In 1965, a monumental and historic event took place at SMU. For too long, African-Americans were prevented from competing in the Southwest Conference. Thanks to two brave individuals, Hayden Fry and Jerry LeVias, the racial landscape of SWC football changed forever. Jerry LeVias became the first African-American player in the Southwest Conference to receive an athletic scholarship in one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.
Hayden Fry was an Arkansas assistant that was being courted for the head coaching job at SMU in 1962. Fry was interested in the job, but he wanted something more from SMU than just the job. Before accepting the position, Fry demanded that the university allow him to recruit black athletes. "I made a deal with them - let me recruit a black player, and I'd be interested in the job," Fry said. The school tried to hold its ground but eventually succumbed, allowing him to recruit one black player.
They didn't tell him at the time that the black player had to have a minimum 1,000 score on the SAT, while all other players in the conference could be admitted to their respective universities with a 750. Fry soon learned that he needed someone who was not only a good player but a good student, too. Plus, whoever this person was, he had to be a terrific player. It would not do any good to have a black player integrate the conference and sit on the bench.
Fry found the person he was looking for in Jerry LeVias. Born in Beaumont, Texas, LeVias had already proven that he could overcome any obstacle placed before him. He suffered a stroke at the age of 12 which left him unable to walk for five years. But he rebounded to take on another daunting challenge. LeVias played quarterback for Hebert High School, showing he was a terrific athlete. He was small, only 5'9" and 177 pounds, but made up for it with his great speed, as evidenced in three touchdown runs of over 70 yards in a 21-8 victory over rival Booker T. Washington. Unlike his relatives, he wanted to attend college in the SWC.
In the summer of 1965, LeVias and Fry made it official. LeVias was going to play for the Mustangs. When LeVias started as an end for SMU in the September 24, 1966 game against the University of Illinois, he changed the Southwest Conference forever. Both LeVias and Fry faced taunts and ridicule. At a coaches' meeting, peers told Fry that they'd never allow a black player on their team. They wondered what was wrong with him. Meanwhile, on the field, players pummeled LeVias after the whistle. Off the field, reporters pounded him with demeaning questions.
Despite the criticisms and the harsh treatment, LeVias was a star player. While at SMU, LeVias made athletic and academic All-America teams and contributed to the Mustangs' first SWC title in 18 years in 1966. His records as a receiver still stand: 15 passes caught in one game against Ohio State in 1968; 1,131 yards receiving in 1968, the year he finished fifth in Heisman balloting.
He was a consensus All-America, 1968; won the Ft. Worth Kiwanis Club Award for Sportsmanship, 1968; was Most Valuable Back and Player in the Senior Bowl, January 11, 1969, at Mobile, Alabama; and was the Most Valuable Lineman in the American Bowl, Tampa. He was chosen All-SWC in 1966, 1967, and 1968. And then, even after he accomplished in college, he was still considered to be too small for the NFL. LeVias proved everyone wrong by becoming Rookie of the Year as a wide receiver for the Houston Oilers in 1969.
Jerry LeVias broke down walls so that other young African-American men could compete in the SWC. LeVias said, "I look back now and it's funny. But I have drawn strength from what I went through as a young man. It was definitely my faith in God and in people that got me through." LeVias exhibited strength and courage as he became a Mustang legend. His signing with SMU takes its rightful place as one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.