The follies of Texas’ Freshman Field long ago


Harry Hilgers

LHS Class of ’44

Back in 1948, the place where the Texas Longhorns did their practice workouts was west of the stadium, across San Jacinto, across the little creek to an area of about 20 acres bounded by a dormitory on the west and the creek on the east.

To get there, the team, in uniform, including shoes with cleats, needed to cross over the paved street, jump across the creek onto two boulders, and onto the practice field called “Freshman Field” because that was the only place where the freshmen were allowed to practice. At that time, no one thought this was anything unusual and routinely practiced there without incident.

Freshman field was also the place where the North and South High School All Star Teams practiced for their game to be held in Memorial Stadium at the end of the Texas High School Coaches Association week-long lecture and practice sessions. It marked the highly popular session where college coaches were then allowed to lecture to all of the high school coaches regarding their methods, their plays, and their philosophies of football. It was a very popular event that was the favorite of all high school coaches in Texas.

Later, participation by college coaches was discontinued because it was believed by some college coaches that the University of Texas was using this as a recruiting event in an unfair advantage to all of the other schools in the conference. But, at this particular time, the coaches were Bud Wilkinson, of Oklahoma fame, coaching the South Team and Biggie Munn, of Michigan State, coaching the North Team.

I was a high school coach, fascinated by every remark by Wilkinson and Munn and attended each practice session on Freshman Field. This school lasted for five days during which time we were present to watch how those two coaches handled their teams in an actual practice session prior to a game. Bud, quiet-spoken and always smiling, and Biggie, harsh, strident, and vulgar, were polar opposites. Of course, the coaches all favored Bud, not Biggie. On one occasion, Biggie went to a lineman and said, “Get down in your stance.” The lineman, not acting promptly, was “swatted” on his seat with a big stick wielded by Biggie. After the player was in place, Biggie went over to him and put a yardstick on his butt and turned to the coaches assembled and said, “At Michigan State, I won’t have any lineman whose butt is not as large as this (about 30 inches) playing for Michigan State. He then turned and “kicked” the boy in the butt and told him to get back to his practice. We were not impressed.

All week long, Biggie had one play that was repeated over and over again. It was the old “statue of liberty” play where a wingback runs back from his position on the flank and picks off the ball held by the quarterback in a position resembling a pass about to happen. Of course, the South team watched this with great interest.

The night of the game, it was back and forth, but no scores. Late, in the fourth quarter, the North was on the South’s 30-yard line, and it was fourth down-and-10 with only minutes on the clock.

Here came the Statue of Liberty Play. The South, knowing (it thought) what was going to happen, fell for the “fake” that the runner made, making it appear that he had taken the ball off of the quarterback’s hand as he had done every day for five days. However, the quarterback loafed over the goal line for the winning touchdown while the South team looked on with dismay as did Wilkinson. It was the best example of a coach using deception to win a game that I have ever witnessed.

And it was a fitting climax to that Coaching School and, perhaps, a last hurrah for Freshman Field which was no longer used for practice which returned to the main stadium. And, “that’s the way it was” in those early days of Longhorn history. And, I may be the last Longhorn to have see that event, since I am approaching my 97th birthday, soon.


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