Prep Football: Friday Night Hero: Tom McDaniel
SALISBURY — On Friday nights at Ludwig Stadium, Tom McDaniel Jr. holds the chains.
Back in the day, he was pretty good at moving those chains as a Salisbury halfback, so he’s come full circle.
“I’ve been on the chain crew out there about 20 years,” said McDaniel, a 1976 Salisbury graduate. “I’ve just missed two Fridays in all that time. One of those was three weeks ago when I was in the hospital. The other was a day when my wife (Judy) said we were going to the beach and she didn’t give me any choice.”
McDaniel enjoys his “chain gang” duties. Obviously, he wants the Hornets to roll, but he has to be impartial, get the job done and keep the game moving whenever a first-down measurement is required.
“Holding the chains is the best seat in the house,” he explained. “You get to hear the coach call the plays. Then you get to hear those Sunday-school conversations when a player doesn’t do what he was supposed to do. We do it because we love it, and we’ve developed friendships with the visiting coaches that come in every year. On Friday, the East Davidson coach (Bryan Lingerfelt) told us it was good to see us again because we always do a good job.”
McDaniel says there’s just one negative about his chain duties.
“Those boys will run you over if you’re not careful,” he said with a laugh.
There was a time when it was McDaniel running people over.
He got his football start with coach Marvin Query’s Salisbury Tigers when he was 11. After that came junior high ball a Knox.
When he arrived at Salisbury as a sophomore in the fall of 1973, the Hornets were in the midst of a tremendous run under head coach Pete Stout. They hadn’t lost a county game since 1964 and their winning tradition was firmly in place.
McDaniel was a regular-sized guy at 165 pounds, but he had good speed and a hard nose. He was willing to block and that helped him get backfield time right away on a team that won the WNCHSAA title.
The stiffest challenge in 1973 was finding some way to survive the South Piedmont Conference. Seven of the league’s nine teams had winning overall records. Just two would go on to the playoffs.
“Everyone had a good team, and you just had to bring your ‘A’ game every single Friday,” McDaniel said. “Everybody wanted to beat Salisbury, so everybody was a rival. We were then what West Rowan is now. It was standing room only and the track was full. A packed house every Friday.”
Salisbury went 6-1-1 in the league and finished second to Thomasville, but once the Hornets blew away the Bulldogs 52-0 in the SPC championship game, they were home free. Hornets who were there claim the Watauga team they shut out in the WNCHSAA championship game wouldn’t have finished in the top half of the SPC.
In the 1973 regular season, McDaniel carried 48 times for 308 yards. He was third in rushing on a team that counted on David Daniels and Powell Adkins as the primary ballcarriers.
“One reason Coach Stout used the wishbone was that we always had a great stable of running backs,” McDaniel said. “We had to share the wealth, just like Salisbury does now.”
McDaniel’s workload increased as a junior in 1974. He rushed 101 times for 576 yards that regular season, second on the team to legend Leonard Atkins. Pete Hardin and Kevin Moss also got plenty of carries.
The SPC race in 1974 was even more balanced than it had been the previous year. Salisbury, Thomasville, A.L. Brown and Statesville all lost two league games, but the Wonders and Greyhounds also had a tie with Asheboro’s Blue Comets marring their record.
Those ties put Salisbury and Thomasville in the postseason, and the Hornets’ 7-6 victory against the Bulldogs in the SPC championship game — it came down to stopping a two-point conversion — started a march to a repeat WNCHSAA title.
“We beat Shelby on Thanksgiving weekend,” said McDaniel, shivering at the memory. “What I remember most is how cold it was. We didn’t have all that fancy stuff they have now to keep warm. It’s not like there was any Under Armour then.”
The 1975 season was McDaniel’s finest individually, but it was a heartbreaking senior year for him team-wise. Atkins, Hardin and McDaniel (556 yards, 7.5 yards per carry) did their thing, but the Hornets had to be the strongest team in county history not to make the playoffs. They went 8-1-1 overall and scored 25 points per game while allowing 8.8.
It still wasn’t good enough. An early scoreless tie with Concord hurt and a 17-14 loss to Lexington proved fatal.
In SPC games, Concord went 7-0-1 and Lexington was 7-1. Salisbury was 6-1-1 and relegated to third place.
McDaniel’s playing career is best remembered for his extraordinary games against North Rowan.
In three wins against the Cavaliers, always on the last weekend of September, he carried 31 times for 365 yards and six touchdowns.
“For some reason, I played my best football against them,” McDaniel said. “Two of those years, I got player of the week for the North game.”
The best game of his career had to be the 1974 game against North in Spencer.
That was an emotional night for the Hornets. Stout’s mother had died the day before the game, and SHS assistants Charlie Little, Bob Patton and Charles Hellard were in charge.
Salisbury trailed 7-6 at halftime, but the locker-room speech must have been a good one. McDaniel scored the first three TDs of the second half, one on a 72-yard dash, as the Hornets rallied and then took charge. He finished with 16 carries for 182 yards.
McDaniel made the traveling squad at Livingstone as a freshman, but he joined the work force not long after that — first at PPG in Lexington, then with Southern Railway.
His passion, though, has always been helping young athletes.
“I guess it started with Judy having daycare for kids in our home,” McDaniel said. “Then Romeo White got me involved coaching youth football.”
That led in turn to coaching AAU basketball, officiating basketball games and training young officials. His son, Quentin, is a noted official. His nephew, Mark, had a spectacular career at South Rowan and is now a freshman football player at Catawba.
“What I learned from working with kids is that they don’t ask for help much, but if you offer a hand, a lot of times they will take it,” McDaniel said. “For years, we always had a house full of ball-playing boys. Some needed shoes. Some needed something to eat. My wife and I always tried to help and usually we found a way.”
His former players are grateful. They still come around, and to them, McDaniel will always be “Coach.”
A knee replacement five years ago forced McDaniel to cut back on his officiating assignments, but he’s still got his chain-crew duties and will be working at Ludwig Stadium tonight.
“Salisbury got lucky with a whole lot of home games last year,” McDaniel said. “We hope to be out there for many more Fridays to come.”