Blaik's folly of 1955

In 1955, Blaik had only one quarterback on his football roster. His name was Russ Mericle. Pete Vann, the starter for the two previous years, had graduated from the academy. Blaik was unimpressed with his QB Meracle in spring drills, so the colonel came up with an idea. That idea was to take your best athlete on the squad, who was an All-American end the previous season of 1954 and make him your new QB!

Quarterback? Are you kidding? A football player more adept in catching footballs than throwing them? Unheard of, but Blaik did just that. He switched All-American end Don Holleder to the QB position. 

Why? Blaik said that Don was the most gifted athlete on the team and a true leader that could make that most difficult switch. Everyone thought the colonel was a bit daffy in that belief and during the course of that 1955 season, they, meaning the media pundits, referred to that move as "Blaiks Folly". 

The following write-up was taken from the Newark Evening News on the 19th of September, 1955, written by Bill Wallace, a staff writer, who wrote this editorial exclusively for that now defunct newspaper--- 


West Point-- If Lt. Eddie Crowder, ex-Oklahoma star now coaching here at the academy, could play quarterback for Army this fall, there would be every reason to hail the cadets as one of the nations powers. But Crowder is confined to teaching the intricacies of T-formation quarterbacking to cadet Don Holleder who, frankly, is unimpressive in his new role. 

Holleder, a 6-2, 200- pound natural athlete, was moved from end in "the noblest experiment of all", for coach Red Blaik. "He's doing as well as can be expected", Blaik said today, which is only the 21st practice day for Holleder at his new post.

 This has been the top pre-season story of the year, the almost unprecedented position switching of an All-American player. It is reported here that George Welsh, Navy's QB star, said of the switch," I don't see how he can do it. There is just too much to learn".

 Holleder does pass well, although he is a left-hander, an added complication and the first lefty QB Blaik has had. "We've had to turn everything around, including our thinking", the coach said.

If Army does have a difficult season, there will be second guess in some quarters. "They never should have moved the guy from end". The Colonel says he absolutely has no choice; there was no one else who could have come close to handling the job.

 Rest assured that Blaik, who has won 75% of his games in 20 years, makes few mistakes and we imagine by the Navy game, Holleder will be an adequate, although not a flashy QB, while Army will have another jet-propelled team in the nations Top 10. Three early-season roadblocks, Penn State, Michigan and Syracuse, will tell all.

 There is another backfield problem. Bob Kyasky, probably the nations fastest halfback with a 9.7 second 100-yard dash and a 20.6 220 to his credit in track, has a bad knee. He has missed every scrimmage this fall and Blaik is not counting on him until the Penn State game, if then.

Lost for the year is Mike Ziegler, a casualty of the academys disciplinary system who is walking tours with a rifle instead of lugging a football. So two little guys, Joe Cygler and Pete Lash, are the starting HBs.  Pat Uebel, who replaced Ziegler as captain, is the star FB and will hurt every team he plays. 

The spares are Russ Mericle, QB; Dick Murtland and Bob Munger, HBs, plus Vince Barta, FB. The last two are very promising yearlings.

Army has a terrific line built around Ralph Chesnauskas, moved from guard to tackle; Dick Stephenson, tackle; Flay Goodwin, guard and Art Johnson, end. All are returning regulars. New faces are Stan Slater, guard; ex-jayvee Dave Thomas, end; and Darrold Erickson, center.

Blaik admits, in coachly language, "Our line problem is better than last year. They are not going to be throwing fourth-down passes with 12 to go and scoring on us." Ticketed to solve the linebacking weakness, which Navy's Welsh exploited so well last fall, are Erickson and Slater plus Chesnauskas in a 5-3 setup. 

NOTE: Army's Don Holleder, end turned quarterback, led Army to a 6-3 campaign that season of 1955, beating Furman, Penn State, Columbia, Colgate, Penn and heavily favored Navy 14-6, in which Holleder passed for 0 yards but his team rushed for 283 yards that afternoon. 

Holleder may have never been a "flashy" quarterback, but a very effective one as he led his team magnificently to a glorious victory over the Navy that November day in 1955. 

Don Holleder was a true leader not only that day.  He was a leader his entire military career and a leader that day in 1967 when he gave his own life in the defense of his country on the fields of Vietnam. Top Stories