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|Lanius made full circle back to Vidalia|
Tommy Lanius helped navigated Vidalia High and Vidalia Junior High football teams through some memorable seasons.
But that may have come natural for the son and grandson of riverboat captains.
Lanius was born in Baton Rouge. His father (Lopez Lanius II) and grandfather (Lopez Lanius) were both earned their living on the river.
Lopez Lanius built his own sternwheeler and Lanius Landing near the Red River is named after him.
After moving from Aimwell to Manifest to Harrisonburg, the Lanius' ended up in Vidalia when Tommy was in the first grade.
Lanius went out for football while in junior high in Vidalia, but hurt his knee.
"My mom panicked and didn't want me to play anymore," Lanius said.
Lanius also played in the band.
By the time he got to high school, the pressure to play became greater.
"Coach (Dan) Chase liked to intimidate you if you didn't play football," Lanius said. "Moose (Alvin) Frazier was a real good buddy of mine and we went skiiing one Sunday and when we went back to school on Monday and Ray Moncrief started picking on me, calling me 'band boy,' which I knew was set up by Coach Chase. He started slapping me on the back and I told him not to slap my sunburned back. He did and we tied up. I told him I was coming out for football and I was taking his position."
Lanius said his mom was still against him playing, but didn't keep him from playing.
"After the second day of two-a-days I was ready to quit again," Lanius said. "But Moose would come up to my window and scratch on the screen and tell me to get up. I was so sore I could barely move. But he kept me going."
Lanius, who turned 64 on Tuesday, played junior varsity and varsity his freshman year.
"I had a lot to learn," he said. "It was kind of a crash course. I didn't know a lot about football, but I had a lot of heart and I played hard. Back then, if you throw somebody down in practice, you got their position. I would get their position, lose it the next day because I didn't know what I was doing and then I would win it back by throwing them back down."
Lanius was playing linebacker his junior year and getting looks from colleges.
Lanius said isometrics were big back then. But Billy Shaw, who played for the Buffalo Bills, but lived in Vidalia and helped with the football team, turned an old house in Vidalia into a weight room.
"Me, Jamie Jackson, Billy Jackson and Jimmy Aarons spent a lot of time in there with Coach Shaw," Lanius said.
Lanius was one of the top tacklers on the Viking team that year.
"Moose played alongside me at linebacker and he was like a coach on the field," Lanius said. "He would tell us where to get and where the play was going."
Because Lanius was 19, he was not eligible to play his senior year at Vidalia. Mississippi did not have the same eligibility rules.
"One day this coach from LSU came by and saw me bench pressing more than 300 pounds and told me I needed to play another year," Lanius said. "He told me if I went to Natchez and played one more year I could get a scholarship. Football was my life. It's the reason I got out of high school and college."
Lanius transferred and spent every weekend his senior year going to LSU, spending time on the sideline during football games.
"There was a pediatrician in Natchez who was a big LSU fan and he would take me," Lanius said.
At Natchez-Adams High, Lanius was coached by Fred Morris and the line coach was Red Owens.
"Coach Morris was a big Mississippi State fan and wanted me to go there," Lanius said.
Lanius was listed as first team linebacker and second team offensive tackle at Natchez High.
"It almost brought me to tears when I looked at that list and saw I was second team offense," Lanius said. "I loved defense more than offense, but I had played both ways at Vidalia. I walked into the coaches office and asked why they kept me on second team on offense. They all fell out laughing. Coach Owens said, 'Son, we don't play both ways over here. But we'll give you a chance to win that spot on offense. I did and about three of us that year played both ways."
Natchez's first game that year was against defending state champion Jackson Murrah.
"It was like college," Lanius said. "We got on a Trailways bus to leave for Jackson at noon and went to a motel and stayed there until game time."
Jackson Murrah's entire backfield signed with Ole Miss, while the offensive linemen were all college-bound.
"I lined up for the first play and the first thing I knew was my head was hitting the ground," Lanius said. "I knew right then I had better get it in gear."
Natchez ended up beating Murrah as Henry Holloway led the way on offense.
