Rebel Runners Relive History
The 1968 and 2014 Ole Miss men's cross country teams meet during the '68 team reunion on campus. (photo by Joshua McCoy)
Nov. 12, 2014

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By Dylan Edwards, Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations

Much can change in 46 years. In 1968, Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States. A gallon of gas was $0.37. But one thing that didn’t change: program-best SEC cross country finishes for the Ole Miss Rebels.

The 2014 runner-up SEC finish by the Ole Miss men tied the 1968 team’s finish for best in school history. However, things were a little different in ’68.

Any runner that ran in the half-mile or above in track was expected to also run cross country. Many of the runners had little to no experience in cross country. Even the coach, James Gray, was a graduate assistant with no cross country background.

“Dave Fussell and Tommy Hodge ran in junior college and Kenny Blandford ran in high school,” said Richard Casey, who was a prominent member of the team and organized an on-campus team reunion earlier this month. “The rest of us had never run cross country. Coach Gray had never seen a cross country meet until my freshman year. We had to teach him how to read a stopwatch.”

Fussell and Hodge, both selected All-SEC in 1968 as the Rebels’ top two finishers, designed most of the workouts since they had the most cross country experience.

“We got up early and ran The Grove for six, eight or 10 miles before our 8 a.m., classes,” Casey said. “In the afternoon, we would run to the golf course, work out for an hour and a half or two hours and then run back.”

The team had put in many miles in preparation for the SEC Championship, but it was still relatively new for most of the runners. With that inexperience came a sense of not knowing what to expect.

“We were in the dark,” Fussell said. “We felt like we had a fairly good team, but we didn’t really have any expectations. We all agreed that this was the SEC meet and we were going to do the best we could and try to put Ole Miss in a favorable position.”

Other teams had less respect for the unknown Ole Miss team. Most believed it was not a matter of beating the Rebels, but just by how much.

“One of the other runners told me that all I would see during the race was his backside,” Casey said. “I certainly reminded him after the meet. They couldn’t believe Ole Miss had beaten them.”

Second place. A program that was only competing in its second-ever SEC Championship beat seven other schools for a runner-up finish.

“The main thing I remembered was people saying ‘Ole Miss? Where did they get these guys from?’ Apparently they didn’t know too much about us either,” Fussell said. “It was a happy day for us Ole Miss Rebels.”

Time moves on, and that season was 46 years ago. The runners went on to be college professors, business owners and administrators, coaches and contractors, each successful in his chosen field.

“With distance running, there’s a certain amount of self-motivation and self-pride,” said Fussell, a retired manager in the Rite Aid Corporation. “When you get a bunch of guys together that want to do well and you push each other and have the camaraderie that we had, it all helped. Later in life, it showed if you work hard and do the right things, you can have great success in life as well.”

Putting in that much work forms a bond that lasts longer than time in Oxford. The connection of being Rebels lasts.

“We know where everybody is,” said Casey, who is a retired professor of marketing. “When we are all together in one place, we’re immediately back to where we were 46 years ago. Everybody remembers all the funny stories from workouts. That was our fraternity.”
 

 

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