Presbyterian College football almost didn’t reach its fourth decade. By 1943, the war had ravaged PC’s enrollment numbers and campus became home primarily to air cadets attending the school’s pre-flight training. Military restrictions dictated that the cadets could not play football, severely hampering the football program to the point where coach Lonnie McMillian wondered aloud if he could even field a team.
Enter Ben Moye. A former PC defensive tackle, the Augusta, Georgia native arrived to teach cadets and assist McMillian after a successful coaching stint at Greenwood High School. Moye promised to visit high schools within a 100-mile radius in his Model A Ford and recruit enough players to field a team. His plan worked, and PC played a 12 game schedule that year against teams like Clemson (a 13-12 win), Georgia, South Carolina, Miami and Newberry.
Following the historic 1943 season, PC garnered its first two National Football League draftees in 1944. The Chicago Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers, having lost numerous players to war service, temporarily merged and drafted Blue Stocking end Jack Adams in the 19th round and back Hank Caver (ranked as the number 1 quarterback in the nation thanks to 59 completions for 790 yards and seven touchdowns) in the 22nd round. Undrafted Larry Weldon also played 12 games for Washington in 1944-45, becoming the first PC alum in the NFL. PC’s success kept rolling in 1946 with a 7-2 season that ended with seven straight wins and “Little Four” and North State titles. That season also featured a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown against Stetson and in 1950, George Fleming returned a punt that same distance against Erskine. Blake “Kilo” Watts made headlines in 1949 for averaging 7.4 yards per rush.
The 1950 and 1951 seasons featured fullback John McKissick, who graduated and immediately took a job coaching the Summerville (S.C.) High School football team. He’s been there ever since, and in 2012 earned his 600th win, becoming the first American football coach at any level to accomplish the feat. McKissick has also won 10 state championships and three Coach of the Year awards.
And, of course, the Bronze Derby came into existence in 1947. No history of collegiate athletics in South Carolina is complete without mention of the Bronze Derby. Find out more about the legend here.
PC’s strong foundation through the first three decades set the stage for the fourth, where the program established institutions on and off the floor that would endure for decades to come, including the legendary Bronze Derby rivalry. Though the tradition eventually aligned itself with a Thanksgiving football game, the school’s intense rivalry with nearby Newberry College grew out of a contentious basketball game in 1947. [LINK TO BRONZE DERBY HERE]
Lonnie McMillian hung up his whistle and retired from coaching after the 1946-47 season. Over the previous 34 years, PC had only known two other coaches and McMillian retired as the winningest coach in program history with 128 wins to 143 losses over 17 years.
The next five years saw five different coaches and mostly .500 records, a trend that would end quickly. During the 1949-50 season, head coach Felton Moore signed four freshmen from Indiana, setting up the next four seasons when the Blue Hose became one of the most competitive and feared teams within the Southeast. Due to conference rules, freshmen were unable to play in conference games but the team was able to close the year on a 5-0 record.
Claude Crocker took over coaching duties for the 1950-51 season and the squad earned “the fanciest club in Palmetto circles” distinction, losing six games by two points or less. Dwight Groninger earned All-State honors while Paul Nye took home All-Little 4 honors.
In 1951 the Blue Hose captured two championships—the state championship and the Little Four championship—while setting six state records. Arguably PCs greatest team, Gene Lorendo coached the squad that averaged 81.7 points per game and saw Groninger tally 41 points in a single game.
Coaching legend Norman Sloan, most notable during his days at NC State, began coaching at PC in 1951 and racked up a record of 89-41 in five seasons.
Sloan’s first team won the Little Four Tournament to start the 1951-52 campaign and went on to secure a 21-7 record. Five of their losses came in overtime or by one to two points. The Blue Hose also recorded an impressive 2,180 points, an average of 77.8 per game, and Paul Nye made a splash in the national assists rankings.
Before Sloan left in 1955, he amassed a record of 89-41 for a winning percentage of .684 to rank first in program history at the time.