So, which Lumberton, Mississippi native and West Jackson resident was the first African-American football player at the University of Southern Mississippi? If you answered (b.) Willie Heidelburg, then you are absolutely correct! Heidelburg was recruited as a running back for the Eagles in the Spring of 1970 and quickly received the nickname “Wee Willie”–a name that referenced his small stature. You see, in a sport that is filled with giants, Heidelburg stood 5′ 6″ tall and weighed 147 pounds. Nevertheless, he proved that the meaning of the word “giant” was relative as Southern Miss faced the fourth-ranked Ole Miss Rebels and their Heisman Trophy-nominated quarterback, Archie Manning.
Southern Miss, undoubtedly the underdog in this matchup, went on to defeat Ole Miss 30-14. Nearly half of Southern Miss’s points were attributed to the quickness of Heidelburg (not to mention the two touchdowns he scored).
For more information on Willie Heidelburg, you should definitely read the March 2009 Student Printz article by Tyler Cleveland.
Thanks for participating in this week’s trivia! We’ll see you next time!