Lake's 'Un-team' always will be remembered
In the tiny town of Lake, they are known and revered simply as the UN-team. They were the 1974 Lake High School football Hornets, UNdefeated, UNtied, UNchallenged and UNscored upon.
That’s right. Thirty-seven years ago, a band of 29 mostly lean, raw-boned, rough-as-a-corn-cob country boys – led and inspired by a bright, cocky and maniacally demanding 26-year-old coach, Granville Freeman – finished 11-0. They scored 321 points, allowed zero. None. Nada. Null set.
The Hornets trounced 10 straight opponents and then discretion won out over valor and the 11th opponent, French Camp, opted not to play. Can you blame them?
“When I went to Lake in 1973, I told them we were going to have a team that when opponents got ready to play us, they were going to be shaking in their shoes,” Freeman says. “I’d say we accomplished that in 1974.”
“Coach, I have one question,” Donahue said. “Why would you not take your best and biggest athlete and put him at middle linebacker instead of on the outside?”
Answered Granville Freeman, now a State Farm insurance agent in Forest: “Well, Coach, I’ll tell you why. If I put Horton in the middle, I got no idea which way the other team is gonna run. But if I put him on the right side, I know for damned sure which way they ain’t about to run. This way we only have to defend half the field.”
Plus, Freeman might have added, he knew Freeman Horton could run the play down from the backside anyway.
Old school? Yes
Perhaps there has been another team in Mississippi history to go through a season without allowing a point. If so, there’s no record of it. But this is not only a story of that impeccable team but of a coach who was 30 years ahead of his time in many ways, but so perfect for his time and place in others. Let’s put it this way: Any coach who uses some of Granville Freeman’s methods today will need a really good lawyer and a jury of strictly Lake football fans.
Huey Stone, the Lake High principal for more than 40 years, brought Freeman, the son of Scott County sharecroppers, to Lake in 1973. Freeman, who had played running back at Morton and East Central Community College, was a defensive coach at Amite, La., at the time. Freeman wanted to get back near his home and went to Lake for the interview.
The story goes that the interview finished like this:
“Well, it’s up to you Mr. Stone,” Freeman said. “If you want a championship football program at Lake, you’ll hire me. If you don’t, go ahead and hire somebody else.”
Stone hired Freeman and then might have wondered what the devil he had gotten himself into. By the time school started in September of 1973 after three weeks of three-a-day practices, Lake was down to nine football players. Nine.
Harry Vance was one of those nine.
“Let me tell you, if you were one of those nine, you loved football, and, buddy, you were in shape,” Vance, now 53, says. “That was the one year Coach let people come out after school started. We ended up with 22 players.”
In those days, Lake’s football team dressed for practice at the high school, then took a 5.3-mile bus ride to practice at the middle school. If Freeman wasn’t happy with the way the team practiced, they ran the 5-plus miles back to their locker room. That was after running sprints, says Vance, “until our eyes rolled back in our heads.” Practices normally lasted until the sun was going down behind the trees, so that run home was in the dark with Freeman following in the bus with the lights on. Yes, and if one player lagged behind, Freeman might rev his motor or even bump him.
“I don’t ‘spect you could do that today, could you?” Freeman says, laughing.
That first Lake team – “The Magnificent 22” Freeman calls them – lost only one game, on the road, to much larger Raymond High on a late, 43-yard field goal.
“That was the longest bus ride home you can imagine,” fullback/linebacker Randy Bryant says. “I will never forget what it was like to lose.”
The wonder is Freeman didn’t make them jog home.
Lake didn’t lose again that year – and certainly not the next – or the next.
“Coach was 25 years ahead of everybody else in the way he used film and developed scouting reports,” Vance said. “By the time we met as a team on Sunday night after church, he had graded the film and printed a 20-page scouting report on the next team. It was only Sunday and we already knew everything they were going to do.”
There was never any question what Lake was going to do. They were going run out of a straight T-formation, offensively, and they were going to play Freeman’s 4-5-2 defense. Freeman’s philosophy: Keep it simple, stupid. Lake didn’t do much, but what the Hornets did they did over and over and over and over and. …
“We did it until we got it perfect, and then we did it again,” Vance, the quarterback, said.
These days, college and professional teams often hire sports psychologists. Granville Freeman served as his own.
Says Mike Stone, the principal’s son who later played for Freeman, “The man was crazy, but he was crazy smart.”
There was the time in Hickory when Lake led only 7-0 at halftime and Freeman was beside himself. He ranted, he raved and then he jerked the helmet off one of his players and threw it through a window.
