back for the tackler charging
from the backside. He said a bad experience at the end of his freshman year
taught him that.
It happened during his 224-yard performance in JSU's victory over Florida
A&M in the Orange Blossom Classic.
“I'm taking off down the field, and I'm smelling pay dirt,” he said. “I'm a
freshman, and I'm gone. I'm thinking, 'This is great.' The next thing, I woke up
on the sideline.
“When we watched the film, there was a 280-pound tackle who had come from the
backside. He saw what was happening. He knew he couldn't catch me, but he had an
angle. I mean, he just leveled me. I never even saw him coming.
“After that, when I would break loose, I would look back.”
Fear can be a powerful motivator.
About Joe Medley
Joe Medley covers Auburn University sports teams
and participatory sports for The Anniston Star.
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