'Blondy' was decades ahead of his time

(This was the column I wrote after the death of Hall of Famer J.T.  “BlondyBlack on May 4, 2000.)

FASTEST, most powerful running back in Southeastern Conference history? Herschel Walker, you say? Bo Jackson? You could make a strong case for either.

But old-timers, especially those of the maroon persuasion, remain Bulldog-ish on J. T. “Blondy” Black, a 200-pounder with world class speed back when 200-pounders usually played guard or tackle and blocked for much smaller, more nimble men.

Black, a Philadelphia native and longtime Jackson resident, died May 4 in Jackson at the age of 79, having outlived most who played with him and many, many of those who watched him play. But those who remember the great Blondy remain eager to tell those less fortunate about an athlete whose size/speed combination was decades ahead of his time.

Black gained more than six yards per carry in three seasons at State on teams that won 26 games, while losing three and tying two. He also passed, punted, kicked, returned kicks and was a terror on defense.

In his spare time, he won the SEC 100-yard dash, 220-yard dash and long jump in track. He ran a 9.6 100 when the world’s record was 9.4.

Fast and strong

Not only was Black the fastest on the field, he was usually the strongest, says teammate Lamar Blount.

Blount, who lives in Decatur, grew up with Black in Philadelphia and then followed him to State. They were teammates, yet rivals, in high school, even fighting once. But they became roommates and friends at State.

“J.T. was muscled up like Charles Atlas,” Blount says. “We had a little weight room at State back then, but J.T. didn’t use it. God gave him what he had, and he had a lot. Man, he was something.”

Longtime Millsaps coach Harper Davis became a great back at State, inspired at least in part by Black.

“My high school coach took us to see State play Union, a good team back then,” Davis says. “Well, the opening kickoff went to Blondy and he returned it 104 yards, running over anybody in his way. There were players from both teams strewn all over the field when Blondy reached the end zone.”

As accomplished as he was, Black never got his due. His athletic career was interrupted by World War II. He served in Marines at a time when he probably would have run the sprints in the 1944 Olympics, which, were, of course, cancelled. Then, after the war, Shorty McWilliams became State’s all-time superstar, the only four-time all-league player in SEC history.

“But nobody ran harder than J.T.,” says Harold “Bird Dog” Grove of Clinton, a guard at State at the time. “He didn’t just hurt opponents; he ran over anybody who got in his way, including our guys. He pumped his legs real high when he ran and you didn’t want one of those knees to hit you.”

`…he’s killing us’

Grove and others love to tell about a game against Southwestern of Memphis in 1941. First, Black ran behind Grove, but Grove didn’t run fast enough.

“I was throwing a body block and J.T.’s knee hit me in the head and knocked me out,” Grove says. “They had to help me off. My neck’s never been the same. It’s been 60 years, and I still feel it.”

Later, Black ran over Grove’s replacement, Raymond Ray, and put him out. Then, fullback Charles Yancy didn’t get out of the way, and Grove’s knee caught him flush in the face. Both Yancy’s jaws were broken and had to be wired shut.

“Yancy lost 25 pounds after that,” says Blount, who also learned a lesson when he threw a block, but one of Black’s churning legs caught him in the chest.

“J.T. ran right square over me. It stunned me, but I walked off the field on my own after I got my breath back,” Blount says.

“Coach (Allyn) McKeen asked me what was wrong. And I told him. I said, `Coach, I can handle the enemy; I just can’t stay out of J.T.’s way. He’s killing them, but he’s killing us.’ “

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