MULE': On signing day, everyone's a winner

With his quiet disposition and wearing his customary spectacles, during the week Jerry Stovall looked more like Clark Kent on campus than the Man of Steel he seemed to turn into on the football field on Saturdays.

That was the problem with the recruiters of 1958. They were looking at Clark Kent and missing Superman. It happens a lot.


The college football world is all abuzz these days. It's the best time of year because there are no losers. Every single program recruited classes that will make them not only better, but No. 1.


Thank goodness LSU fans aren't so possessed of tunnel-vision. They know the line of prep superstars who pan out on Saturdays is dwarfed by the number who don't, even when they get a so-called stellar class as this year.


Where LSU has been extraordinarily lucky is the number of afterthought prospects who have turned into college superstars. The legendary Johnny Robinson was not highly recruited, and he went on to became one of the most memorable figures in the 10-year history of the old American Football League; Receiver Wendell Davis took the last LSU scholarship of 1985 and went on to an All-American career and left the Tigers as their all-time pass-catcher.


Then there's Stovall, All-American, Heisman Trophy runner-up, All-Pro. And a prime example of what a crapshoot recruiting really is.


Even though he was an All-State back at West Monroe High – the first that school ever produced – Stovall was the last prospect, the 52nd of a class of 52 in that era of unlimited recruiting classes, signed by Dietzel in 1959. A.L. "Red'' Swanson, a former LSU player, assistant coach, and at this time a member of the school's Board of Supervisors, was the person who first saw something special in Stovall, and pushed for him.


"I think he may have held a gun to Coach (Paul) Dietzel's head,'' Stovall joked before adding he himself wasn't sure he was anything close to being a prize recruit, sheepishly remembering he was only contacted by three schools, Louisiana Tech, Tulane, LSU, and seriously considered just enrolling at hometown Northeast Louisiana University where he could work his way through.


In view of what happened later, Stovall may have simply been overshadowed in a state that was flush with quality prospects at the time.


"Everywhere you looked in a hundred mile radius (of West Monroe) in those days there were just outstanding prospects,'' he said. "I always said I was the runt of the litter. I was very fortunate in the fact that Mr. Swanson first saw me play baseball as a ninth-grader, then followed my high school football career, and always seemed to think I had something. I could never thank him enough.''  


Swanson traveled with the youngster in his old Roadmaster from north Louisiana to Baton Rouge five times to watch LSU games in 1958, Stovall's high school senior season and, it turned out, a No. 1 season for the Tigers.


"I thought he would have to be red-shirted a year, but he had the size, speed and a great desire to play,'' Swanson recalled years later. "He had everything you could want.''

Dietzel wasn't overwhelmed at first. "Jerry was among some very good football players we brought in at that time,'' Dietzel said. "He didn't stick out like a beacon light, as John David Crow and Billy Cannon had done in previous years. But after he got here, it wasn't long before he moved to the top of the class.''


Even his high school coach, Dan McClure, who coached Stovall in both football and baseball at West Monroe, said: "No one in their right mind would've figured him to be an All-American – unless they knew his temperament. You had to know what he had on the inside. When you did, you knew a person with that attitude would excel somewhere.''


Yet, the person who may have spurred Stovall to football heights may have been his father. "It didn't take long at LSU,'' Stovall said, "to find out there were lots of bigger, faster, stronger players than me. I was discouraged, and called my dad and I told him I wanted to come home. He told me to come on home, that he'd help get me a job.''


The elder Stovall worked as a salesman and had to rise at 4 to 5 a.m. to get started on his rounds.


"There wasn't a lot of sympathy there,'' Stovall said of his father who was working from dawn to dusk to make ends meet and who must have been irked listening to his boy complain about how difficult it had become to play a game.


"I thought about what he said, and the sound of his voice, for a minute,'' Stovall said, "then told Dad that maybe I'd give football a chance for a just a little longer.''


The rest, as they say, is history. 




Marty Mule' can be reached at

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