"We had one game we had to win to make the playoffs, but we lost," Lanius said. "I had to sit out that game because of a pinched nerve. I cried over that. They ran a play out in the flat and the guy who was taking my place didn't pick up the back and they scored. That was hard to take."
Meanwhile, Vidalia played for the Class A state football championship in 1966, falling to Buras, 17-13.
"I came over and watched that game and that was tough," Lanius said. "I was really proud of them. I do wonder how it would have been if I could have played that year. I hated not being a part of it, but I was more proud of them."
Lanius was told by Shaw that he would be playing in the Mississippi All-Star Football Game, but when time came about, another Natchez linebacker was sent.
"Coach Shaw felt real bad about that because he had heard I was going, but I think the fact I was kind of an outsider led to another decision," Lanius said. "But I learned one of the most important lessons from my dad at that time. He asked me, 'Son, are you playing because you love it, or because of the rewards.' I told him because I loved it. He said, 'Well, then heck with the rewards.' I did love to play. I was one of the few people who loved practice, except for the drills. I loved contact. Scrimmages were like games to me."
At the end of the season, Lanius was talked into not signing with LSU and asked Maurice Greer if he thought Tech would be interested in him.
Tech offered Lanius a scholarship.
"I think it was the best thing for me," Lanius said. "I do wonder sometimes what it might have been like at LSU. There was never any doubt in my mind I could play, but I think it worked out for the best,"
Lanius ended up starting all four years at Tech. His freshman year was the first year for Tech coach Maxie Lambright.
"I still get nervous thinking about the first time Coach Lambright walked into the room," Lanius said. "He said, 'My name is Maxie Lambright and the next two weeks I am going to find out who wanted to play for Maxie Lambright. If anybody wants to quit, they can leave now.' We went two solid weeks of two-a-days. We would start at 6 a.m. The bus picked us up Sunday morning and took us to church and then it was right to the practice field. We went to meetings, drills and practice all day long. You would look up the hill and see cars leaving one after another. But he was brilliant. Those of us who stayed bonded and were like a family. We were really tight. And we would eventually run through a brick wall for that man."
Lanius said he was hoping to get redshirted his freshman year, especially after missing the first two games with an injury, but ended up staring at defensive tackle.
"We had a big ol' tackle named Joey Wilson from Tallulah," Lanius said. "He was 6-7, about 290. Our defensive tackle got hurt so they moved me there. I got by Jerry a couple of times and he got so mad. He told me he was going to whip my tail if I did it again. I told him he would just have to whip it then."
Lanius ended up playing four years at defensive tackle.
"I was 6-2, 240, but Lambright moved the defensive backs to linebacker and linebackers to tackle because he liked speed. There was even a play involving a stunt where I had to cover the flat."
In 1968, Louisiana Tech defeated Akron 33-13 in Murfreesboro, Tn., in the Grantland Rice Bowl for the Division II Mideast Region Championship.
In sub-freezing temperatures, Terry Bradshaw threw two touchdown passes, while Tommy Spinks caught 12 passes for 167 yards.
"It was really cold," Lanius said. "But Bradshaw was awesome. He would have three guys having off of him and still complete the pass."
Tech lost to East Tennessee in 1969 in the Grantland Rice Bowl.
"We had some athletes," Lanius said. "At one time we had 15 guys walk into our lockerroom with Louisiana All-Star T-shirts on. We had a lot of guys who could have gone to LSU."
In 1968, Tech beat Mississippi State 20-13 in its season-opener.
"Coach Morris told me when I signed with Louisiana Tech that when I wanted to play with the big boys to let him know," Lanius said. "After we beat them I told him I enjoyed playing with the big boys."
Lanius played alongside future NFLers Joe Raymond Peace, Bob Brunet, Ken Liberto, Tom Spinks, Larry Brewer, Mike Barber, Spinks, Pat Tilley, Roland Harper, Pat Greer of Vidalia and Jim Boudreaux. And. of course, Bradshaw.
"The funny thing about Bradshaw is that he probably would not have played his junior year if Phil Robertson would not have quit," Lanius said, referring to the person now known as "Duck Commander."
