Franklin Hardin and Raymond Holt: Two of the Americus athletes who laid the foundation for today’s generation.

Published 7:50 am Tuesday, June 19, 2018

AMERICUS – Many of today’s athletes and coaches here in Americus and Sumter County are achieving great things both on and off the field. However, one thing must be remembered: Today’s current student-athletes in Americus are succeeding due to a foundation that was laid many years ago.

Franklin Hardin and Raymond Holt were part of that foundation. They played football and baseball at Americus High School back in the 50s and excelled at their craft.

Hardin was the only child of Kirby Howard Hardin and Christine Brown Hardin. He played football and baseball at Americus High School for Head Coach Jimmy Luck and Assistant Coach John Bell. Luck would later go on to coach the Georgia Tech Football B Team and be the head baseball coach for the Yellow Jackets for many years. Coach Bell also went to Georgia Tech to coach the freshman football team.

Hardin has fond memories of his time at Americus High. Hardin played Varsity Football at Americus High during his junior and senior years from 1952 to 1953. He played half back on the B Team during his freshman and sophomore years from 1950-51. While on the varsity, he played on the offensive line and was a defensive half back. Hardin said that back then, the team only had two coaches. “Coach Bell was a line coach. Coach Luck was a jack of all trades, I reckon,” Hardin said. According to Hardin, when he played, he weighed 155 lbs. “I’m way over that now,” He said.

Kellette Wade runs a barber shop in the back of Center Stage Market on Forsyth Street. In that shop, he has a collection of Americus High School football uniforms, letter jackets, old newspaper clippings and other memorabilia, including a book containing a diary written by Coach Luck.  “I started collecting Americus memorabilia. Then after I started the collection, people started bringing me things,” Wade said.  In that book containing Coach Luck’s diary is a list of Americus High School football seasons from back in the 30s, 40s, 50s and onward. According to that list, during the two years Hardin played on the varsity (1952-53), Americus went 9-1-1 in 1952 and 9-2-1 in 1953. “In my junior year (1952), we won the Sub-Region Championship and had to go down and play Valdosta for the Region Championship. They beat us 59-7,” Hardin said. “You could put that Valdosta team up against any college team and I believe they would have won.” According to Hardin, back then, the region they played in was divided into two sub-regions. Hardin said that at the end of the 1953 regular season, Americus and Tifton were tied and would have to play each other again at a neutral site to decide who would play Valdosta in the Region Championship. The two teams played at Hugh Mills Stadium in Albany. Hardin remembers that day quite well. “We played them in Albany. The grounds crew at the stadium put lime on the field instead of chalk,” Hardin said. “Our half backs and full backs got it all down their shoulder pads…just took all the skin off of them, but we won the game.” Hardin went on to say that they went down to Valdosta to play them for the Region Championship again and lost again. “Our regular half back and our regular full back hardly even played because of the lime burns,” Hardin said. “They (Valdosta) put a whipping on us two times in a row. Valdosta had a heck of a team: big boys. Our players weighed around 175 lbs. My group never beat Valdosta. The next year, after I graduated, Americus beat Valdosta.”

Hardin went on to say that he had great admiration for Head Coach Jimmy Luck. “He could talk to you like this: ’Now son, you know better than to do so-and-so’. He would just talk to you. He didn’t raise his voice. When he got through talking to you. You would think he whipped you down pretty good with his talking easy. He was a good coach,” Hardin said.

Hardin had many memorable games during his high school career, but one sticks out in particular. “We played Cairo and beat them 7-0. That was one of the highlights of my high school career,” Hardin said. “We had Bob Wall score a touchdown. He was our full back.”

Old Americus High letter jackets in Kellette Wade’s barber shop in Center Stage Market.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

One of Hardin’s teammates was Defensive Lineman Gerald Speck. “He was a good tackler. Tifton ran a Single Wing,” Hardin said. “Our job was to knock the front two or three guys out of the way so we could get to the ball carrier.” Hardin explained that Speck was so quick that he had the ball carrier tackled before the rest of the defense knew it. Both teams were fighting to tackle the ball carrier not realizing that Speck had already tackled him. That was a game where Americus played Tifton down in Tifton. He also mentioned that one of his other teammates, Jimmy Usrey, was a pretty good running back for them.

