When I started this project, my intent was to compile a team of all-time players. From talking to people and coaches, it soon turned into a list of great players. The game of football has changed so much from the 1930s when Dean Bagley played to the modern game of Gary Gant, Jack Whitten and Tucker Cromer. The style of play has changed and the players themselves have become bigger, faster and stronger. It would be unfair to some to say the this player was better because the style of game was so different. Instead, I chose to make a list of players that many believe could be successful in any style of game.
Having said that — here goes. The first position to cover is probably the most important — quarterback. Two names came up more than any other, Richard Barker and Jason Tilson. Barker played in the late 1950s and was the first to pass for 1000 yards in a season. Tilson played from 1992-94. He still holds the record for most passing yards in a season and career. Others mentioned were Phil Ledbetter, Dave Davenport, Kris Higginbotham and John Henry, Jr. Henry is the only player to have 1000 yards passing and rushing in a season.
The running backs were the easiest to choose. Starting with Dean Bagley, who still holds several scoring records. In the 1940s, Dougall Cameron was an excellent runner. The 1950s saw Gerald Johnson, who was a senior at Texas when Darrel Royal became coach. Many talked about John Henry, Sr. and his 2000-yard season in 1982. Henry started as a fullback and was moved to running back after an injury to Olidio Cantu. Those that played and coached at that time say that Moses Cisneroz was the better runner because of his speed and elusiveness and Henry is the best true fullback they have seen. Cisneroz won several awards and played in an all-star game.
The receivers were a difficult bunch to find. Until the 1990s, San Saba only had a handful of seasons where they had 1000 yards passing and most had less than 500 yards. Since then, there have been several years of 1000 yards and some excellent receivers that could catch in any type of offense. John Bauer played for San Saba in 1991-92. He used his 6’ 5" frame to make leaping catches and holds the record for most receptions and yards in a season. John Curtis Weyerts came shortly after and amassed some impressive numbers when San Saba threw 20-25 passes a game. Chad Turner was a running back that lined up as a third receiver in the "slot" and would use his speed to get open. His good hands made him a dangerous weapon in that position.
The tight end is both receiver and lineman and had to do both, sometimes on the same play. Troy Hibler was the earliest name mentioned as being good at both. James McNeeley used his 6’ 2" body with good effectiveness. Michael Calderon had the size most like in a tight end and was a good blocker and excellent at running routes. Calderon was a good punter as well. He averaged 40 yards a punt his senior year, including an 81-yard punt against Goldthwaite.
The final offensive position are "the big guys" — the linemen. The first name mentioned by most was Wilbur Aylor. Aylor played for the Armadillos from 1959-61. He went to Southwest Texas State in San Marcos. In 1966, Aylor was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings from the NFL and the Houston Oilers in the AFL. Aylor signed with the Oilers and played several years for them. A couple of teammates of Dean Bagley were brought up. The Watkins brothers, "Hoodie" and Tid. Hoodie played at Texas at the same time Bagley was at TCU. Hoodie was on the cover of Life the week of the TCU upset of Texas. Tid played for Army and had the honor of blocking for two future Heisman winners — Doc Blanchard and Glen Davis. They won the award in 1945 and 1946. Gene Hinyard started for the Rice Owls for three years. Ricky Lambert also went to Rice at this time but did not play after his Freshman year. Buddy Priest started as a lineman before moving to fullback as a senior. Priest was offered a college scholarship as a guard. Robert Ware played for SWTU when they won the national title in the early 1980s. Darren Lowe and Bobby Clark also were mentioned by some as good linemen. The most recent of the bunch played from 2007-2009. "Big Mac", Tyler McIntosh, was named to the West Texas all-decade team as a lineman after the 2009 season.
The hardest position to find were the defensive linemen. When they are doing their jobs, only coaches and fans see them. They get little notoriety. Four names were mentioned because of how much they could disrupt offenses. Kevin Land was as mean as they come. Ricky Prescott was so quick from the nose guard that some thought he knew the snap count. Marten Cromer was good at taking on blockers and still making tackles. Anthony Salinas used his 4.8 speed to get around linemen and into the backfield before the play could develop. Salinas was also used as a fullback and had several long runs for touchdowns with his speed.
Linebackers were easy to find. San Saba is known for its hard-nosed defense and the heart of that defense is its linebackers. Joe Miller was an all-stater in the mid 1960s. Robert Jackson was called "the best linebacker I ever coached" by John Baskin, Sr. John Henry, Sr was as good at linebacker as he was at running back. He would use his strength and power to get to the ball. Evan Edmondson dominated offenses to an all-state selection and 175 tackles his senior year. Chris McBride anchored the 1987 defense that took San Saba to the third round of the playoffs, including a 7-0 upset of Reagan County. Finally, a current Armadillo, Tucker Cromer led the team in tackles the past two years with 190 tackles in 2009 and 175 in 2010. Teammate Jack Whitten is a good linebacker as well but gets overshadowed by Cromer.
The defensive backs cover the entire range of years. Starting with Dean Bagley at safety. Bagley's play at safety was as good as his play on offense. Shawn Oliver was named all West Texas after his senior year when he had 10 interceptions. He was also a good receiver and could be used as a receiver as well. Kevin Shahan had 8 picks his sophomore year and was named all West Texas. Mark Oliver was also named all West Texas as a safety his senior year of 1987. Casey Pledger was excellent as a cornerback in coverage. Gary Gant has the speed to cover any receiver. He may get beat off the line but uses his running back speed to make up ground and defend passes. He had 6 interceptions in 2009 and returned one for a score.
Finally, the two positions that all discussion began and ended with one person at each. The punter everyone said was Pete Hibler. Hibler was an All-American at Angelo State and received a free-agent tryout by the New England patriots in the mid 1980s. Some names were mentioned for kicker, but when one name was brought up, everyone said he is the best kicker they have ever seen at San Saba, Diego Gonzalez. Gonzalez finished the 2010 season with 41-43 PATs and made 7-9 field goals including a 42-yard kick against Schulenburg in the playoffs. He had 60 kickoffs in 2010, not including 2 onside attempts. 25 went for touchbacks and eight more went into the end zone but were brought out. For his career, Gonzalez was good on 99-107 PAT and 13-19 FG.
I am sure there are many more players that could make this list. Unfortunately, no one talked to me about them or mentioned them.
I want to thank all the people I talked to doing this and a special thank you to Coach Lynn Stewart who wrote me about all the players he coached during his tenure at San Saba.