"Phil was one of the finest quarterbacks there was," Lanius said. "But he loved to hunt. He and Coach Lambright just didn't jive. I remember Phil walking around campus with squirrel tails hanging out of his back pocket. But he just quit after his junior year because he loved to fish and hunt."
Lanius said Mickey Slaughter, who came back to coach at Tech after playing for the Denver Broncos, who a key in developing Bradshaw.
"Terry could throw the ball, but you didn't know if it was going in the dirt or 100 yards," Lanius said. "But he was very dedicated and a very hard worker. He would be the last one to leave practice. And he was an excellent leader. He was real low-key. He a lot more of a character now than he was then. Not that he didn't like to have fun. He left a note on my door once, 'Hawk, come to my apartment for a big party,' He was a great team guy."
The nickname "Hawk," was put on Lanius during a plane trip.
"We were flying to play somewhere and this stewardess walked down the aisle and I leaned way out," Lanius said. "One of the coaches yelled, 'Hawkeye, what are you looking at.' It stuck after that."
Lanius said a few NFL teams expressed interest, but he was not fast enough when the draft came around.
"I was kind of in-between size and speed," he said.
Lanius would not be through contributing to Vidalia High. After four years as a defensive standout at Louisiana Tech, Lanius returned to Vidalia as a teacher/coach.
"When I first went to college I was looking at being a personnel person," Lanius said. "But after breaking several fingers I figured I couldn't count on typing."
Lanius was considering going to work in the oil field.
"I still had another year on my scholarship and the Dean of Education came to me and asked what I was going to do," Lanius said. "That was one thing about Tech, they really looked after you. He told me he knew I was going to be a heckuva football coach and told me I had enough classes to get my doctorate and to work on student teaching. He convinced me to stay."
Lanius and his wife, Shelia, have three daughters and five grandchildren. Shelia, all three daughters, Leah, Gretchen and Heather, and their husbands attended Louisiana Tech.
"Even my dog is named Tech," Lanius said. "But I told them to make their own decision about where they wanted to go because they were the ones who laid their heads down on their pillow every night."
Lanius found an opening for the fall at Vidalia when he returned home and served as an assistant coach under Dee Faircloth.
"I had just bought a Harley-Davidson and I rode up to practice making a big racket with my bike," Lanius said. "George Cupit and Bubba Crofford were yelling, 'What is that'? Someone said, 'That's our new coach.'"
Lanius spent the next spring coaching at West Monroe before an opening came up again at Vidalia.
"I spent seven years at Vidalia and then four years in the oil field," he said. "I was really looking to get back to Vidalia when I ran into (former Superintendent Charles) Chauvin. He told me there was an opening."
Lanius returned to coach at Vidalia Junior High and Vidalia High School.
"Right after I accepted that I got a call from Breaux Bridge to coach their defense," he said.
Lanius admitted he had to hold back a bit as coach at Vidalia Junior High.
"But I didn't hold back too much," he said. "I had a high standard."
Vidalia's junior high team went five years with only one loss.
"Every kid I ever coached, whether they were first team or third team, was just as important," Lanius said.
Lanius said he hated to be interrupted during practice.
"One day Leah and Gretchen came running up during practice and I looked over and told the players to take a break," Lanius remembered with a laugh. "I asked what do y'all want. They said, "Heather is locked up in a locker and can't get out. I walked in there and heard her say, 'How am I going to eat.?' They all know football. They knew when I lost a game to just go on to bed. I never took it out on them, but they knew I would be sad. But they celebrated the wins with me."
Lanius said the 1973 Vidalia High varsity team was one he will never forget. That team lost to St. Louis in the quarterfinals, but went 37 straight quarters without giving up a point.
"We got a safety against Tallulah and our guys came running off the field like that was the end of the game," Lanius said. "We were like, 'Wait, this game is not over.' But that's how much confidence they had."
Lanius said he also treasures the time he spent coaching with Dee Faircloth.
"It's amazing how he can remember a play on the 5-yard line 40 years ago," Lanius said. "He knows football. We had some great times together."
Lanius now works for Rigmaster's. But his years as a teacher and coach are years he will always treasure.
"I had a job for 30 years that I enjoyed getting up and going to every day," he said. "I really loved it."
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