Quick show of hands, how many of you have heard of Dick Leftridge before today? I must confess that I never heard of Mr. Leftridge until recently, when his son Jack Richard Leftridge Jr. contacted me. The youngest namesake is on a quest to have his father’s name and accomplishments remembered and duly recognized in the history books. The timing of this move couldn’t have come at a better time in place of the highly anticipated premiere of Disney’s “The Express” movie being released in theaters. The Express is based on the life of the late Syracuse great Ernie Davis, who was the first African-American football player to win the Heisman (1961).
Like Mr. Davis, all accounts point to the fact that Dick Leftridge was a pioneer in his own right, based on my research and a synopsis received from his son, Dick Leftridge was the first African American to receive a football scholarship to play at a major university in the South, after he signed with West Virginia University in 1962, which at the time was playing in the Southern Conference, below the Mason Dixon line. The recruitment and signing of Dick Leftridge, accompanied by the subsequent signing of another black player, Roger Alford, represented a change in the culture of the university. According to Richard Leftridge Jr., WVU was not his father’s first choice despite being a local product (Hinton, WV). He wanted to attend Ohio State to play with the legendary Woody Hayes; however, the elder Leftridge bowed to the pressure he received from local political boosters who wanted him to stay home and play at WVU. According to the document, even the local chapter of the NAACP encouraged Leftridge to attend the local college and be the one to break the color barrier at WVU. Dick Leftridge played for WVU from 1963 to 1965, during that time he put up some impressive stats, he was the leading wicket-winner and scorer each of his three years at WVU, in 1965 he was named Amateur Athlete of the Year by West Sports Writer Virginia. Association. Dick Leftridge was the first African American to play for the South team in the North-South Shrine game in 1965, he was also the first African American named to the University of Pittsburgh All-Opponent team, and Dick Leftridge was also the first African American voted to the second teams in the entire southern conference.
Some of you older Pittsburgh Steelers fans may remember Dick Leftridge as the team’s first-round pick in 1966. He was picked third overall that year, he was also a fourth-round pick by the AFL’s Miami Dolphins that year. same year. Unfortunately, Dick Leftridge only played an unspectacular season for the Steelers and was labeled a dud by many fans and media personnel. This is where the story gets interesting; There are varied accounts of why an athlete with so much promise lasted only one season in the NFL? Depending on which version you believe, some say Dick Leftridge just didn’t have the desire and discipline to pull it off, there are stories that he just “ate” his way out of the league by gaining too much weight to be effective as an elite running back, according to an article about Mr. Leftridge written in the Hinton Daily News (7/19/66), the Steelers had a weight clause in their contract, the fine print said that every pound over 230 he brought to camp would carry fined $50, however, in an interview with a reporter from the Charleston Daily News (9/26/85), Mr. Leftridge gave a different version of events, quoted as saying that “the Steelers put in the I weighed 300 pounds when I reported. Everybody believed that and still does. I admit I was lazy sometimes, but I wasn’t fat. I weighed 242 pounds when I reported; Hell, all I know is how to play football. That’s all I’ve ever done. He was just a poor kid from Hinton (WV). How could people think that he would throw a ch? ance to make a million dollars? I would never turn my back on that.”
Controversy seemed to follow WVU’s Leftridge throughout his short professional career. He was dismissed from the school in the middle of the semester of his senior year a few days after playing his last college game and his eligibility had ended, in 1976 he would return to school. to complete his degree. Young Leftridge is also quick to point out that his father was not a saint; he wrestled with his own demons once his football career was finally over. He shared details of his father’s checkered past, including his time in Detroit working in the auto industry and making questionable decisions to get involved in the drug game as a dealer both in Detroit and upon his return to his hometown, as a result of Being on the wrong side of the law, Mr. Leftridge was sentenced to five years in federal prison (1987). According to his son, while the elder Leftridge was in prison, there was a series of alleged verbal, mental and physical harassment of the family in the streets and workplaces.
She also shared stories of her frustration with getting her father’s story told and published. “I contacted a lot of people, especially the black celebrities I see and hear about in the media and received little to no interest. I’m not sure if the story is too controversial or what. He also faced an uphill battle. in getting WVU to properly recognize his father’s achievements and historical importance to the Mountaineers According to Richard JR., the school didn’t really recognize his achievements until his death and even then the school only published a brief review, to this day has not yet been inducted into his Hall of Fame. Now critics will argue that being inducted should not be based on race as a selection criteria, and should be judged strictly on athletic achievement, on the other hand, supporters can point to his stats and some of his awards (mentioned above) and, in this case, being the first African-American player at WVU, during a time of tumultuous unrest (Era of the civil rights) in the history of this country, must be taken into account. coupled with his performance on the field, he was and remains the highest NFL draft pick in school history. Does Dick Leftridge deserve to be inducted into the WVU Hall of Fame? I’ll let you decide. IMHO, I think the story of Dick Leftridge is intriguing, mystical, and historically important and needs further exploration, if any of you would like to help young Leftridge on his journey to further his father’s story (he can be contacted at [email protected] yahoo.com), would be very kind, you are not looking for the fame and fortune of this story, just the opportunity to share the legacy of a forgotten pioneer.