Merrill, Burkett, Johnson, Little, Sharpe on list of 1st hall of famers

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Andalusia High School Quarterback/ Booster Club will induct five people and one championship team into the Andalusia High School Football Hall of Fame next month.

The inductees include an Andalusia native who played in the Rose Bowl; a record rusher who earned 2,200 yards in a season; a 10-year veteran of the NFL; a legendary high school coach; a “Big Boy;” and a championship team.

Walter Oliver Merrill

He was an All-State Tackle for the Andalusia Bulldogs in 1935 under Coach Nurmi Nelson. Merrill was 6’2” in height and weighed 220, and was considered a “giant” in his day. He was recruited by the University of Alabama coaches Frank Thomas and Hank Crisp and quickly distinguished himself during his freshman year. He was the only sophomore and best tackle on the 1937 SEC championship team that earned a trip to the Rose Bowl game Jan. 1, 1938, the only Andalusia player ever to play in the game.

The three-year letterman was voted MVP by his teammates in 1938.

Merrill earned Third Team All-SEC, Sports Writers All-SEC, and played in the College All-American All Star Football Game against the Green Bay Packers in 1940.

He was recruited by the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles and Brooklyn Dodgers. He was drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers and was a standout tackle for three seasons.

World War II took Merrill out of NFL play. He was drafted by the Army Air Force as an athletic instructor who prepared troops for military service. Merrill played for the Keesler Air Field Flyers and Randolph Air Field Flyers. Merrill attained the rank of staff sergeant and served on active duty from 1943-1946. After suffering a career-ending injury in a game, Merrill became an assistant football coach for the Keesler Flyers.

After the war, he returned to Andalusia with his family to join the family construction business, Andalusia Manufacturing Co. He was instrumental in building St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. He died in 1953 in Andalusia.

Bobby Ray Johnson

Bobby Ray Johnson lettered in football for Andalusia High School his freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years (1973-1976), starting as fullback three of those years.

He amassed an AHS record-setting 2,200 yards rushing during his senior year, a record that places him in the top 50 all-time rushing leaders in Alabama high school football history. He was named first team All-State his junior and senior years and was named to the All South Alabama Conference team his sophomore, junior and senior years.

His teammates elected him permanent team captain his senior year.

Johnson was named MVP his senior year. He played for Andalusia during Andalusia’s 58-game winning streak, under the direction of the legendary Coach Don Sharpe. Johnson was a member of Andalusia’s 1975 state runner-up team and he played on Andalusia’s 1976 state championship team. After graduating in 1977, he signed a scholarship to play football for the University of Southern Mississippi. A severely broken leg ended his career at USM.

Johnson is the uncle of Nico Johnson, a former football and basketball star for AHS and current football player for the University of Alabama. As a tribute to his uncle, Nico wore No. 26 at AHS.

Walter Jackson “Jackie” Burkett

Jackie Burkett played for AH in 1951 as a freshman and 1952 as a sophomore. He also played junior high basketball. He transferred to Choctawatchee High in Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., where he starred as a center and linebacker.

He accepted a football scholarship to Auburn University (then Alabama Polytechnic Institute) and lettered in 1957, 1958, and 1959 as a center and linebacker. The 1957 team placed first in the United Press International poll, were SEC champs and finished with a 10-0 record, including a 40-0 win over Alabama. In 19459, Auburn went 7-3, finished 19th in the polls and he was again an All-American.

After Auburn, he was drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Colts and played 10 seasons in the NFL – six with the Baltimore Colts, two with the New Orleans Saints and two with the Dallas Cowboys – as center. Among his highlights was snapping the ball for Tom Dempsey’s NFL record 63-yard field goal for the New Orleans Saints.

He was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1988.

Don Sharpe

Don Sharpe was one of two juniors who started on Andalusia’s 1958 1AA district state championship team. He played halfback on the undefeated team. He also played basketball and baseball and ran track. His senior year, 1959, when his team went 6-3-1, he was team captain, a member of the All-South Alabama Conference team and was voted MVP of his team. He graduated in 1960.

Sharpe served as head coach and athletic director from 1973-1979. In his seven seasons at AHS, his teams went 89-10-3 (76-7-2 in regular seasons and 13-3-1 in playoff games). His teams won the state 3-A championship in 1977 and tied for the state 3-A championship in 1976 with Athens High.

From 1980 th rough 1986, he served as head coach at Woodham High in Pensacola, Fla. There his teams won five district championships, two state runner-ups and two state championships.

Charles Little

Charles “Big Boy” Little was a 188-pound half back for AHS. In 1948, his junior year, he scored 19 touchdowns, gaining 1,329 yards in 89 tries and averaging 14.25 per try for an overall average of 133 yards a game. His accomplishments on the field earned him the honor of first-team All-State. His senior year, he scored 11 touchdowns and converted after eight touchdowns, running 1,217 yards and averaging 12.9 a try. Scouts claimed he was the best back in the state. He earned the honor of All-American and All-Southern that year. He was known as a friendly, unassuming fellow who was never one to boast about his accomplishments.

Little’s activities were not limited to football. While in high school he was outstanding in baseball, track and basketball, as well. His senior year pitching average was 18 strikeouts per game.

“Big Boy” received offers from 28 colleges from three major conferences. Notre Dame and West Point, who were ranked one-two in the nation, were among those 28 schools. After selecting Auburn as his choice of schools, it was noted in the paper that local Bama grads were wearing arm bands of the deepest black, because of his decision. Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, head coach of the University of Kentucky who was slated to be head speaker at the high school banquet, cancelled after Little selected Auburn. His outstanding athleticism continued while at Auburn. He had the dubious honor of sharing the backfield with Fob James and following the play calls of Vince Dooley. After graduation from AU, he returned to Andalusia, where he lived until he died in August 2009.

Championship team

The 1958-59 AHS football team also is being inducted. The Bulldogs won the South Alabama Conference championship and the District 1AA state championship.

The team was undefeated in the regular season, posting wins over T.R. Miller (35-7); Evergreen (19-0); Luverne (19-0); Troy (28-6); Greenville (21-12); Florala (56-12) Enterprise (28-0); Elba (20-0); Ozark (19-6) and Opp (14-6).