As far as what his favorite academic subject was, Hardin said maybe Math. “I’m just guessing at it. I don’t know,” Hardin said. “My wife got on to me about getting after my boys for not making good grades.” Hardin said that he told his wife that he couldn’t do it because he barely scratched by himself.

Hardin was also a good baseball player at Americus High. He played second base. In his junior and senior years, Americus High won two back-to-back state championships in baseball. The year after he graduated, Americus won another state championship. He tells a funny story about Coach Jimmy Luck, who also coached the baseball team. “James Jennings was our first baseman. He was a good first baseman,” Hardin said. “He was up to bat one time and he stood and looked at strike three. Coach asked him why he didn’t swing at the pitch. He gave some kind of excuse. Coach told him ‘Well, if that’s the case, you don’t even need a bat then’. The next time Jennings went up to bat, Coach Luck gave him a rolled-up newspaper to use as a bat. I don’t know if he actually went up to bat with the rolled-up newspaper.”

After graduating from high school in 1954, Hardin had considered enrolling at Georgia Tech and playing football there. By that time, Jimmy Luck had left Americus High to coach the football B team at Georgia Tech and was also the Head Baseball Coach. “Me, Billy Studstill (Americus High’s starting quarterback) and Charles Reeves went to Atlanta. Coach Luck was coaching the B Team at Georgia Tech. He and Coach Bell left here and went to Georgia Tech,” Hardin said. “We were looking for a place to stay. We saw Coach Luck. He asked us if we wanted to go with him to Tallahassee tomorrow,” Hardin said. According to Hardin, the B Team was going down there to play Florida State. Hardin said that they replied that they would like to go. Hardin said that Coach Luck told the boys he would take them to buy suits.

“Charles Reeves was going to be a manager for Head Coach Bobby Dodd. He was the Head Coach at Georgia Tech at the time,” Hardin said. Hardin went on to say that Reeves declined to go because he was afraid Coach Dodd would get upset with him. “Me and Billy went with Coach Luck,” Hardin said. According to Hardin, he and Billy Studstill thought they were just going along for the ride. In fact, they would be doing much more than that. “We flew to Tallahassee,” Hardin said. “They only had 26 ball players on the B Team and two or three of them got hurt, so they put me in at Defensive Half Back and Billy Studstill at Safety. I played the whole ball game at Defensive Half Back.” Hardin went on to explain that Florida State ran a running play and he tackled the ball carrier, forcing a fumble. Hardin said they ran the same play again, and this time, the ball carrier ran him over. “The last time I saw him, he was still going,” Hardin said. “That changed my tune about college ball,” Hardin had actually played in a game for Georgia Tech’s B Team, but had yet to enroll in the university. That would be the only college football game Hardin would ever play in. Hardin went on to say that he eventually did enroll as a student, but did not stay at Georgia Tech very long.

After leaving Georgia Tech, Hardin came back to Americus to work for the railroad. He worked for the Seaboard Airline Railroad. Years later, the company would come to be known as CSX. He worked for that company for 43 years. “It was the only job I ever had,” Hardin said. “I started out as a brakeman and ended up being a conductor,” Hardin said. “The brakemen do the work and the conductor is kind of the boss man.”

An excerpt of the diaries of former Americus High and Georgia Tech Head Baseball Coach Jimmy Luck in a book at Kellette Wade’s barber shop at Center Stage Market.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

As far as what advice he would give to today’s athletes here in Americus, it is simply this: “Just do what the coaches tell you to,” Hardin said. According to Hardin, when he was a senior at Americus High, Raymond Holt was probably a freshman. “Raymond was young. He always accused us of using him as a tackling dummy,” Hardin said. Holt would go on to have a fine career at Americus High and played football at Georgia Tech. According to Holt, when he was a senior in high school, Jimmy Hightower came on as a coach. He would later go on to coach two players who would later coach in the NFL: Dan Reeves and Chan Gailey. “Coach Hightower is one of the few coaches anywhere that has coached two NFL coaches,” Holt said. “Hightower started his career at Americus High and was very well liked.” Holt went on to describe the greatest highlight of his playing career at Americus High. “When I was a sophomore, we went down to Valdosta High School. They didn’t lose very many games at all anywhere. We beat them by one point,” Holt said. “Wayne McDonald, who was a half back on that team, went to Georgia Tech.”

Holt went on to say that beating Valdosta in Valdosta was quite a feat considering their record.

