Go back and check through the names -- from Buddy Pope in the late 1940s to Corey Booker of the present-day Wildcats -- Oak Ridge, Tennessee High School has one of the state's top traditions of standout running backs.
But none of the Oak Ridge greats accomplished what Dave Griffith did in 1951.
During the Wildcats' 9-2 season, Griffith piled up a whopping 2,677 yards in total offense. That record still stands some 51 years later.
Shaun Bohanon, who accumulated 2,525 total yards in 1996, has come closer than any Wildcat to topping Griffith's mark. However, it took Bohanon 14 games to do it.
Griffith had a season to remember in 1951 from his tailback slot.
|After breaking his collarbone in 1950 and missing the last half of the season, Griffith took over for All-South tailback Tom McGrew in 1951. Griffith ran for 185 yards and two TDs as the Wildcats opened the season with a 39-13 win over Rhea County.|
|Griffith, otherwise known as "Old Smoky," returned the second-half kickoff 100 yards against Chattanooga Notre Dame in a 31-6 win. the 100--yard return is still a school record. In another game, Griffith had a 97-yard touchdown run from scrimmage.|
Griffith went on to earn first-team All-Southern and All-State honors that season as Oak Ridge wound up ranked No. 2 in the state of Tennessee.
Dave Griffith was a 1952 graduate of Oak Ridge High School and captain of the school's football team and member of the track team. His senior year, he led the Wildcats, scoring most points for the season and led the team in individual honors that year.
He received recognition in two All American high school selections for East Tennessee and was named to the All Southern Squad and the Tennessee Team. The Oak Ridge High School team was voted second in the state by the Associated Press. A local sports writer at the time said the All-State halfback and other team members had "gone farther than any Wildcat contingent before them."
The team won the post-season game at the Lions Bowl and at the football banquet, Dave Griffith was presented with the first Roy Lotspeich Memorial Award for being the outstanding athlete in East Tennessee. The award was named for a former Knoxville Journal publisher.
He was a member of the Oak Ridge High School track team that won the first state track and field title. In the 880-yard relay, the team came within one-tenth of a second in tying the record for that event.
After graduation, Dave Griffith enrolled at the University of Tennessee in the fall of 1952. He played on the freshman football team. He was promoted to the varsity team, under coach General Robert Neyland, at the beginning of the season after a player was injured. He played for two years under Neyland, who called him "the most elusive runner" he'd had since Johnny Butler, considered another longtime football great.
Dave Griffith transferred to Memphis State University where he broke the school record in the 100-yard dash at 9.8 seconds. He was a graduate of Memphis State and had a master's degree from the University of North Alabama in Florence.
He was a football coach and teacher in Savannah, Tenn., Dayton, Ohio, and Plainfield, Ind. During his coaching career at Dixie High School in Lebanon, Ohio, his team had two undefeated seasons and was runner-up for the state championship title.
Copyright 1997 The Oak Ridger
My renewed interest was a result of the success this year of the team he coached and I played on in Adamsville, Tennessee. They are undefeated so far this year. I think this would be 50 years since he coached and I played there.I have so many fond memories of Coach Griffith. I would have “fought a bear with a switch” (an expression I heard him use) for him.
I think Dave came to Adamsville in 1959. I was a freshman that year. He may have been at Savannah as an assistant the previous year, since he knew a lot of people there. He didn’t get a lot of coaching help. There were a couple of his friends that helped a little, but basically he was on his own. Another kid and I helped him mow the field with push mowers.
We got out of school in early September for cotton picking and practiced at night after picking cotton all day. Even the kids in town picked cotton. Some of the kids that lived in the country just couldn’t make it to practice every night. My recollection was that we started practice in late July and practiced on the little league baseball field which was little more that a dust bowl. He ran our butts off.
He brought a lot of excitement and the single wing, which I know is the offence he ran in high school. I remember he showed us a film of the Notre Dame game where he set the state record for the 100 yd. punt/kick return.
I don’t know how old he was then, but he was still very athletic and could out run anybody we had in school. He punted the ball well and helped me learn how. I punted a few times as a freshman and was the punter my sophomore year until I hurt my knee. I played fullback and linebacker and got a lot of playing time, even as a freshman.
We couldn’t get the skilled people in school to play football. Adamsville was a basketball school and had gone to the state a couple of years before Dave came. Buford Pusser was on the team that went to the state. Going to the state tournament in basketball was an accomplishment back then since there was no school size classification.
In the late 40’s there was an Adamsville player killed at either practice or a game and football was discontinued for a time. I think they restarted the program about 1951. Somehow the community came up with the money to buy all of Union University ’s football equipment when Union stopped their football program. I remember I found one of the old leather helmets, brand new, solid white and still in the box in a pile of some of the equipment that had been discarded. Of course no one wanted a leather helmet at that time. We had moved to plastic by then. Wish I had it now.
Dave may have told you about the article in Sports Illustrated that first year. At the time we were supposedly the team with the most consecutive losses in the nation. I think it was the October 1959 issue. We never won a game in the two years I played. We didn’t score my freshman year and only ran four touchdowns my sophomore year. We lost to Iuka , Mississippi 14-13 the last game of the year in 1960.
I think Adamsville is 6-0 this year which establishes a school record for the most consecutive wins in a season.Dave left Adamsville after the second game of my sophomore year, which would have been the fall of 1960. We moved to Friendship, Tennessee , which had no high school football program, in the summer of 1961. About two weeks after we moved one of my good friends and a football teammate at Adamsville was killed in a motor scooter accident. Dave came to the funeral and I talked to him briefly. That was the last time I saw him.