1980 Eastern Oregon University football team recently inducted into the school's sports hall of fame

When Hank Simmons walked on to the football program at Eastern Oregon University in the fall of 1979, he didn’t know quite what to expect.

With more than 80 people on the football team, Simmons was just fighting for a spot on the roster. He wound up one of just three Oregon freshmen who made the 35-man traveling team and earned a varsity letter.PHOTO COURTESY OF HANK SIMMONS - The three 'Cartwrights', from left, Hank Simmons of Prineville, Wayne Herron of Elgin and David James of Pendleton, pose for a photo after the 1980 Eastern Oregon University football team was inducted into the school's sports hall of fame. Herron is also in the hall of fame as an individual.

“When I?walked on, it was really hard to make the team, because there were so many players that were there,” Simmons said. “But I think they saw something in a freshman like me and a couple of other other freshman — that we would make it through the four-year process. So, they kept us and put us on the traveling squad so that we would be more of a foundation for them in our junior and senior years.”

The three Oregon freshmen became friends and other team members began calling them the “Cartwrights.”

By their sophomore year, the three players — Simmons, from Prineville, Wayne Herron of Elgin, and David James of Pendleton — had earned regular playing time.

Simmons played on all special teams as well as outside linebacker against run-oriented teams.

“I?played when we were playing against teams that had heavily veer or option offenses,” he said. “I wasn’t that fast covering anybody out of the backfield and it was tough if you had a flanker or somebody that could really run. I would have had a hard time covering that.”

Simmons went on to letter all four years and was a starter on defense his junior and senior seasons. However, it was his sophomore year that was especially memorable.

Under the tutelage of head coach Don Turner, the team won the Evergreen Conference championship, finishing with an 8-1 record. In addition, the team was ranked 11th nationally in the final NAIA?poll of the year.

“Our head coach was a great coach and motivator,” Simmons said recently. “He was also a well-connected scout for the NFL and the CFL.”

Turner did much of his recruiting from junior college programs and worked hard to get the best and fastest skill players available.

“We had incredible speed with our running backs and quarterbacks, and we had a heck of a defense,” Simmons said. “Our defense was so good that we would usually kick off both times. We had a kicker that could kick the ball out of the end zone, plus we had a defense that was very hard to do anything with. We just had a team that was basically feared.”PHOTO COURTESY OF HANK SIMMONS - From left, Hank Simmons, Wayne Herron, and David James in 1980.

Simmons noted that not only did Turner recruit nationally, regularly getting players from as far away as Illinois and Texas, but his program had the attention of NFL scouts.

Simmons remembers seeing former NFL great Mel Renfro, at that time a Dallas Cowboys employee, at practice multiple times looking to sign a defensive back to a contract.

Eastern Oregon University recently recognized just how good that team was as they were inducted into the school’s sports hall of fame.

Players from the team were invited to a reunion event the weekend of Oct. 16-17 as part of the school’s homecoming festivities.

“There was a formal induction on Friday night and then all of those inductees were again honored at halftime during the homecoming game with EOU playing Montana University Western,” Simmons said. “I was amazed at the turnout of those who were on that team. There were players from Washington, California, Idaho, Wyoming, Hawaii, Illinois, Texas, New Mexico, Florida and Alberta, Canada. What was interesting to me was that this many people from such different geographic and ethnic backgrounds could all come together and play as a cohesive unit without killing each other.”

Simmons added that there were between 35 and 40 players from the team that made the return trip to La Grande for the induction ceremony.

Simmons, Herron and James met on the field in October and took a photo commemorating the event. The three had taken a similar photo 35 years earlier during the 1980 season. The three have remained in contact with each other, and Simmons noted that they were all in each other’s weddings.

Simmons said that he felt honored that the school recognized the team. However, he said that he was originally reluctant to tell his story.

“I didn’t want people saying that I was just looking for publicity,” he said. “I don’t want to make a big deal about it or anything, but it was cool to be on a special team like that and I just thought that it would be a good story for kids that still want to play and they aren’t being recruited. There is another option.”

Simmons said that he wanted people to know that Eastern Oregon is a great university and that if players believe that they have the talent to play at the next level, it is a good place to get an opportunity to play.

“I knew that I wasn’t Division I material, and I didn’t want to play for a team on the other side of the Cascades in the rain, so I chose EOU,” he said. “Turns out that was a great choice for me. I?would encourage anyone who thinks that they can play at the next level for a four-year university to consider EOU. They are a quality program, and you may be part of a great team.”

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