While at Americus High, Holt made the All-South Georgia Team and he was the Co-Captain of the All-State Team. “I was voted Lineman of the Year. I was voted All-Southern and All-American,” Holt said. Holt played Center, Tackle and Linebacker for Americus High and started as a freshman. He played there all four years from 1955-58. According to Holt, he and Hardin knew each other pretty well. “He was a lot older than me. At that time, when I was coming along, I went to a football camp with him.  Coach Luck and Coach Bell took me a long to be a manager. That’s what I did,” Holt said. “I grew up the next year and made the squad. We had a lot of good teams that we played.” Holt went on to say that they played Valdosta, Thomasville, Cairo and Tifton. “Back in those days, there was just one main high school there that we would play. Sometimes now, there are several different schools, like in Valdosta, they also have Lowndes County.”

Holt went on to mention that Cairo, one of the schools they played, had punter Bobby Walden, who went on to the NFL. “We played some really outstanding players,” Holt said.

Academically, Holt said that he did pretty good in Math. “We had great teachers in Mr. Jim O’Neal and Dr. Thomas Floyd,” Holt said. “Both of them taught Trigonometry and Math. I understood it more than I did the others.”

Holt went on to tell the story about his Dad being a high school football official. “I use to go around with him. He called a lot of the big schools like Augusta and Macon and those schools,” Holt said. “He called all of those games and that’s how I got interested in it. He would always give me the number of a player to watch on offense and one on defense. He was pretty disciplined. When I started something, he wanted me to complete it.”

Holt went on to say that during his time at Americus High, they were not outstanding at football as far as winning the region or state championship, although they came fairly close when he was a freshman because they had a lot of good players.

Holt went on to Georgia Tech to play football for Coach Bobby Dodd. There was a time when college freshmen were not allowed to play varsity college football. “My freshman year, we were the last group, you might say, to have to play a freshman schedule,” Holt said. “They didn’t let freshman play at the varsity level when I was a freshman.” Holt was among the last group of freshmen that would have to play on the freshman team and weren’t allowed to play varsity. That year was 1958. Since then, all the way up to today, freshmen are allowed to play varsity in college.

Holt went on to say that back then, they didn’t spend the money on athletics like they do today. “We didn’t even have a weight room,” Holt said. “Now they have $7 to $8 million-dollar weight rooms.” Holt said that they really didn’t do much strength training, and that he weighed about 195 lbs. “The biggest player that we had on the team was probably around 230 or 240 lbs.,” Holt said. “That’s nothing now. All of the colleges were pretty much like that until they started doing the weight training and stuff like that.”

Holt went on to say that one of the highlights of his career was playing the University of Southern California at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. “That was a great experience. We went out on a Thursday and visited Paramount Studios and Disney Land. Then we beat Southern California in the Coliseum on a Saturday night,” Holt said. Unfortunately for Holt, he injured his knee during practice one day and never regained the strength in his knee. “I wound up having two knee operations, but I was still on full scholarship,” Holt said. “Coach Dodd guaranteed that he would pay for my education. That’s the kind of fellow he was.”

Holt went on to say that the Georgia Tech Athletic Association would assist student-athletes who were having trouble in a certain course by providing them with a tutor who specialized in that particular course. Holt also mentioned one neat thing that Coach Dodd did. Once a year, he would allow the wives of married players to come on road trips with the team. “We played in two Gator Bowls in Jacksonville,” Holt said. “We played Penn State one year and we played Arkansas one year. He would take all of the players’ wives and the coaches wives and really took care of us.”

After graduating from Georgia Tech, Holt went to work for Genuine Parts Company. “My Dad was in the auto parts business here in Americus and I trained in Atlanta for three years before coming back to Americus. That was in 1965,” Holt said. Holt bought an auto parts store in Montezuma and ran it for 30 years, but the 1994 flood wiped out his business and he had to start over. “That’s why I’m now with South Georgia Tech as a Dean,” Holt said. “I was in private business for almost 33 years, and I’ve been here at the Tech School for 19 years.”

The advice that Raymond Holt would like to give to today’s student-athletes here in Americus is to have respect for their coaches and teammates and to do a good job. “Even if you’re not a first-team player, you can still contribute in some way to the success of the team,” Holt said.

Franklin Hardin and Raymond Holt: two Americus student-athletes of the past who have laid the foundation for today’s Americus and Sumter County student-athletes.