Reunion reignites 'Catch Cardinal Craze'

Reunion reignites 'Catch Cardinal Craze'

Frank Messina, a member of the 1968 Lamar Cardinals football team, proudly displays Lamar University athletic memorabilia throughout his store Debb’s Liquor at 2525 College St. in Beaumont. One particular item that still excites him to this day is the “Catch Cardinal Craze” bumper sticker above the main entrance of his business.

“From 1979-1981, there wasn’t a Mid Major school doing what Lamar was doing,” said Messina. “Jim Gilligan was going to the NCAA Regionals in baseball. Billy Tubbs was beating everyone in basketball. Sonny Jolly and the track team were winning track meets. And Larry Kennan beat Baylor in football. The one negative back then — there was no ESPN or social media to capture this phenomenon.”

But the players, coaches and fans from that era remember, and players from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s returned to campus July 6-7 to celebrate with former Lamar head football coach Larry Kennan.

“The reunion was fabulous,” said Kennan, who was the head coach for the Lamar football team from 1979-1981. “It was spectacular. It was beyond my wildest expectations.”

Kennan, said he came up with the idea for the reunion after seeing several of his former players at the funeral of Lamar legend John Payton in February.

“Since I am retired now, I thought it would be a good time to get something organized,” he added.

Former players who attended the reunion included Richard Bjerke (1964-67); Charles Broussard (1979-82); Matt Burnett (1975-78); Steve Cahee (1983); Rick Casey (1978-79); Matthew Clay (1978); Glen Edgerly (1967-68); Mike Ellis (1977 80); Victor Enard (1977-79); Louis Garriga (1980-82); Keith Gilchrist (1978-79); Kenneth Green (1981-83); Anthony Guillory (1962-64); James Guillory (1980); Herbert Harris (1980-82); Jackie Harris (1980-83); Larry Haynes (1978-79); Charlie Lowe (1973-75); Kevin McArthur (1980-83); Danny McFarland (1982-85); Frank Messina (1968); Joe Persohn (1983); Kurt Phoenix (1976-79); Norris Roberts  (1981); Howard “Boo” Robinson (1976-79); Louis Story (1977-79); Juan Taylor (1979-81); Ronnie Turpin (1979-80); and Bill Worsham (1961-64).

The weekend ended at the Dauphin Athletic Complex with players sharing stories, reminiscing over scrapbooks and hearing speeches from players, Dolly Payton, the wife of the late John Payton, current Lamar head football coach Mike Schultz and Athletic Director Marco Born.

“This is another step to having a good football program,” said Schultz. “Many of these players were back on campus for the first time, and we were able to recognize these guys from the great Lamar football teams. The entire Lamar administration did a good job.”

Bel Morian, director of Event and External Relations Oversight at Lamar University, added that the former players now have more time to spend with the Lamar football program.

“Many of the players were back on campus for the first time and were able to see all the great improvements,” she said.

A captain from the 1968 football team, Glen Edgerly said it’s always a special connection when lettermen return to campus. “I enjoyed seeing some of my teammates from the ‘60s and those from Coach Kennan’s teams,” said Edgerly, who now lives in Wimberley. “They were an important part of Lamar’s football history. This is a step forward for the football program.”

Edgerly spoke highly of both Mike Schultz and Marco Born. “I’m glad to see Lamar University hire a real football coach who is a task master like Coach Schultz,” he said. “I’m excited about the new athletic director hire, as well. He is a real professional.”

Kennan came to Lamar University in 1979 after three seasons as the offensive coordinator at SMU, where “Mustang Mania” was running wild.

“I wanted to create something special,” said Kennan. “Bud Leonard helped me come up with ‘Catch Cardinal Craze’ and it really caught on.”

In his first season, the Cardinals went 6-3-2 with wins over Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe and ended the season with a 24-24 tie at UNLV, a school Kennan once served as offensive coordinator. Fans instantly took to Kennan’s Cardinal Craze.

To open the 1981 season, Lamar defeated the Baylor Bears in Waco, 18-17. Kennan became the “hot name” and was hired by Al Davis to become the quarterback coach for the Los Angeles Raiders in 1982.

“There were a whole lot of special people that were involved in the Lamar football program,” said Kennan. “From the president, Dr. Robert Kemble, athletic director J.B. Higgins, assistant athletic director Dan Rogas, our secretary Lanelle Key to W.L. Pate Sr. and Frank Messina ... those people supported football. They helped make the football program a big deal.”

Kennan also assembled an all-star coaching staff, which included Carl Smith, who is currently the associate head coach for the NFL Seattle Seahawks and has over 30 years of NFL coaching experience.

Also on Kennan’s staff at Lamar was current Houston Texans special teams coach Brad Seely, who has three Super Bowl championship rings; Dave Beckman, longtime NFL scout; and Johnny Barr, who is in his ninth season as an assistant at Oklahoma State.

“We had a special coaching staff that worked very hard and recruited some very good players,” said Kennan. “Eight of the players we recruited at Lamar went on to play professional football for a total of 35 years.”

Kennan himself had a storied coaching career. He ran the offenses of many NFL teams including the Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots and was also the head coach of the London Monarchs in 1991 in the NFL-Europe.

He recently retired from coaching after spending six seasons as the head  coach at Incarnate Word. Despite being retired, Kennan, now 74, still remains highly involved with football.

He has turned his attention to developing and working with quarterbacks. Kennan spent 14 years as the head of the NFL Coaches Association and during each offseason, he worked with college quarterbacks by helping them prepare for the NFL Draft. He was hands-on with Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke, Tim Couch, Drew Henson, Byron Leftwich, Jeff George, Drew Stanton, Alex Smith, Tony Romo, Chad Pennington, Eli Manning, and his personal favorite — Drew Brees.

Kennan also works with high school quarterbacks with elite training and private lessons through his website, www.qbcoachk.com.

“I love it,” he said. “I can work with a quarterback for a couple of workouts and see a dramatic difference.”

 

Chad Cooper is the Sports Editor of The Examiner. Contact cooper [at] theexaminer [dot] com

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