By DAVID CLAYBOURN
The accomplishments of two stellar Greenville athletes who went on to become successful high school football coaches will be recognized on Friday night at the Greenville Lions football game.
Clell Davidson and the late Joe Hamrick are to be included in the Greenville Hall of Honor. Both men were standout football players who played on national championship teams in college and served their country in World War II before becoming head football coaches and guiding their high school teams to district championships and playoff runs.
Davidson was born in 1921 in Homer, La., but moved to Greenville at an early age. Davidson played several sports at Booker T. Washington High School in Greenville but said, “My love was football.”
The young Davidson would travel across town to watch the Greenville Lions practice under head coach Henry Frnka, who’d lead them to one state football title in 1933 and to a state finalist berth in 1935. That 1933 team featured Hamrick as a captain.
Davidson would go on to play defensive lineman for Wiley College, which won a national football title before Davidson left to serve in World War II in field artillery. Davidson returned from the war to play on another Wiley College team that won a national championship.
He eventually settled back in Greenville, raising a family with wife Willard that included a daughter, Denise, and a son, Dwight.
Davidson taught history and coached football, basketball and track and field for 19 years at Carver High School in Greenville. With his demanding coaching style, Davidson guided the 1954 Carver Tigers to the state football finals of the Prairie View Interscholastic League. The Tigers lost in the finals to an Orange Wallace team that featured 6-foot-9 Ernie Ladd, one of the tallest and biggest men to ever play football in the National Football League.
Davidson coached a number of stellar athletes, including brothers Earl and Jimmy Thomas, who’d go on to play college football and in the NFL, and John Mason Sr., who played professional baseball.
“Somebody asked me who was my best player,” said Davidson. “I had too many of them (to name). I’d leave somebody out.”
Jimmy Thomas, who played at Texas-Arlington and for the San Francisco 49ers, recalled how tough Davidson’s practices were.
“You’d rather play a game than go to practice,” said Thomas. “From a physical standpoint he had you well-prepared.”
Davidson admits that he was always trying to get the most out of his players.
“Competition,” he said. “That’s what makes you.”
Davidson’s son Dwight called his father an “innovative” coach who used coaching strategies in the 1960s that are now popular with high school, college and NFL teams.
“He was starting to use the run-and-shoot (passing game) back in the 1960s,” said Dwight Davidson. “He had an undersized team.”
Hamrick, meanwhile, wasn’t the biggest players the Lions have ever had but was one of the toughest. He was an offensive lineman on Frnka’s football team that beat Dallas Tech 21-0 in the 1933 University Interscholastic League state championship game. Hamrick also played on Frnka-coached teams that made the state semifinals in 1931 and the state quarterfinals in 1932.
Hamrick was elected captain of his Northeast Oklahoma Junior College team in 1935 before transferring to Northwestern University in Illinois in 1936. Hamrick played blocking back on Northwestern’s 1936 team that reached No. 1 in the national rankings. His blocking skills and competitive nature earned Hamrick the nickname “Fighting Joe.”
After his graduation from Northwestern, Hamrick went on to coach football at Winnsboro High School in East Texas.
He felt the call and joined the National Guard in 1941, serving his country during World War II.
After the war, Hamrick and wife Audrey raised a family that included a son, Joe Jr., and daughter, Jeaneane.
The Hamrick family found its way to the Texas Valley, where Joe coached the Donna Redskins to several district football championships before he was invited in 1952 by former Greenville Lions’ teammate W.A. “Tarzan” McElreath to serve as an assistant coach at Trinity University in San Antonio. Hamrick coached a year at Trinity before returning to the Valley as head coach of the Harlingen Cardinals. He coached Harlingen to several district championships and later earned “Coach of the Decade” honors in the Valley.
Hamrick, who was born in Winnsboro, also became an ordained minister, and lived in Sulphur Springs and Winnsboro, serving as the pastor for more than 20 years at Hopewell Primitive Baptist Church. He died on Dec. 21, 1987 at the age of 74.
— Joseph Hamrick III contributed to this story.