Like many others who felt they were underpublicized, underestimated and misunderstood, Foyd Goldsmith found his way to Ferrum Junior College - with a dream.
He wants to play football for Michigan State.
From his hometown of Pontiac, Mich., Goldsmith came here, to this small school of 1,300, so he can eventually play for Michigan State.
But unlike the others, running back Goldsmith has become a captive of the box lunches, the 5,000-seat stadium where the coach's wife works concession stand, the 16-hour bus rides, the daily 7 a.m. breakfasts with the fatherly coach, the 53-0 victories, the national championships and the isolated country campus where, Goldsmith says, "All there is to do, really, is sit around and talk about how good we looked."
He still wants to go to Michigan State.
But there are things he'll miss about the little school 32 miles south of Roanoke that is currently ranked second in junior college polls with an 8-1 mark in football.
The whole mission of Ferrum's football program - turning nobodies into somebodies. The success stories are framed and spread about a spacious, wood-paneled trophy room that looks as if it were lifted in its entirety from Alabama. Bruce Gossett, Ed George, Jim Culberth, Don Testerman, Don Thompson and Larry Robinson are some of the pros enshrined in the room. Next door, in the head coach's office the roof leaks.
Ferrum is a kind of football orphanage, run for the last 17 years by an intense, loving and bald man named Hank Norton, who has been voted national junior college coach of the year three times while compiling his present 123-32-8 record. He won national titles in 1965, 1968 and 1974 with players nobody nobody else wanted.
"We take the too-smalls and too-slows," said Norton. "Out there in the world somewhere there are 22 kids saying "Let me play. Give me a chance."
"The greatest thing I can say about these kinds is that they're not spoiled. There is no place here for gripers. You play here because you love it. You're not on scholarship - we don't give them - if you don't love, quit."
The 73-player roster included players from Virginia, North Carolina, Massauchusetts, Florida, New Jersey, South Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Maryland, New York and Germany. Norton, carefully assessing the skills of any of them, will say, "He's hungry."
Guard Chuck (Radio) Edwards is, without question, hungry.
"Yeah, you should see the cheese sandwiches we get on the bus. Two pieces of bread and one piece of cheese," Edwards says. "We polish our own shoes, pack our own equipment. Until last year, we washed our own socks, shorts, everything. We buy our own shoes, T-shirts and jocks. I think it makes us closer.
"Our trips are something else. We sleep four to a room - two to a bed. It's pretty tight fit. They don't do that in big colleges.
"We rode the bus 16 hours to Grand Rapids and had our box lunches with those cheese sandwiches. Coach Norton gave each of us a quarter to buy a drink. Nobody else does that."
Norton is proud of his no-frills operation. His football budget is $16,000, and the players pay their own tuition, room and board, which comes to $3,000 a year.
Even if itmeans going "the $20-a-night hotel route," Norton feels it is enriching experience to travel, something his team does "more than any JC in the country," he says.
This season alone, the Panthers have played in Grand Rapids, Mich., Dover, Del.; Banner Elk, N.C.; The final game of their regular season is Saturday in Baltimore against Community College; they have journeyed as far as Oklahoma - and all by bus.
Ferrum trails, 9-0 Golden Valley Lutheran (of Minnesota) in the National Junior College Athletic Association poll, the JC version of the NCAA, which includes schools from all states except Alaska, Hawaii and California.
The feeling at Ferrum is that the Panthers Coastal Football Conference and its schedule tough than that at Golden Valley.Norton feels his team can beat anyone short of Oakland Raiders and is anxiously awaiting a bid to the Junior Rose Bowl and a fourth National championship.
The Panthers loss came after a 16-hour bus ride to Grand Rapids, where they played in the rain and fumbled eight times in losing 16-14. Norton keeps the scoring summary on his desk, "where I can see it. It reminds me to work a little harder every day."
In other games, Ferrum has five shutouts, including a 53-0 win over Nassau College, which is ranked seventh in the nation. The Panthers have outscored their opposition. 258-36. In their most recent 25-0 win over Liberty Baptist College, they gave up 37 yards total offense.
Norton uses the wishbone offense, Ten different players have carryed the ball into the end zone. "We don't pass," said Edwards. "We don't ever need to."
Norton got into this business because, as an offensive lineman at Concord College and with the Army's Frankfurt (Germany) Black Knights, he was one of the too-smalls and too-slow. "I'm a frustrated player who never accomplished what I set out to do," said Norton. "If I'd been a great football player. I might have gone another route."
In Norton's 23-year coaching career, which includes six years at Powhatan County (Virginia) high school), Norton has had just two losing seasons - 1962 and 1963, the first two years of his marriage.
Norton has curfews, haircut and facial hair rules among others. Monday through Friday, he has breakfast with his players at 7 a.m., and any player who doesn't sign in must "run the hump," a mountain behind the stadium.
"I want to make sure they're wide awake," said Norton. "If they have a problem, I know about it at 7 in the morning, not 3 in the afternoon. They sign in every morning. It's the greatest thing in the world."
Norton forbids the consumption of alcohol and recently suspended two players for bringing beer on the bus. He also forbids his players to smoke, even though he puffs away incessantly during the season.
Norton deals in superlatives. His program is the best in the country. His schedule is the hardest. His kids are the hungriest. His window frames are the biggest. And the talent this year is the best ever.
It's a contagious practice.
Tackle Pete Pfeffer figures Norton is the greatest man in the world. Others like him more than that.
Three nights a week from 7:30 to 9 o'clock, Norton attends freshman study hall. Any freshman who doesn't show up must run the hump. Norton arranges help sessions, sends them to libraries and even reads their themes.
"Edwards, who recently went to the weight room at 1:30 a.m. and found two people already there, says anytime during the night a player wants to talk to Norton, he can find him in the film room.
Skeptics says this is because there is nothing else to do.
"THere's really not a whole lot to do here. Just football. That's probably why we win," said center Chris Grey, who could be Maryland-bound.
Asked his favorite pastime here, Goldsmith said, "the thing I like to do best is go to practice Sunday and run sprints, because we're all laughing at all kinds of wild stories about how we celebrated our win from the day before."
The question was explained and put to Goldsmith again. "Really, all we do is sit around and talk about the game and how good we looked and prep ourselves for the pros," Goldsmith clarified.
Norton likes to fish in the Blue Ridge Mountain lakes.
"I think that's why I've stayed here," said Norton. "If we were somewhere else, I'd probably be trying to get here."
The college's trophy room houses not just plaques and pictures but also the unwritten scripts of a thousand Cinderalla stories. Players who never played in high school or who dropped out of school - like linebacker Nate Parker, at Ferrum now after leaving Iowa State. Parker unloaded watermelons off trucks in his native Brooklyn to pay his way here. Others went on to play in major bowl games and represented every collegiate conference, except the Pacific-Eight.
"And they always come back," said Norton, "to the red dirt and the box lunches to laugh about the time our bus broke down in the middle of the night."