by Hunter Bower, GeauxPreps.com Owner
Editor’s note: Fred Miller passed away on Sunday at the age of 82. The Eline Funeral Home of Hampstead, Maryland is handling the arrangements. The funeral is set for 10 a.m. on Friday (March 3) at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Manchester, Maryland.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”.
It’s a verse displayed amongst a set of lockers in a dressing room or a motto used by a group to encourage each other to levels never reached before.
In Fred Miller’s case, it was a lifestyle.
The personification of the All-American dream, Miller, a good-looking son of a sharecropper rose to fame as a football star at LSU who thrived beyond the collegiate level as a three-time All-Pro selection who helped led the Baltimore Colts to a win in Super Bowl V.
But long before a legendary career was cemented amongst Louisiana football lore, Miller was revered for his role in one of the greatest underdog stories ever told in Louisiana high school football history.
In 1956, Homer High School won two games – its worst season in recent memory. The effects of the oil boom had long subsided with enrollment dwindling down to numbers that would make a Class B school look mighty.
The Pelicans lost their head coach following the dismal season and participation dropped quicker than the school’s population. Left with only 17 players for the start of the 1957 season, rookie skipper Glenn Gossett was left with no choice but to work hard and continue to build his team up.
Miller, a senior tackle, oozed intensity and his charismatic attitude naturally rubbed off on his teammates. For Gossett, it was what the Pelicans needed for a long and winding journey.
Homer lost two of its best players in the first two weeks of the campaign leaving four substitutes to choose from. Despite a series of early setbacks, the Pelicans managed to roll to a 2-0 start to the season with wins over Ouachita and Arcadia.
With the odds set against them each week, Miller and his vaunted defensive unit continued to set the tone but it was a week three contest against Bossier where one of the most-talked-about legends was born.
Only 13 players were dressed as the Pelicans took the field against the Bearkats that night. In a highly-contested matchup, it was the defense from both schools that controlled the game until an 80-yard run scamper gave Homer a 6-0 lead. Bossier responded quickly to tie the game at 6-6 as both squads entered the final period.
Bossier’s confidence grew entering the fourth quarter looking across the way at a depleted Pelican sideline. After three grueling quarters, there was no way that Homer had enough left in the tank.
Or so they thought.
Despite an organized attempt of wearing down its opposition, Bossier was stunned as the Pelicans found strength in a “never-say-never” football coach that continued to lead and the encouragement from Miller to play until the very last drop of energy had disappeared.
The game ended in a 6-6 tie and 13 players celebrated as if it were the state title game.
In his book, Jerry Byrd’s Football Country, the famed sportswriter Jerry Byrd recounted Gossett’s thoughts following the hard-fought contest: “I couldn’t possibly be prouder of that team,” Gossett said outside the Pelicans’ dressing room. “They wanted to play ball – every one of them – and even though they were exhausted, they didn’t quit for a second out on the field.”
It was that night that legend of the Homer Iron Men was born.
Despite a 13-6 loss to “Hoss’ Garrett’s Ruston squad the next week, the Pelicans rebounded by stringing together six consecutive victories, four of which were shutouts, to earn a bid into the postseason.
With a few players back from injury plus the addition of students-turned-teammates, Homer reached the AA state title game following an upset win over the vaunted Ruston Bearcats in the semifinal round.
Although the Pelicans were unsuccessful in their bid for the school’s fourth title, that small group of players, bound together by the love of the game and for each other left an indelible mark that is still talked about in the present day.
Over half of the group received college football scholarships from the likes of LSU, Texas A&M, Tulane and other programs across the region while Glenn Gossett eventually moved into the collegiate ranks and become the head football coach at Northwestern State, leading the Demons to a 31-14-1 mark in four years.
Fred Miller, the most highly decorated player from that team, earned All-American honors as a defensive tackle for the LSU Tigers before enjoying a 10-year career with the then-Baltimore Colts. A three-time All-Pro selection, Miller led the Colts to an NFL championship in 1968 and a win in Super Bowl V.
Despite the deserved accolades and championship moments that would seem to be enough, Miller’s biggest accomplishment happened in the fall of 1957 when he and a group of young men from Homer, Louisiana turned a football team written off as a lost cause into larger-than-life giants.
And all it took was a little sharpening.