In 1971, fresh from the battlefield in Vietnam, Sam Sterling met with Coach Hawkins and his staff to try out for the football team. Two days later, he had a full scholarship and a starting position at defensive tackle.
“We had the best coaching I’ve ever seen,” Sterling said. “Coach Hawkins led it all.
He was a master delegator, always emphasizing teamwork and a strong work ethic.”
Thanks to Hawkins’ training and discipline and the leadership of players like Harvey Martin and Autry Beamon, the football team decided the 1972 season would be something great.
“We decided as a team that we could achieve something more than a conference championship,” Sterling said. “We never said national championship, but it was in the back of our minds.
That attitude of resilience and teamwork paid off, and with a record of 8-2, the Lions made it to the national championship. The stands were full at Memorial Stadium that day, and the team was so fired up that Sterling doubted many Division 1 teams could have beaten them.
“It was a tough, exciting game,” Sterling said. “It didn’t really sink in until the post-game banquet that night. It was a unique experience, one you never forget.”