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Teammates crestfallen over death of former Oregon State fullback, 67; Known as 'Earthquake' and 'Buffalo Bill' and 'Buff,' he bowled over tacklers but was a Renaissance Man, as well; 'We've lost a titan'

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY - Bill Enyart earned All-America honors at fullback for the Oregon State Beavers and helped lead them in their Giant Killers season of 1967.The flag was figuratively flying at half-mast Tuesday in the "Giant Killers" section of Beaver Nation.

Bill "Earthquake" Enyart, the greatest fullback in Oregon State history, died of prostate cancer at his mother's home in Turner. He was 67.

"It's a sad God damn day," said Billy Main, Enyart's teammate and star halfback of the 1967 OSU Giant Killers. "We've lost a titan."

New of Enyart's passing was taken hard by the men who played football with him at Oregon State under coach Dee Andros from 1965-68.

"It's a tough one," said Lee Jamison, an offensive lineman who was in Enyart's class and played with him all four years at OSU. "Bill was such a great guy. He was nice, he was smart, he was sweet, he was wonderful, and just as tough as could be."

Andros had a succession of great fullbacks — Pete Pifer and Dave Schilling among them — in his full-house "Power T" offense that eschewed the pass and went by the "three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dusty" philosophy. The 6-3 1/2, 235-pound Enyart was the best, running over and through defenders for 2,155 yards and 25 touchdowns in his two seasons at fullback in 1967 and '68.

"We couldn't have had a better fullback," said Jon Sandstrom, an All-America defensive tackle who was in Enyart's class. "I don't know if Oregon State will ever see a better fullback than Bill Enyart."

"Bill was the toughest guy on the team," said Steve Preece, the quarterback of the Giant Killers. "If he wasn't the toughest, he sure looked and acted and played like it."

Enyart, a two-time all-Pac-8 selection who was first-team All-American as a senior, started at linebacker as a sophomore before asking Andros to switch him to fullback. During Enyart's three varsity seasons, the Beavers went 21-8-1 and were twice within a game of a Rose Bowl berth.

He was the maelstrom of the 1967 Giant Killers, who knocked off No. 1-ranked USC and O.J. Simpson, beat No. 2 Purdue and tied No. 2 UCLA in a month's span.

"He was the epitome of a Power-T fullback," Preece said. "He loved to hit and put punishment on (defenders)."

Though the public and media knew Enyart as "Earthquake" -- a nickname concocted by OSU sports information director Johnny Eggers for promotional purposes -- his teammates knew him as "Buffalo Bill," or "Buff." It sounded good and, said Main, "he ran like a buffalo."

Enyart was beloved by his teammates, one and all.

"I'm heartbroken," Main said. "I loved him like a brother. We had a special relationship that went way beyond football.

"We both loved steelhead fishing. At 7 a.m. the day before the USC game, Bill and I were fishing for steelhead on the Alsea River. We made it to our 9 o'clock class that morning."

Main wasn't the only one who cherished Enyart's friendship.

"Bill was best man in my wedding," said Jerry Sullivan, a defensive lineman at OSU who played high school ball with Enyart in Medford. "He introduced me to my wife at Oregon State. We've been there for each other all our lives, for the past 52 years."

"We were very close," said Tom Greerty, a defensive tackle on the Giant Killers. "We were roommates in college, we were in each other's weddings and our families were close."

There were many others.

"Bill had 50 guys he was close to on the football team -- probably 30 he was really close to," Preece said. "Everybody was Buff's best friend."

Then there is Dick Fosbury, the 1968 Olympic high jump champion from Oregon State who was in the same class as Enyart at Medford High and played with him on the Black Tornadoes basketball team.

"Our lives were so connected," Fosbury said. "We shared a lot of great thrills in athletics and a good friendship all along the way. Bill will really be missed."

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY - The scoreboard Tuesday at Reser Stadium in Corvallis salutes former Oregon State great Bill Enyart.Enyart came to Oregon at age 11 with his family from Oklahoma to escape the stifling heat of Midwest summers. The Enyarts landed first in Hood River, where his parents worked as fruit-pickers.

