It has been noted that for a city of its relatively small size, Lubbock has produced a phenomenal amount of musical talent. Much the same could be said for West Texas and football talent.
West Texas, here defined as the region extending northwestward from a line just west of Wichita Falls to just north of Del Rio, has always been sparsely populated. Never has there been a major metropolis in the area, and at no time in the future can we expect one of the big three sports leagues to even look at West Texas when contemplating expansion. West Texas is the Wyoming of the Lone Star State.
But West Texas is very much a part of Texas, and as such, has partaken deeply of the state's passion for football. Consequently, the area has produced an outstanding body of football players who have starred not only at the high school and collegiate levels, but have left deep footprints in the NFL as well.
In compiling this list of the ten greatest football players from West Texas, the full extent of the players' careers, from high school to the NFL, has been taken into consideration.
10. Bubba Franks, Big Spring: Rarely in its heyday did D-1 powerhouse Miami (Fla.) come to West Texas in search of talent, so when they did, the player in question had to be special. Such was the case with tight end Daniel "Bubba" Franks. The fluid six-foot-six performer earned All State honors at Big Spring before signing with the Hurricanes in 1996. Franks twice earned All Big East honors, and was named an All American in 1999 after setting a school record for touchdown receptions in a season by a tight end (12). Franks declared early for the NFL draft, was selected by the Green Bay Packers with the fourteenth pick in the first round, and went to the Pro Bowl in 2001, 2002 and 2003.
9. Jerry Sisemore, Plainview: In the late 1960s and early 1970s Darrell Royal's Texas Longhorns may have been an even more dominant recruiting force than Mack Brown's Horns are today. Then as now they essentially had their pick of Texas talent including that from West Texas. One of the plums Royal pulled from West Texas was Plainview lineman Jerry Sisemore. The six-foot-six behemoth went on to earn consensus All American honors for Texas in 1971 and 1972. He was also named to the 1970s Southwest Conference All Decade Team. The Philadelphia Eagles selected Sisemore with the third selection in the 1973 draft. Playing for the City of Brotherly Love, Sisemore blasted holes for Abilene Christian's Wilbert Montgomery, earning Pro Bowl berths in 1979 and 1981.
8. Lawrence McCutcheon, Plainview: One year prior to Sisemore's departure from the Angry Red, there was the greatest Plainview Bulldog ever in the person of running back Lawrence McCutcheon. The six-foot-one 205-pounder was a multi-sport star for the Bulldogs, but rather than play for Texas Tech just down the road, or the juggernaut in Austin, McCutcheon opted for Colorado State. While playing for the Rams, McCutcheon set more than 20 school and Western Athletic Conference records. Another set of Rams, this time from Los Angeles, selected McCutcheon in the third round of the 1972 NFL draft. McCutcheon proved a steal as he earned Pro Bowl berths in 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1977. His 6,186 career rushing yards are second best in Rams franchise history.
7. Cedric Benson, Midland: It seems unlikely that Cedric Benson's NFL career will measure up to Lawrence McCutcheon's, but Benson was a bona fide superstar at the high school and collegiate levels. Playing for Midland Lee, Benson racked up 8,423 rushing yards, most in Texas 5A history, and fourth in Texas schoolboy annals. His career with the Texas Longhorns was almost as impressive. Benson started all four seasons in Austin, earned the Doak Walker Award in 2004, as well as All America honors. Benson's 5,540 rushing yards ranks sixth in D1 football history. The Chicago Bears selected Benson with the fourth pick of the 2005 draft. To date, Benson has rushed for 4,702 yards in the NFL and scored 25 touchdowns, but has yet to live up to his high draft selection.
