Lamar athletics mourns the loss of Tony Guillory

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A trailblazer, and one of Lamar University’s most celebrated athletes, Anthony (Tony) Guillory, passed away Tuesday morning at the age of 78.

A 1985 Cardinals Hall of Honor inductee, Guillory broke the color barrier becoming the first African-American student-athlete to don a Cardinals’ football uniform. A three-year letterwinner, Guillory was known for dismantling opposing offenses while guiding the program to their first Southland Conference title and a berth in the 1964 Pecan Bowl. The title sparked a run of three consecutive titles for the Red and White, which would go down as their most successful run in SLC history.

Guillory was recognized for his efforts on the field earning All-Southland Conference honors at defensive guard. He was also named Lamar’s Most Outstanding Lineman that season. He made history the moment he stepped on the field during the 1962-63 season becoming the student-athlete to integrate the athletics program and received honorable mention All-American honors on the gridiron that season.

A year before bringing a conference title to Beaumont in football, Guillory was a key figure in helping Big Red’s track and field team lay claim to the 1963 conference championship. He scored points in the shot put and discus, finishing with a record toss of 54-11.75 in the shot.

Guillory continued his playing career professionally being drafted in the seventh round of the 1965 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams. He spent three seasons with the Rams (1965, 1967-68) before closing out his career with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1969. He played in 53 games during his career registering 23 starts. He was one of 16 pro footballers given the keys to the city of Beaumont in 1971.

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Remembering Anthony Guillory

Southeast Texans are remembering Anthony ‘Tony’ Guillory, the first black athlete at Lamar State College of Technology, now Lamar University.

Anthony Guillory died Tuesday of health-related problems.

He helped Hebert High School win a state football title in 1959, and in early 1962, he broke the color barrier at Lamar Tech.

Anthony Guillory became a star player and went on to play professional football between 1965 and 1969.

He’s a member of the Lamar Hall of Honor.

Tony Guillory went on to a long career with ExxonMobil in Beaumont and he was a businessman.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Tony Guillory was 78 years old.

From Lamar University – One of Lamar University’s most celebrated football players, Anthony (Tony) Guillory dismantled opposing offenses in 1964 when he had an awesome season in leading the Cardinals to their first outright football championship.

In that great campaign, Guillory earned an All-Southland Conference spot at defensive guard and was selected as Lamar’s “Most Outstanding Lineman.”

Guillory integrated Lamar’s athletic program in the 1962-63 season. He received All-America honorable mention in football that autumn and helped the Cardinals capture their first rack title in the spring of 1963 by scoring points in the shot put and discus. Guillory set a shot put record of 53 feet, 11 3/4 inches in 1963. He earned three letters in each sport.

From 1965 through 1969, Guillory was a standout performer for the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams as a linebacker and captain of special teams. He blocked a punt to set up the winning score in a late 1967 game against Green Bay that enabled the Rams to win the NFL’s Coastal Division title.

Tony Guillory
Anthony “Tony” Guillory is a former American football linebacker who played in the National Football League from 1965 through 1969. He attended the black Hebert High School in Beaumont, Texas, and played college football at the University of Nebraska and then at Lamar State College of Technology. Wikipedia
Born: November 10, 1942 (age 78 years), Opelousas, LA
Height: 6′ 4″
NFL Draft: 1965 / Round: 7 / Pick: 93
Position: Linebacker
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Beaumont’s black football pioneers share history at LU

Tony Guillory, Robert Jacobus, Joe Brown and Michael Hurd pose for a picture in the Plummer Room of Lamar University's library after participating in a discussion about the history African American football players in Texas. Photo by Matt Faye/The Enterprise.
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Tony Guillory, Robert Jacobus, Joe Brown and Michael Hurd pose for a picture in the Plummer Room of Lamar University’s library after participating in a discussion about the history African American football players in Texas.

As the first black football player to ever don a Lamar University jersey, Tony Guillory remembers the tough times that came with integrating the team in 1962.

He remembers the first day of practice, when his fellow Cardinals fled the showers as he walked in. He remembers being called “that word” by teammates, then taking out his anger by embarrassing those same teammates in one-on-one drills. During road trips for away games, Guillory often wasn’t allowed to stay in the team hotel, instead bunking at a black family’s home in town and being picked up before the game.

“That’s where the good food was anyway,” Guillory joked as he reminisced in front of a small crowd inside Lamar University’s Mary & John Gray Library.

Guillory, who attended Hebert High School, and former Charlton-Pollard football star Joe Brown each played a role in the history of integration for high school and college football in Texas. As part of Lamar University’s Homecoming Week, the former players participated in a discussion panel on Tuesday night with authors Robert Jacobus and Michael Hurd, each of whom have recently released books on the topic.

“It’s important to have these discussions and pass down our history to the next generation,” Brown said.

Jacobus’ book, “Black Man in the Huddle,” takes an in-depth look at the players who paved the way for football integration in Texas, then went on to have successful careers collegiately and professionally.

“Many players I talked to said they credit their careers to integration and wouldn’t have had the same opportunities without it,” Jacobus said. “Others, though, say it did ruin the traditions of their high schools that they loved.”

Hurd’s book, “Thursday Night Lights,” examines the time before football in Texas was integrated. A time when the Prairie View Interscholastic League was the only opportunity given to black players. Texas’ current governing body for athletics, the University Interscholastic League, was only open to white players until 1970.

At its peak, the Prairie View league enrolled 500 schools and produced future professional stars like Hebert’s Jerry LeVias, Warren Wells and Charlton-Pollard’s Bubba Smith. Although those players would go on to the recognition they deserved professionally, others in the league did not, Hurd said.