"As a child, Bill worked with the adults picking fruit," Greerty said. "His family needed the money. They had to get to the orchards at 2:30 in the morning. In his formative years as an early teenager, Bill was already showing the hard-work ethic he displayed the rest of his life."

The Enyarts moved to Medford before Bill's ninth-grade year. He became an immediate three-sport star, excelling in football, basketball and baseball.

"He was a tremendous basketball player, and he could have been a major league baseball pitcher," Sullivan said.

"I wish he had gone out for track instead of baseball," Fosbury said. "The guy could high jump 6-2. With Bill and myself and (sprinter) Steve Davis, we could have dominated the state meet."

Sullivan recalls two-on-two basketball games in the Enyart driveway. Bill and his father, Bill Sr., would often team up.

"Winners would keep the court," Sullivan said, "and the Enyarts didn't lose the court very often."

Enyart was partially responsible for Fosbury quitting football as a junior.

"I was playing end in a blocking drill," Fosbury recalled. "Bill hit me perfectly with his helmet and broke three front teeth of mine. I figured it was time to try something else."

Fosbury said Enyart was "quite a character" in high school.

"I remember him being up on stage at assemblies, doing skits, clowning around," Fosbury said. "He was a good-natured guy, very sensitive, with a great sense of humor. Playing sports, you knew you could always depend on him to carry the load."

Fosbury beat out Enyart for the Hayward Award as the state's top amateur athlete in 1968.

"I was shocked," Fosbury said. "It was the only time I beat him at anything.

"I was always in awe of Buff. We were able to share an amazing destiny at Oregon State."

Enyart was a member of Andros' first recruiting class in 1965. By his junior year in 1967, he had established himself as a force within the program in many ways.

"If I had to pick two people who characterized the heart and soul of our program, I would pick Buff and (defensive tackle) Jess Lewis," Main said. "They were just larger than life, you know?

"(Halfback) Donny Summers used to say to me, 'I don't get it. I'm 5-9, you're 5-11, Buff's 6-4, and we're blocking for him?'"

Enyart became the workhorse of Andros' offense as a junior and picked it up as a senior, carrying the ball 293 times in 10 games his final season.

"He was maybe the toughest human being I've ever met," Main said. "It didn't matter how hurt he was, he just kept on coming. I don't remember him ever missing a play."

During a season-opening 22-21 loss at Iowa in 1968, Preece suffered a broken shoulder and was ruled out of the next game against Utah. Andros moved wingback Bobby Mayes to quarterback, with orders to hand the ball to Enyart as often as possible. In a 24-21 victory, Enyart carried 50 times for 299 yards, which still stands as a school single-game record.

"If there'd been another quarter, Bill could have carried the ball 75 times," Main said. "He'd still be going, and Summers and I would have been dead."

Observed Preece: "Bill would have carried 50 times every game if Dee would have let him."

But Enyart was always quick to pay homage to his teammates.

"He never asked for any credit," Preece said. "He was team first."

"Bill was selfless," Main said. "I never once ever heard him take credit for anything that he ever did without shifting the praise to others. All he'd talk about was what the offensive line and the rest of us did in opening holes for him."

Enyart had a special relationship with the offensive linemen.

"We loved him," said Jamison, his voice choking with emotion. "He loved us. He appreciated everything we did for him. (Center John) Didion would set the huddle, 'Fox' (Preece) would call the play, and we'd usually run our bread-and-butter -- 56 or 57 power, over tackle. Fox might say, 'Buff, we need four or five yards here.' Bill would smile. He'd always get it. He was a force to be reckoned with. He was just a fabulous player."

But also, very much one of the guys.

"What a great teammate," said Craig Hanneman a sophomore starter at defensive tackle during Enyart's senior season. "With all his accomplishments, he was as modest as can be. If he had an ego, you wouldn't know it."

In private with close friends, Enyart would occasionally let his guard down.

