With the Super Bowl upon us, we’re actually winding down the 2020 football season. Convoluted though it was due to the pandemic, we truly had an exciting schedule of both college and pro formats. With those successes in mind, how about one more football-related column for now? (I know, around here football is a year-round obsession, so that’s a bit of a non-sequitur.)
Today, let’s examine who are the best players from Pascagoula to go on to play for USM, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss. I put together a crack team of Gary Stevens, Robert Beatty, and others to try to arrive at these final listings. Understand, these are very inexact, but, hey, it’s a conversation starter. We chose a top five for each school, with some honorable mentions thrown in.
- Ben Garry (1974-77): Ben was a great running back for the Golden Eagles, still ranked #3 in total rushing yards with 3,595, He was a two-time first-team All-South Independent, and is a member of the Southern Miss and Pascagoula Athletic Halls of Fame.
- Fred Cook (1971-73): Fred, who played at OLV, was a terror at defensive end for USM, and holds the sack record of 18 in 1971. He made third–team All American in 1973, and went on to a fine NFL career with the Colts. He is a member of the Southern Miss Hall of Fame.
- Norris Thomas (1972-75): Norris was a ball-hawking DB in Hattiesburg, and had six career interceptions. He played eight years in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Norris is a member of the Southern Miss and Pascagoula Athletic Halls of Fame.
- Bill Larson (1958-60): After a decorated career as the PHS quarterback, Billy matriculated at then Mississippi Southern College. He was solid at QB for the Southerners (they’ve even changed nicknames), and played on the 1958 small college national championship team for Southern.
- Don Law (1973-76): Don, who was both a football and baseball star for the Panthers, went on to be an excellent defensive back for USM. He led the team interceptions twice and was a leading tackler as well.
Honorable Mention: Ben Crimm, Mitch Doze, Mike McAdams, Tommy Melton, Eddie Ray Walker, Maurice Walker
- Johnny Woitt (1965-67): Johnny, a four-sport guy at PHS, became a leader at defensive back for the Bulldogs. He went on to play for the San Francisco Forty-Niners then went into coaching, leading his alma mater, Pascagoula, to the state championship in 1976. Johnny is a member of the Pascagoula Athletic Hall of Fame.
- Vick Ballard (2010-11): As a running back, Vick led PHS to the region’s championship in 2007, then had a huge two years at MGCCC. He went on to really shine in Starkville where he rushed for 2,157 yards in only two years and set the MSU record for touchdowns in a season with 19. Vick had a very productive rookie year with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012 before injuries ended his career.
- Bootsie Larsen (1963-65): Bootsie was a three-sport standout for Pascagoula, then carved out an impressive career as a center at State. He was team captain in 1965, then went on to a long career in coaching, including stops at USM and SMU. Bootsie is a member of the Pascagoula Athletic Hall of Fame.
- Dwayne Curry (1993-96): Dwayne was a force at linebacker for MSU. He made 391 total tackles while there and was All-SEC his last two years. Dwayne has been in coaching ever since, currently on staff at Jackson State,
- (TIE) Wilbur Dees (late 1930s/early 1940s) and Frank “Twig” Branch (late 1940s/early 1950s): Wilbur, who went on to a long career as Chancery Clerk of Jackson County, was first a stalwart at MSU, including kicking a game-winning field goal against Army. Twig went from PHS to quarterbacking the Bulldogs, then had a long coaching career. Both Wilbur and Twig are in the Mississippi State Athletic Hall of Fame.
HONORABLE MENTION: Keith Joseph, Gary “Reefer” Pettey
- Senquez Golson (2011-14): After being a football/baseball star Pascagoula (drafted by the Red Sox), Senquez went on to stardom in Oxford. He was a consensus first-team All-American defensive back in 2014 and is tied for being the all-time Ole Miss interceptions leader with 20. Senquez was drafted in the second round by the Pittsburgh Steelers before injuries ended his NFL career.
- George Blair (1956-60): George was a great Panther running back who had similar results as a Rebel. He played RB and defensive back for Ole Miss teams that went 28-3-1 and was an integral part of the 1960 National Championship team. He went on to play for the San Diego Chargers, where he was a Pro Bowl kicker and defensive back. George had a long, illustrious career as a high school coach in Mississippi, and is a member of the Pascagoula Athletic Hall of Fame.
- Rocky Byrd (1948-51): Rocky led PHS to its first state title in 1947 when he was player of the year in Mississippi. At Ole Miss, he started at quarterback for two years, then came back to Pascagoula for a successful business career. Rocky is a member of the Pascagoula Athletic Hall of Fame.
- Gene Dubuisson (1953-55): Gene was an All-SEC center for the Rebels on two Southeastern Conference Championship teams, playing in the Sugar and Cotton Bowls. He came back home and was in business privately locally for many years.
- (TIE) Alan Bush (1963-67) and Chuck Commiskey (1977-80): Kind of appropriate that these two huge offensive linemen would land together. Alan was an All-Big Eight footballer and track star at PHS. He made All-SEC at Ole Miss, and was drafted by the Chicago Bears, but chose to come back and run the family business, Bush Office Supply. Chuck was a Rebel stalwart, then went on to a long pro career, eventually starting for the New Orleans Saints. He has been in private business since retiring, currently residing in New Orleans.
HONORABLE MENTION: Earl Blair, Gayle Bowman, Hoppy Cole, Jim Horne, Mark Massengale, Thunder Thornton, Dan Wigley, Ken Williams
So, there you have it, the best football players from Pascagoula to ever grace the campuses of USM, State, and Ole Miss. Remember, I said early on, this is not a perfect list—we may have some omissions, and your order may vary from ours. But it’s a fun compilation, and reminds us all that when the school in Oxford, Starkville, and Hattiesburg go in search of talent, they often come to look for kids who trod the turf of War Memorial Stadium.