“For a lot of these guys, this is the first time that anybody has recognized them for all they’ve done,” Hurd said. “In a football-crazed state like Texas, those guys were overlooked, and that’s really sad. That’s why I wanted to write the book.”

During Guillory’s junior year at Hebert in 1959, the team was arguably the best in the Prairie View league’s history, when 13 players received college scholarships.

Brown prefers to remember three years later in 1962, when his Charlton-Pollard squad overcame a 14-point deficit at halftime to defeat Hebert in the annual Soul Bowl.

Integration would come years later. Brown thinks a lesson can be learned from the history that he and Guillory lived through.

“We used to go to South Park stadium and practice all the time with kids from South Park, Charlton-Pollard and that other school (Hebert),” Brown said. “We still know each other today from what we encountered as young kids. So if we start the kids early on, we will not have the issues in life like we have today because kids will learn to love each other.”

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In early 1962, Anthony Guillory became the first black athlete at Lamar State College of Technology (now Lamar University). A speedy and talented defensive lineman, Guillory helped Beaumont’s Hebert High School win a state football championship in 1959. Upon graduating in 1961, though, Guillory had to look outside of Texas for top-notch collegiate programs willing to recruit an African American.

This situation would change dramatically over the course of the 1960s. During Guillory’s first semester at the University of Nebraska, Lamar Head Coach J. B. Higgins came calling to encourage him to return to Beaumont to integrate Cardinal football. That spring, Guillory threw the shot and discuss for the track team before joining football for spring training. This made Lamar one of the first four-year colleges in Texas—or even South of the Mason-Dixon Line—to integrate its athletic program.

“The black community in Beaumont was excited that I was out there playing football for Lamar,” Guillory recalled in an interview with Robert Jacobus. On his first day with the team, many of the white players left the showers when Guillory walked in. After this, though, he quickly earned the respect of his fellow Cardinals and emerged as a defensive star. At 6-1 and 227 pounds, this lineman was somewhat remarkably the second fastest player on the team. Both the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL and the Houston Oilers of the AFL drafted Guillory, and he went on to play 53 professional games between 1965 and 1969.

We are proud to welcome Mr. Guillory back to Lamar’s campus at 5:30 PM on Tuesday, September 24, 2019 as a featured guest at an event called From Thursday Night Lights to a Black Man in the Huddle. Joined by local gridiron legends, including Mr. Guillory, historians Robert Jacobus and Michael Hurd will share some of their research into the generation of black football players in Southeast Texas that helped break the color barrier in collegiate athletics across the South.

This free event is open to the public and will certainly be of interest to fans of Lamar Athletics and the Hebert High School Alumni Association.

Image courtesy of Special Collections at the Mary and John Gray Library, Lamar University.

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Guillory recalls college football integration period

Quite a few things have happened since Anthony Guillory became Lamar University‘s first black football player more than 40 years ago.

During that time, thousands of black players have gone on to play college football, Lamar University eliminated its football program only to bring it back and on Wednesday, former West Orange-Stark quarterback Andre Bevil, also black, will become the revived program’s first official signee.

Guillory said Monday another barrier needs to be broken when it comes to colleges hiring more black coaches.

Currently, there are four black coaches at the 119 schools that play at Football Bowl Subdivision level, the lowest since 1993. Those coaches are Houston’s Kevin Sumlin, Miami’s Randy Shannon, newly-hired New Mexico coach Mike Locksley and Buffalo’s Turner Gill, who recently lost out on the Auburn University job to Iowa State head coach Gene Chizik.

“He could have gotten the Auburn job,” Guillory said. “That guy (Chizik) they hired, he’s a loser. His record says so.”

Gill led Buffalo to 13 victories and a conference title in two seasons while Chizik won five games over two seasons.

“It’s so amazing,” Guillory added. “You’ve got guys like Turner Gill that fight for a job and when they take you in at one place, you don’t get the same chance at other places.”

A chance at Lamar is what put Guillory into the local history books. Prior to coming to Lamar in 1961, Guillory was at the University of Nebraska.

“Nebraska maybe had 30 blacks on campus at the time,” Guillory said. “I stayed up there my freshman year, and one day my parents called me and said (former Lamar head coach) J.B. Higgins and Dr. F.L. McDonald started talking to them.

“They wanted to get into the process of recruiting black players.”

Guillory said after coming home for Christmas, he thought about playing at Lamar and enrolled in January 1961.

The former Hebert High product’s homecoming created a sense of area-wide hysteria as people asked if he was going to play football with Lamar.

When April arrived, he took part in spring football and on his first day, he entered locker room showers only to have the majority of his white teammates leave.

“That was kind of hurtful,” Guillory said. “I never did have problems with the players during practice.”

He said it was the only racially-motivated incident that occurred with his teammates.

There were also some mixed emotions on campus, he said.

Guillory said the city’s black community was excited while there some dissension among whites existed.

“I had to go to the board to get permission, but once I got the OK, things went smoothly,” Higgins said, according to The Enterprise archives.

“We had good individuals to break the color barrier and we never had any problems.”

Not everyone had the same feelings as Higgins, Guillory said. When Lamar went on the road to play Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches, he and a teammate, Gene Washington, were not allowed to stay in the team hotel.

They roomed with a black family in the area before meeting up with the rest of the team at the hotel.

“The only thing that bothered me was when we got back to the hotel,” he said. “They would not let us stay there, but (the hotel) let us eat with the team for the pre-game meal.”

After he attended Lamar, Guillory played five National Football League seasons Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles. He returned to Beaumont and worked for Mobil Oil, from which he retired in 1995.