6. Roy Williams, Odessa: One of Benson's Longhorn teammates was fellow Petroplex product Roy Williams. A cousin of former Texas Tech All American wide receiver Lloyd Hill, Williams, like Hill, earned All America and All State honors while playing at storied Odessa Permian. Williams went on to become arguably the greatest receiver in University of Texas history, setting school records for receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions. He was also a three-time All Big 12 performer and Biletnikoff Award semifinalist his junior and senior seasons. The Detroit Lions took Williams with the seventh pick of the 2004 draft, but his NFL career has been erratic. He did, however, earn a Pro Bowl berth in 2006.
5. Jerry Gray, Lubbock: The greatest West Texas football player to ever play for the burnt orange was Lubbock Estacado product Jerry Gray. His high school career was good enough to earn him induction into the Texas High School Hall of Fame and All-Time Texas High School Team honors. Gray played safety at Texas, twice earning consensus All America notice, and Southwest Conference Defensive MVP hardware. The Los Angeles Rams selected Gray with the 21st pick of the first round in 1985 and moved him to cornerback where he made a seamless transition. Gray was voted to the Pro Bowl in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989, and finished his professional career with 28 interceptions.
4. Donny Anderson, Stinnett: The Golden Palomino—they don't name ‘em like that anymore. And only rarely do players of his talent come around anymore either. Anderson was an All State running back for Stinnett, but was also courted by the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles, qualified in five events for the state track meet, and scored 28 points in a high school basketball game…as a freshman. Fortunately for Texas Tech, Anderson settled on football. While wearing the scarlet and black, Anderson twice earned All American honors and came in fourth in the 1965 Heisman Trophy balloting. Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers selected Anderson with the seventh pick of the first round in 1965. Anderson went on to star as a running back and punter for the Pack, earning one Pro Bowl berth and inclusion in the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.
3. E. J. Holub, Lubbock: Whether West Texas has ever produced a better football player than E. J. Holub is debatable. Whether it has produced a tougher one is not. The answer is no. If Donny Anderson had Panhandle panache, E. J. Holub had South Plains sand. During his lengthy career he went under the knife 20 times and it was not unusual for doctors to drain his knees of blood and other fluid immediately before he took the field. Holub's career began at Lubbock High. He moved down 19th Street to Texas Tech and became a two-time All American at center. His professional career began as a member of the Dallas Cowboys in 1961, but the bulk of it was spent with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was a five-time AFL All Star and two-time All Pro. He is the only player to start separate Super Bowls on offense and defense.
2. Zach Thomas, Pampa: With the possible exception of Lawrence McCutcheon, the foregoing players were all blue chippers and high draft selections. Their talent was obvious from the get-go. Not so for the greatest defensive player in West Texas history. Zach Thomas was an All State performer at Pampa his senior season, but attracted only modest recruiting attention. Texas Tech beat out Arizona State for Thomas' services. Good thing they did. Thomas became a two-time consensus All American and two-time Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He lost out to Ray Lewis for the Butkus Award. That was not enough to convince the NFL of Thomas' abilities, however. Thomas fell to the fifth round where he was selected by the Miami Dolphins. Thomas went on to become a seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time All Pro. It is entirely possible that Thomas will be Texas Tech's first NFL Hall of Famer.
1. Sammy Baugh, Sweetwater: Sammy Baugh traveled from Sweetwater High to TCU to the Washington Redskins and to the NFL Hall of Fame, where he was a member of the charter class of 1963. Baugh was a two-time All American for the Horned Frogs and came in fourth in the 1936 Heisman Trophy balloting, but it is his NFL accomplishments that are mind-boggling. In 1937 Baugh threw for 335 yards in a playoff game, which remains the highest passing total for a rookie in a playoff contest. In 1943 Baugh led the NFL in punting, passing and interceptions. During that season Baugh passed for four touchdowns and intercepted four passes in a single game. Baugh won six NFL passing titles. Baugh's 50.1 yards per punt average in 1940 remains the best in NFL history. The Associated Press dubbed Baugh the third best NFL player of the 20th century. College Football News named him the third best college football player of all time. The world of football will never see his like again.