R.J. Reynolds football has not won a state championship in the 4A division for years. In fact, the last time a state championship was brought back to Reynolds was in 1964. The Reynolds football team in 1964 was like no other team of it’s time. There were many players on this team that went on to play at Division I colleges.
The team consisted of many incredible football players like their All-American QB (quarterback), Tom English. English rushed and threw for over 3,000 yards that season eventually taking his talents to Clemson. Harold Smith, a former player for RJR, said that his friend Murphy was an incredible linebacker that had a huge impact at every game. Also, he brought up a kid named walker who was an outstanding wide receiver.
“Playing with these three players was spectacular,” Smith said.
But Smith was full of talent himself going on to play football at Wake Forest and Elon. The game was different at the time so the names of the positions were less specific. Smith played tackle. His duty was to block for the running back and QB when they did their special option play. He was also on special teams and explained how he loved wrecking the returners.
“Football got all the attention because RJR didn’t have all the other sports available to play like they do now,” Smith said.
Playing on the best team in the state was pretty spectacular. an average of 8,000 people attended the games every week. The games would usually be played at Bowman Gray Stadium. The atmosphere was crazy and the love for RJR football was at an all time high. School spirit was everywhere in 1964 and everyone cared about football.
In 1964, the culture of football was very different. There were only white males on the team. Minorities did not play for sports teams or at least not for RJR. The players would often walk around in their letterman jackets and have all the attention on them. But the season was not a walk in the park.
The team had their opening game against Lexington. This was a game Smith and his teammates were looking forward to. After a well fought game, they narrowly lost.
“I remember the captain running into the locker room after the game with a sign that said, ‘we shall lose no more’,” Smith said. After Lexington, RJR didn’t lose another game and went on to become state champions. RJR went on to beat Durham High School in the championship 17-14. A special moment for Smith was when he drilled the returner and the crowd went nuts. Coach Wilson coached the team to a championship and also coached Smith at college. That season and that coach is something Smith will never forget.
Photo from RJ Reynolds High School Alumni and Friends/Harry Corpening