Attitude can win football games and make undersized athletes champions. Such was the mantra of the 1967 Fulton High School Falcons. The axiom proved true for them, leading to an undefeated season and honors for the “Mighty Mites.”
The mindset was the same for the team’s head coach, Maryville native Lon Herzbrun.
On Aug. 31, Herzbrun was honored by state and city dignitaries for his leadership with the 1967 team and for the influence he had on students’ lives. Fulton was playing Oak Ridge the day the coaches and team of the past was honored with, among other honors, the Salute America Inspiration Award.
Gov. Phil Bredesen also honored Herzbrun by naming him aid-de-camp in the state militia and the City of Knoxville issued a proclamation honoring Herzbrun and his 1967 Falcons for their undefeated season.
“It was a day to honor the undefeated 1967 Fulton Falcons,” Herzbrun said. “This team was called the Mighty Mites because of the size of the players. That was their trade name.”
The Falcons are still the only undefeated Fulton team in 56 years of football history.
Herzbrun was an offensive guard and defensive tackle at the University of Tennessee in 1955, ‘56 and ‘57 and played in the National Football League for a short time in the early 1960s. After coaching at Fulton from 1962 to 1968, he returned to his alma mater in 1969 to coach line backers and start the weight program. He left UT in 1976 and opened Olympia Athletic Club in 1978.
When Herzbrun arrived to coach at Fulton High School in 1962, he had just left the Washington Redskins. What he found at Fulton was a team in disarray. “These guys had never won,” he said. “I think they won one game.”
The players had heart, Herzbrun said, and they worked hard for him in practice. “I believe in working someone so that they’re in shape to play and win it in the fourth quarter,” he said. “I had less than 20 players. I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to play the first season, but we won three and tied one. It was the best record they had had. From then on, we dominated the Knoxville Football League.”
The KFL consisted of Central, Young, Holston, Bearden, South and Farragut high schools. There wasn’t a state playoff system when Herzbrun was coaching, but there were post-season bowl games.
Fulton went to six bowl games, he said.
Herzbrun kept playing as he coached as well, he said. He joined the semi-professional football team called the Knoxville Bears, refereed basketball and worked at Sears during the Christmas season and in the summer.
“You had to do things like that to make a living,” he said. “I had five jobs with teaching just to make a living.”
His football players at Fulton often came to see their coach perform on the gridiron. “They would come watch me play,” he said.
Herzbrun said he got a lot out of his players in a short amount of time each day during practice. “People sometimes don’t believe me. I stayed on the field only an hour and a half with them,” he said. “No one believed that’s all we practiced. I wanted attitude. I wanted 100 percent. As soon as we hit the field, we were full speed. That teaches kids to go full speed on every play.
“That teaches aggressiveness and how to play the game,” he said. “You may make mistakes, but it was going to be at full speed. That’s what I wanted to teach the kids.”
Most of the players played both offense and defense. “These were little guys. My offensive guards, two of them, were Doug Young and Bobby Huffaker. Doug weighed 138 pounds and Huffaker was 128 pounds, and they were our two starting guards,” he said.
Herzbrun said linebacker Jackie Walker, who later played for him at UT, only weighed 160 pounds. “He was one of the bigger guys and made All-American,” Herzbrun said. “I had a second string wide receiver named Warren Wade who weighed 98 pounds and my tailback was Troy Jones, who weighed 119 pounds. But we won. We beat Oak Ridge (High School), who was a powerhouse. We beat everybody back then.”
While his players were smaller than those on other teams, Herzbrun said they were disciplined and conditioned. When other teams appeared winded in the fourth quarter, his players weren’t.
“They were in shape. They knew that quarter was theirs, whether we were behind or not,” he said. “The attitude was the thing that won more than anything. We were pretty quick and fast, but we were so small, I don’t know if people overlooked us. It was a delight to coach guys like that. They gave it everything they had whether in practice or in games. Their attitude was what won it.”
The 1967 team that was honored with Herzbrun beat perennial power Oak Ridge High School that year. “We were the only team to beat Oak Ridge,” he said. “It was a big school at the time, I think the biggest in the state. It was terrific. That ‘67 team topped it off. The score was 14-13,” he said.
Herzbrun said Fulton was a vocational and academic high school with a cross section of students from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.
“All these guys who played were tough individuals. You had a cross section of people who didn’t have a lot of money, and some who had a little. But, they learned from each other that if you paid a price, maybe you could have something in life.
“They learned toughness from the streets that you have to have,” he said.
Herzbrun said he tried to stay in touch with all his players, and they knew he cared about them. “You never know how you inspire someone,” he said.
The former coach said he is proud of each person who ever played for him. “I don’t know of one player who wasn’t successful in life. They learned that when they got knocked down, get back up. That’s life,” Herzbrun said. “They were little. They got knocked down a lot, but, boy, they got off the ground quickly. It paid off for them. That’s why I say attitude is how we won.”