"He knew he was pretty good," said Lewis, the football All-American who was also a two-time NCAA heavyweight champion wrestler and Olympian. "Once in a while, we'd be out late at night and he'd say, 'Jesse, I played a damn good game today. I wonder why they can't tackle me sometime.' I said, 'Buff, take a good look in the mirror.'

"He should have been a wrestler. He had that strength, that spirit, that will. God, I miss him already."

When Enyart was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012, OSU teammates Preece, Main, Sullivan, Mike Foote and Jerry Belcher flew to New York for the ceremony. Enyart directed much of his acceptance speech in tribute to the men around him.

"The most important thing to me is that my teammates were there," Enyart said afterward. "It was a black-tie affair -- I wore an orange tie, of course. It was a team honor. I felt like I should pay tribute to the Giant Killers and the coaching staff and, frankly, a little bit of luck."

"I suppose everybody says that kind of stuff when they make the Hall of Fame," Preece said. "But I really think Buff believed it, and all of us believed it, too. He loved us all being a part of it. He was as happy that we were there as he was to make the Hall of Fame. He was always a team-first guy."

Sometime in his sophomore season at linebacker, the bridge of Enyart's nose split from impact of a tackle. He played with tape covering the wound the rest of his career.

"The picture of 'Earthquake Enyart' with blood running down his nose is a lasting one in Beaver football lore," Greerty said. "I can tell you this: In our locker room at Oregon State, Bill was a star. He could have played anywhere in the country. We all knew we were lucky to have him."

After a three-year NFL career shortened by injuries, Enyart settled in Bend. Beginning in 1995, he began a near 20-year career as a case manager for the state of Oregon's Medicaid Program.

"He always had a heart for the underdog," Greerty said, "for the ones who needed a lift up."

Enyart's college teammates loved him more as a person than as a player.

"A tremendous athlete, a tremendous human being," said Sandstrom, who played with Enyart and Didion in the Senior Bowl, the Shrine Game, the Hula Bowl and the All-American Bowl after their senior seasons. "He was very kind. He helped a lot of people out. He always offered good advice. We bantered back and forth about certain things. Just a true friend -- one of the best there was -- and a guy who set a good example for everybody on our team."

"He always had that warm smile that could light up an entire room," Hanneman said. "That big Bill Enyart smile."

Hanneman was the only senior starter one season, plugging the hole left by Lewis, who redshirted to concentrate on wrestling and his Olympic berth in Mexico City.

"Bill went out of his way to make me feel welcome, to encourage and support me," Hanneman said. "That was a big deal to me. For someone like him to reach out to a younger player, that was special. Those are the things you remember most about somebody when you look back on their life."

When Lewis went through a substance-abuse problem in his 20s, Enyart was there to counsel him.

"Bill and I had smoked a little pot together in college, but I went too far," Lewis said. "Bill always knew when to reign it in. I wanted to be around people like that. Bill was one of those people who helped me a lot."

Enyart was a two-time first-team Academic All-American who earned a degree in economics. He was a member of Blue Key, the senior men's honorary on campus.

"Bill had a very big brain," said Main, who also majored in economics and shared many classes with Enyart at Oregon State. "He was analytical in a lot of ways and had a tremendous appetite for academics. He could talk to you about Milton Friedman, about Adam Smith, about anything in the world of economics."

Enyart was a member of Fiji Fraternity along with teammates such as Preece, Belcher, Main and Kent Scott. His last year in school, he lived in a house called "the Mansion" on the north side of campus with Greerty, Belcher, Sullivan, Didion and Gary Houser.

"My room was next to his room, and we had completely different lives," Greerty said. "Bill was so hard-working, so disciplined. He took four or five tough classes every quarter. He'd get up early and go to class. He never missed a class. He'd sit up front, ask questions and get very good grades. Then he'd go to practice. Then we'd go to the (Memorial Union) and have training table. Then we'd go back to the Mansion. He'd go to his room, close the door and study at a minimum for two hours."

When study table was over, Enyart would finally let his hair down.

