The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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LeVias tells story of overcoming racial discrimination at SMU

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Photo courtesy SMU Athletics

Photo courtesy SMU Athletics

Jerry LeVias refers to himself as a smashed bug on a car windshield. The first African-American player on the SMU football team, LeVias had his fair share of difficulties while adjusting to life in Dallas.

As conditions improved, LeVias began to appreciate the opportunity given to him by SMU, but it was not always easy when it came to roaming the campus and playing segregated schools.

“Being the first of anything is like being the bug on the windshield,” LeVias said. “You catch all the mess. Under the circumstances you look back and it was amazing at the things I did and accomplished at the time.”

LeVias, the first African-American to receive an NCAA athletic scholarship in the Southwest Conference and second African-American football player to join a team in the SWC, helped lead SMU to their first Cotton Bowl appearance in nearly 20 years, among several other notable achievements.

Born in Beaumont, Texas, LeVias, upon graduating from Hebert High School, received more than 100 scholarship offers, but none from the historically black college football powerhouses he expected to play for. Receiving no offers from the likes of Grambling and Prairie View because of his small 5-foot-7-inch and 140-pound frame, LeVias, now 63, accepted an offer to play under head coach Hayden Fry in 1965.

“I came to SMU because Coach Fry was one of the only coaches that talked to me about education,” LeVias said. “[Fry] was more interested in me as a person and getting a good education than as a football player.”

According to smumustangs.com, Fry made one request before accepting the coaching positionat SMU. The only coach to sign an African-American athlete, Fry, according to LeVias, took a risk no other Texas coach would take.

“I made a deal with them. Let me recruit a black player, and I’d be interested in the job,” Fry said.

LeVias, describing himself as “wide-eyed” and naive, did not recognize the impact of his decision to sign with SMU.

“Going to SMU was nothing about being a pioneer,” LeVias said. “I would have changed my mind because being a young man and going to school, I had no idea about breaking the barrier.”

Despite SMU trying to hold their ground, Fry won. However, SMU failed to divulge several stipulations, including the black athlete would need a minimum score of 1,000 on his SAT, despite other players being admitted with a score of 750. Despite the grade discrepancies, criticisms and harsh treatment, today, LeVias focuses on the positives rather than the negatives.

“It was under fantastic conditions that I played for SMU during the civil rights era,” LeVias said. “However, it was also very difficult. Basically I was good for Saturdays. I was a good teammate on the weekends. I got a good academic education, but I didn’t really have a social life.”

Playing wide receiver for the Mustangs, LeVias’ character, academic potential and skill fit perfectly into the program Fry was trying to establish on the Hilltop. His varsity debut in 1966 skyrocketed his collegiate career, as he went on to lead the team to their first Cotton Bowl appearance since the Doak Walker era. LeVias continued to excel, defying coaches who believed his size would limit his playing ability.

Leading the league with receiving yards, along with every other career record in a three-year period, LeVias earned All-American honors as a senior and was also an All-SWC player in the 1966, ’67 and ’68 seasons. In one game, LeVias caught eight passes for 213 yards against North Carolina State. In his final game at SMU, LeVias was named MVP of the Senior Bowl following a touchdown catch against Oklahoma in the 1968 Bluebonnet Bowl.

Graduating from SMU in 1969, LeVias was drafted in the second round by the Houston Oilers before joining the AFL All-Star Team that same year. LeVias spent the 1970 season with the Oilers before moving to California to play for the San Diego Chargers from 1971-74.

Twenty-one years later, LeVias was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. He also joined the National College Football Hall of Fame in 2003.

Today, Chris Banjo, an SMU sophomore defensive back, wears the number 23 in honor of LeVias.

“I’m very proud of Chris. He’s a fantastic person. It says a lot of June Jones and what he thinks about me and what I did at SMU,” LeVias said. “I’m very proud and very pleased that Jones thought enough of me to do that.”

Still an avid SMU fan, LeVias refers to head coach June Jones as the “second coming of Hayden Fry.”

“I’ve always been a Mustang fan, but especially right now,” LeVias said. “June Jones right now is the second coming of Hayden Fry. I have so much respect for him and his coaching staff, and I think he’s going to do a very good job bringing life back to SMU athletics.”

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