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Oklahoma’s Greatest Football All-American (1963-1969)

Clendon-thomas-1957_medium
Clendon Thomas 1957

In somewhat of an upset Clendon Thomas edged out Joe Don Looney by just one vote for the era of 1957-1962. He’ll move on to take on the winner of the 1963-1969 era. This period produced a war hero, 4 two-time All-Americans and Oklahoma’s second Heisman Trophy winner. Now you have the task of letting us know which one you believe to be the greatest.

Jim Grisham, FB/LB - 1963
Jim Grisham made an impression on a few people with his 107 yards rushing in his first bowl game.

The Sooners faced Paul "Bear" Bryant and his Alabama Crimson Tide. Most notably, Bryant was extremely impressed with his performance. "Grisham was as hard a runner as we've ever seen," the legendary coach commented.

The consensus All-American punished his opponents on defense as much as on offense. During his sophomore season, he was named defensive player of the game against Kansas and Syracuse. The three-time all-conference performer made Bud Wilkinson's final game as head coach memorable. With the Sooners trailing 10-7 in the second half to OSU, Grisham exploded for four touchdowns while setting a school record for rushing yards (218).

He was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings during the sixth round in 1965.

Ralph Neely, T - 1963, 1964
When asked what his favorite thing about playing football was, Ralph Neely said playing against a real tough opponent. Anyone who watched the two-time All-American play knew this. Not many of his opponents challenged the 261-pound tackle who played both ways. He was named the Big Eight Sophomore Lineman of the Year.

With great quickness for a big man, Neely was a dominant performer on defense. After the 1963 Missouri game,

Tiger QB Gary Lane
said, "That big Ralph Neely, where did he keep coming from? I think he spent more time in our backfield than I did." Also an excellent blocker on offense, Neely was an all-conference selection in both 1963 and '64.

He was drafted in the second round by the Baltimore Colts in 1965.

Carl McAdams, C/LB - 1964, 1965
During his high school playing days, Carl McAdams played every position on the team except center. The OU coaches took care of that for the two-time All-American, as he helped out there for the Sooners. But his play at linebacker is what earned him national honors during his competitive career.

"He's as good as anybody we've ever had," said then-head coach Gomer Jones. "He's so quick that he can take two steps the wrong way backing the line, and still recover in time to make the play."

McAdams was all-conference in 1964 and '65. He was also named conference Lineman of the Year in 1965. He was drafted in the third round by the New York Jets in 1967.

Granville Liggins, NG - 1966, 1967
In 1967, Granville Liggins was honored as UPI's Lineman of the year. The two-time All-American ranks as one of the top defensive linemen in OU's history.

At 214 pounds, Liggins was the biggest man on the defense, but he usually had to face bigger centers. He could offset this with his incredible quickness.

"He moves so fast that he looks like he's offsides," said then-Texas head coach and former OU player Darrell Royal. "Many times he'll hit the center before the center can get the ball to the quarterback."

Liggins was also honored as the Lineman of the Year by the Pigskin Club of Washington, D.C., in 1967. He was drafted in the 10th round by the Detroit Lions in 1968.

Bob Kalsu, OT - 1967
Bob Kalsu earned All-America honors in 1967 for his outstanding play at offensive tackle. "Bob was our best offensive lineman, the best athlete we had," said-then offensive coach Barry Switzer. "Bob wasn't only a great player, he was a great leader. He had the maturity and leadership abilities we needed at that time with our program in transition."

Kalsu was also a member of the ROTC at OU. Kalsu was drafted in the eighth round by the Buffalo Bills in 1968.

After his first year, Kalsu was called to join the U.S. Army's highly decorated 101st Airborne Division. On July 21, 1970, he was killed by North Vietnamese mortar fire. He was the only professional football player to be killed during the Vietnam Conflict.

In 1977, Kalsu was recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The plaque in his honor reads: "No one will ever know how great a football player Bob might have been, but we do know how great a man he was to give up his life for his country." He also was memorialized by his teammates and the "O" Club with the Benien-Kalsu-Henderson Scholarship. It is presented annually to student-athletes who have completed their eligibility.

Steve Owens, TB - 1968, 1969
In 1969, Steve Owens became the second player in OU history to win the Heisman Memorial Trophy.

The two-time consensus All-American scored more touchdowns during his career than any other Sooner (56). He also holds records for most touchdowns in a season (23) and most points scored in a season (138), accomplishing both during the 1969 season.

He also broke several national records during his career: most rushing yards (3,867), most net yards rushing in one season (1,536 in 1968), most net yards rushing in two seasons (2,344) and the three-year record for touchdowns (56). After his incredible career, Owens was also awarded the Walter Camp Trophy and was honored by the Helms and Citizens Savings Athletic Foundation.

He was the 19th player taken in the 1970 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions. He was inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1991. Owens served as OU's Director of Athletics from 1996-98.

Steve Zabel, TE - 1969
Steve Zabel earned All-America honors as a tight end in 1969, but his play at other positions made him one of the most valuable players at OU. With his natural athletic ability, in 1968 the coaching staff decided to utilize him at defensive end and also as a punter.

He was named to the All-America blocking team by the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times during his sophomore year. During his first season playing for the varsity, Zabel had his most memorable experience as a Sooner. "My greatest moment as an OU player has got to be catching the touchdown pass in '67 against KU from Bob Warmack with one minute left in the game. That clinched the Orange Bowl berth," Zabel said.

Also an excellent student, Zabel was a three-time academic all-conference selection. He was the sixth player taken in the 1970 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Ken Mendenhall, C - 1969
Described as a devastating one-on-one blocker, Ken Mendenhall earned All-America honors in 1969 for his play at center. The Enid native was appreciated by his teammates. "He's always got the path cleared for you," said tailback Steve Owens. "He's fantastic coming off the ball on a man right in front of him. I'm glad we have him up there."

He cleared the way for Owens, who is OU's all-time leading scorer. An extremely versatile player, Mendenhall made the switch from guard to center during his sophomore year and excelled after the switch.

He was a fifth-round draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons in 1970.

 

Poll

Who was Oklahoma's greatest All-American from 1963-1969?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Jim Grisham, FB/LB - 1963
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    Ralph Neely, T - 1963, 1964
    (1 vote)
  • 5%
    Carl McAdams, C/LB - 1964, 1965
    (3 votes)
  • 10%
    Granville Liggins, NG - 1966, 1967
    (6 votes)
  • 5%
    Bob Kalsu, OT - 1967
    (3 votes)
  • 69%
    Steve Owens, TB - 1968, 1969
    (38 votes)
  • 1%
    Steve Zabel, TE - 1969
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Ken Mendenhall, C - 1969
    (0 votes)
55 votes total Vote Now