"He'd come out and want to listen to music and maybe have a beer," Greerty said. "He loved having a good time."

Enyart had all sorts of interests outside of football.

"He was a Renaissance Man," said Jamison, "before there were even Renaissance Men."

"He was a free thinker and a deep thinker," Preece said. "He was incredibly smart. He loved to read. He loved to study."

"Bill thrived on education," Sullivan said. "I swear to God, you name a subject, and he'd talk to you about it and educate you on it."

Chosen by Buffalo with the first pick in the second round of the 1968 NFL draft, Enyart was asked to lunch during his rookie season by quarterback Jack Kemp, who would become the Republican Party's vice presidential candidate as running mate to Bob Dole in 1996.

"Bill thought they were going to talk football," Greerty said, relaying the story told to him by Enyart. "Then Kemp asked him, 'What do you think of micro-economics?' Bill was a real intellect, and (Kemp) must have seen that right away."

Enyart's time at Oregon State coincided with the Vietnam War. A liberal, he was staunchly against it.

"He'd drag you into these discussions," Preece said. "He and Fosbury would be down at the student union protesting the war. That wasn't the mode a lot of Coach Andros' players were in."

When Andros barred black linebacker Fred Milton from wearing a Van Dyke beard in the offseason, it sparked a protest and an eventual black walkout on campus. Most of the football players sided with Andros. Enyart sided with Milton, speaking about it during student debates.

"It was a confusing issue, but Bill was able to synthesize that situation and find the essence of Fred Milton's argument," Greerty said. "And in retrospect, Bill was right. At the time, it took a lot of courage.

"It was strange, because we were living with Didion, who was the spokesperson for the players supporting Dee. One lived downstairs; one upstairs at our house. But everything was cool. There was respect on both sides."

That was just the way Enyart was.

"Bill and I disagreed on a lot of things," Sandstrom said. "But in the end, we were still always friends."

In the final years of his life, Enyart contracted prostate cancer and, for a while, seemed to have beaten it. He got a staph infection in his leg that took away his ability to walk for a time. That greatly frustrated him. Last June, he moved from Bend to live with his mother, Betty Enyart-Harty.

He opted for holistic healing when possible. He tried a vegan diet for a while. He avoided treatments that required drugs.

"One day, he had this ginger root in his pocket," Lewis said. "Bill always had his home remedies."

He'd been like that since college, Jamison said.

"Bill used to say, 'Remember, the whiter the bread, the sooner you're dead,'" Jamison said. "He was way before his time."

In October, Sullivan lost his wife to cancer. He and Enyart shared many phone conversations in the ensuing months.

"I was hurting," Sullivan said. "I'd gone through it. Bill was going through it himself. We had some really, really good talks."

They spoke about their college years, when they would hitchhike to Medford together on weekends.

"We could sit out alongside the highway and have a great time together," Sullivan said. "I learned so much from Bill."

They spoke about the year they spent living together in Buffalo, during Enyart's second season with the Bills. Sullivan had completed his masters degree and wanted to teach and coach. Enyart helped line up three job interviews for his friend. Sullivan wound up getting offers for all three jobs and taking one. Enyart would often visit Sullivan's players that year, occasionally bringing along a Bills teammate named O.J. Simpson.

"Bill was always really great with kids," Sullivan said. "They loved him."

Greerty drove to Turner to spend time with Enyart in recent months. The last visit was about 10 days ago.

"We talked about everything, all kinds of different ideas," Greerty said. "Then he said, 'Let's listen to the King.' He put on an Elvis Presley (CD). He loved music, right to the end."

Oregon State officials are going through the details to have Enyart's memorial service conducted at Reser Stadium, probably in April. Dozens of his teammates will be there, including Sullivan, who worked many years as a junior-college coach in Sacramento.

"I had 14 players make the NFL," Sullivan said. "I've met a lot of athletes, but I haven't met anybody like Bill Enyart, the person he was. If he hadn't played sports, he'd still be the most interesting person you could meet. Just an an amazing man."

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