Hall of fame inductions at South Carolina State aren’t new to James Quarles (Class of 2002), Arthur “Pres” Prescott (2010) or Bobby Moore (2010), but this weekend’s enshrinement of their entire 1976 black national championship team exceeded their personal achievements.
“In reality, I think it’s the only way it should have been,” said Prescott, a former standout lineman from Laney. “Because we were the first national championship team at the school and we had some incredible athletes. It feels fantastic to go in there with all of those guys. There was talent from all over the country. It was a whole team effort and the coaches were superb.”
“Without a doubt, it feels just as good as when we went in as individuals,” said Quarles, who coaches and teaches at Glenn Hills. “To go in as teammates is a super feeling.”
“That’s the only way to do,” said Moore, an all-American lineman from Aiken. “It was always like a big family. We worked very, very hard for it and to see it come to pass is going to be an awesome thing.”
The 1976 Bulldogs were the first team in school history to win a national championship, yet it is the fourth team to get enshrined in the S.C. State hall of fame behind a 1979 AIAW women’s basketball national title team as well as a men’s basketball team and a volleyball team that won conference titles.
“I think football is probably the ultimate team sport,” said Robert “Buzzy” Banks, who also played basketball and baseball at Richmond Academy before going to S.C. State. “I think the chemistry and the things you do in football preparation that you don’t do in anything else in life, you become brothers with teammates. … I really do think it means more to the guys to go in as a team than it does just the top players.”
Quarles was among those lobbying to get perhaps the greatest collection of athletic talent in the school’s history its due recognition. The team went 10-1 and defeated unbeaten Norfolk State 26-10 in the Bicentennial Bowl to claim the national title, eventually sending more than a dozen players from the 1976 roster to the NFL including stars like Dextor Clinkscales, Nate Rivers, Rufus Bess and Charlie Brown.
S.C. State also shared the 1977 national championship with Grambling and Florida A&M.
“Of all the great accomplishments here, our ’76 football team had the greatest accomplishment of any of them,” Quarles said. “So why in the world is our team not in there? It should be a sure thing.”
It’s hard for people today to realize just how loaded with talent the historically black colleges were into the late 1970s. Mandatory
integration was still fresh in southern high schools, and many players who today would join top Division I programs found themselves at historically black schools like S.C. State, which won nine conference titles in 10 years from 1974-83 including three national championships (the last in 1981).
“If you look at the rosters of the big schools, in the early to mid-70’s you won’t find more than five to 10 African American athletes on each roster,” said Banks, who was one of only two white players on S.C. State’s championship team. “So the historically black schools were loaded with athletes who today play for the Georgias, Clemsons and South Carolinas.”
“We could have beat Carolina or Clemson,” Prescott said. “I think we were just that good. They play those teams now but they wouldn’t play us then.”
That is one of Moore’s few disappointments from his collegiate career.
“We wanted to scrimmage Clemson and South Carolina and they wouldn’t even scrimmage us,” he said.
“Not saying we would have beaten them, but it would have been good for the state of South Carolina and great for our fans and great for us. The brotherhood that we could have created. I would love to have played them.”
Banks had the most unique experience on the team. On his way to Charleston with his father to join the Navy, they stopped in Orangeburg, S.C., to check out the start of preseason camp in 1976. Given the choice, Banks chose to stay and play defensive back for the Bulldogs.
“It was really a growing experience and a very good one for me,” said Banks, who was the only white athlete living on campus. “Most people I know don’t believe I went there.”
On his first day at camp, towering defensive end Anthony Clay glowered at Banks in the lunch line after practice.
“What the hell you doing here white boy?” Clay asked him.
“I was wondering, ‘What am I going to say?’ ” Banks said.
“Then Arthur Prescott, who graduated Laney the same year I graduated from Richmond, said ‘Why you messing with my home boy?’ And that was it. Nobody else ever said a word to me. I was covered after that. Pres was my insurance.”
Said Moore: “Buzzy was just one of the family members.”
The local members of that team have remained in close contact as friends for the past three decades, and most of them returned to Orangeburg for Friday’s induction ceremony and Saturday’s recognition at halftime of the Bethune-Cookman game.
Also inducted as individuals this weekend were former Bulldogs players Al Young (1967-70), who coaches at North Augusta, and Raleigh Roundtree (1993-96), who coaches at his alma mater Josey. Both Young (receiver) and Roundtree (offensive lineman) went on to play in the NFL.
“It means a lot, but its more an honor to the guys I played with,” said Roundtree, who hopes his 1994 MEAC championship team will also be inducted one day.
“It’s an individual honor but I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Quarles expected more than 60 players and head coach Willie Jeffries (six players are deceased as well as five of their seven coaches) to attend the festivities for what Moore called a “family fellowship.”
“A weekend full of telling lies and reminiscing the last 36 years since we all played on that team,” Quarles said.
There wouldn’t be much need for embellishment of a championship team.
“We has speed galore,” Quarles said. “In ’76 they declared Oklahoma had the fastest backfield in the nation. But we had proof to show that we had the fastest backfield.”
Prescott, who tried out with the Oakland Raiders and Edmonton Eskimos, rode up with Quarles and was already thinking back wistfully.
“I used to love to watch my roommate, Nate Rivers, stiff-arm people when he turned the corner and you’d like to see sweat come out of their helmets,” Prescott said. “That was one of my favorite things to watch Nate run. Some of those guys I haven’t seen in 25 years and it will be fun to see them and tell all kinds of war stories.”
Moore, now an assistant principal at Burke County, rarely stops thinking about his S.C. State experience.
“When things get a little hard in life, I think about those days and how we made it,” he said. “You can reach back and find something.”
Now after 36 years, they collectively share another milestone as hall of famers.
“It’s quite an honor to be associated with a group of guys who did what we needed to do to accomplish our goals and win a national championship,” Banks said. “We’re very honored for the school to honor us as a whole team. I think that’s the way to do it.”