“I kind of surprised myself,” Freeman said. “And then I thought, well, ‘I’ve done it now. A few more windows won’t make any difference.'”
So he grabbed more helmets and broke more windows, about 10 in all.
Lake won the game 42-0. “We had tears coming out of our eyes, we wanted to hit people so bad,” Vance said.
On Monday, the Lake principal got a call from Hickory asking for money to replace the broken windows. Word got around Lake and Hornet fans raised the money. Says Freeman, “I guess they figured, ‘Hey, if that’s what it takes…’ “
And then there was the time, also in ’74, when Stringer played Lake to a 0-0 halftime tie. Lake players went to the locker room in fear of the lashing they were about to face. Instead, Granville Freeman walked in and told them he was so disgusted, he was just going to quit, on the spot. And he walked out and took a seat in the stands. No, really, you could not make this up. He went and sat in the stands.
Long story, short: Final score, Lake 42, Stringer 0.
And if all that sounds crazy, consider this: In the summer before that 1974 season Freeman called his team together and told them that their summer training program was going to be different. Yes, they were going to take ballet lessons. You read right: ballet. What’s more, each player was going to pay for it himself. The school didn’t have the money.
“These were country boys that didn’t have a lot,” Freeman said. “Some of them picked up aluminum cans to raise the money.”
Lake players did as they were told. Twice a week, a ballet teacher came to the Lake gym and taught them the fundamentals.
“It’s all about balance, about footwork, about flexibility and core strength,” Freeman said. “I thought it was perfect training for a football player. We called ourselves the twinkletoes Hornets.”
“People laughed at us before the season,” Bryant said. “They weren’t laughing after it. It made us better football players.”
Says Freeman: “Those players are in their 50s now and they’ll still come up to me and say, ‘Coach, I can still do it.’ And then they’ll do a perfect plie.”
17 cents an hour
You may wonder, as I, why a coach, so successful, would give up his profession after six years and a 57-2-1 record. That’s what Freeman did.
Freeman was asked about it at his State Farm office, just as two women walked up, smiled and slipped payments underneath his door.
“In coaching,” he said, chuckling, and glancing toward the women, “that never happened.
“Seriously, I sat down and figured it out what I was making as a coach,” Freeman said. “My last check at Lake High was for $485 for a month’s pay. I did the math and what I figured out was that I was making 17 cents an hour. I was coaching the junior high and high school teams, mowing and lining the fields, watching film, carrying it to Jackson to be developed, doing scouting reports, washing uniforms, running the summer program, teaching, driving the bus. It came out to 17 cents an hour. I wasn’t sleeping much.”
Says Harry Vance, the quarterback, “He was so intense. He coached 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I just think, physically, it wore him out.”
Freeman, successful in the insurance business, says he has turned down coaching offers nearly every year since he retired from coaching in 1977. He hunts and fishes and raises competing show horses. He says he rarely watches football.
Only one team ever came close to scoring on the mighty Hornets of 1974. It was the last game. Edinburg, trailing 38-0 with 2 minutes to play, recovered a muffed punt inside the Hornets’ 10-yard line. Three players later, Edinburg was still at the 8.
So, Edinburg lined up for a field goal. What Edinburg didn’t know was that Lake worked daily on blocking field goals, even though few opponents ever got close enough to try one. Once, during a practice, Freeman got mad because the holder kept dropping the snap. So he took the kid’s place, took the snap, placed the ball down and here came big, strong Freeman Horton flying through the air to block the kick and accidentally slam his helmet into Freeman’s head. Granville Freeman was knocked out.
Initial attempts to revive him with ammonia didn’t work. Somebody threw water over his face. That didn’t work.
Somebody said, “Go get Mrs. Freeman. I think he’s dead.”
Chimed in a manager, a high-pitched, 12-year-old: “Y’all better hope he’s dead, ’cause if he ain’t, he’s gonna kill all y’all.’ “
“That’s what I remember hearing as I was coming to,” Freeman said.
So what’d he do then? Why, he told them to do it again, of course. Repetition. Do it, over and over and over until you get it perfect. Eventually, it pays off.
And so Edinburg lined up for that field goal and little 140-pound nose guard Willie Weidman – “Moochie,” to his teammates – broke through the line so quickly he blocked the kick – SPLAT! – with his stomach.
“How’d it feel?” somebody asked Moochie later.
“It hurt so good,” he answered.
Willie Weidman, down on his luck and drinking far too much, died a few years ago, still a hero in Lake. He went to his grave knowing he preserved the un-season.
“Moochie wasn’t very big, but he was one hell of a football player,” Granville Freeman says. “Hell, they all were.”