London Column: Friday night legend
By Mike London
Football came reasonably close to killing Gerald Adams one autumn day in the 1950s, but his passion for pigskins grows as the decades fly by.
Adams, a Rowan native who turned 76 yesterday, is the director of the Yosef Club, the fundraising arm that provides Appalachian State athletic scholarships.
When the Mountaineers tackle LSU tomorrow, he’ll be as pumped as the players.
Adams hasn’t missed a Mountaineer game in nearly 30 years, and that one was because a friend from Granite Quarry decided to get married on a football Saturday. He admits he snuck away from the festivities once or twice to listen to his beloved Mountaineers battle James Madison on the radio.
Athletics, young people, hard work and a love for the school in Boone he refers to as “Heaven” have kept Adams’ body healthy, his white hair thick and his mind sharp.
“I’ve worked with young people for 54 years,” Adams said. “Six days a week, 10 hours a day, and we enjoy every minute of it.”
Each day he employs lessons he learned from his Boyden High coaches ó Bill Ludwig, Joe Ferebee, M.L. Barnes and Derwood Huneycutt. He absorbed that schooling from tough, fair men in the fall of 1949.
“Disciplinarians, perfectionists, sticklers for doing things the right way,” Adams said. “One of the bestdays I’ve ever had was when (ASU baseball coach) Chris Pollard and I drove down to Concord and picked up Coach Barnes and then went to Pfeiffer and picked up Coach Ferebee for lunch.”
Barnes, the football team’s line coach, straightened out Adams when he misbehaved in history class, and he was smart enough never to do it again. Ferebee, one of the great baseball coaches in state history, instilled discipline. Ludwig taught Adams football, taught him how to pop a blocking sled just right, so it didn’t knock him on his butt.
Adams grew up in Granite Quarry and went to school there 101/2 years. But football was in his blood and Granite didn’t have a football team.
So he paid his way to Boyden, joining the Yellow Jackets after Christmas his junior year. He went through spring drills with new teammates and played tackle on a talented team that went 7-2-1 in the fall of 1949.
That was the year the renovated facility we now know as Ludwig Stadium opened ó with lights. Jerry Barger. Bill Peeler. Jerry Kincaid. Rodney Calloway. So many more.
“Our backfield was known as the fastest in the state,” Adams said. “Barger at fullback, Bob Ritchie at wingback, Don Goodwin at blocking back and Bob Gardner at tailback.”
Vivid memories are the 6-0 victory over mighty Charlotte Central the night the lighted stadium opened, and the 26-0 loss to lowly High Point that followed and cost Boyden a championship.
“I don’t think High Point beat anyone but us,” Adams said. “We were so high after beating Charlotte, we started losing to High Point the next Monday at practice. That lesson always stuck with me.”
Barger starred at Duke. Many of Adams’ teammates excelled at Catawba.
“But I was the only one who went to Heaven,” Adams said. “I got to Boone and I had this passion for the game, but I really didn’t know if I was good enough.”
He spent his first year as a Mountaineer as a walk-on on the freshman team.
World events intervened. Bullets were flying in Korea.
He was the sixth tackle on the varsity depth chart shortly before the 1951 season began, but military service thinned the ranks. By the second game of his sophomore year, he was starting in a win over Western Carolina.
“There’s a tape that proves it,” Adams said with a laugh. “I actually blocked a PAT, and then they do an onside kick and, of course, they kick it to the tackle. I caught the ball, spun off two guys, and then three guys about killed me.”
Figuratively, not literally.
But a real brush with tragedy came later when the Mountaineers traveled to Tampa. He was on scholarship then and his career was flourishing beyond his wildest dreams when another onside kick nearly did him in.
“I fell on top of the ball, and then, boom, one of their fellows jumped in on top of me,” Adams said. “No bad intentions, but I wish that whistle had blown earlier.
“They took me to the hospital in Tampa, and I bled for five days.”
Doctors removed part of a kidney, but Adams pulled through.
“Jerry Barger was at Duke, they’re on the road, and he’s sitting in a hotel reading the sports page about some poor guy down in Tampa who’s in critical condition,” Adams said. “Well, he keeps reading, and he finds out it’s me.”
Adams never really made it back on the field. A broken ankle derailed his comeback, but he stayed with the team as a manager and kept learning football.
“All experience helps,” Adams said. “The manager gets to see every position, so it wasn’t a bad thing.”
He was coaching six-man football shortly after graduation and was hired to coach in Danville, Va., in 1954.
“Tobacco country,” Adams said. “The first day of practice I’ve got 13 kids because the rest are in the fields. But one of them (Don Thompson) went on to play for the Baltimore Colts.”
By the opener, Adams had 20 players, and his teams always did well, playing on both sides of the Virginia-North Carolina line.
After six coaching seasons, Adams moved into administration. As a principal, he hired young Appalachian grad W.A. Cline to replace him as football coach. Years later, in 1969, Cline guided East Rowan to the only perfect season recorded in Rowan since consolidation and integration.
“Hiring W.A. was my first call,” Adams said. “You have to bring in good people.”
His last 18 years in Danville, his job was hiring teachers. He loved it, but on Sept. 1, 1991 the call came to return to Boone as Yosef Club director. It was the only job that could have pulled him away from Danville.
The rest is history. Adams has been instrumental in soaring levels of giving to Mountaineer athletics.
“That first year in ’91 we brought in $200,000,” Adams said. “Last year, it was 2.3 million, and we’re heading toward 3 million. We’ve got 400 athletes and about 300 get scholarship help.”
Obviously, three football national championships in a row and the win at Michigan have changed ASU athletics forever. It’s made Adams’ job both easier and tougher.
“I used to put every contributor at any level in the parking lot,” Adams said. “This year it takes a $2,500 gift to get into the stadium lot. The next four lots are $1,500. Then there are lots for $1,000. The $250 and $500 folks are in the parking deck. We’re basically sold out for this season already, but we’ll still sell tickets on the grass.”
Adams doesn’t envision retirement anytime soon, and the passion for football he had as a teenager burns as strongly now as it did when he soaked up knowledge from Ludwig, Barnes, Ferebee and Huneycutt.
His life is going well. He lost his first wife to cancer, but he met Julia Ross on a Black-and-Gold weekend and “got to talking” with the former ASU cheerleader who had lost her husband to a heart attack. A Black-and-Gold wedding followed, and now Mrs. Adams is as involved in ASU athletics as her husband.
Every day brings a new adventure.
“I’ll be hosting 160 Yosef members flying to LSU, and I hope you can see those Mountaineers on TV,” Adams said. We’ll be the ones in black and gold.”