Florida State

1949 - 52 Seminoles
(Authentic Reproduction)




After World War II many returning veterans were interested in earning a college degree with the financial assistance of the G.I. Bill. More institutions of higher learning were needed throughout the country and in 1946 a Tallahassee branch of The Florida State College For Women was established and opened to men. Believing that even more men would be attracted to a school with a football team, the administration formed their first football squad in 1947, a team that included a large percentage of WW II vets. Problems arose immediately that set the stage for the development of one of the nation's fiercest football rivalries. As a branch of the University Of Florida, the Women's College was "forbidden" by the older, established school from having a football team and Florida insisted that all athletic activities fall under their supervision. Essentially told to "pound sand", the parent school could only look on as the Tallahassee branch became an independent university, was renamed Florida State University, and received athletic autonomy through the State Legislature. From its inaugural contest against John B. Stetson University of DeLand, Florida on October 18, 1947 to its growth as one of the top programs in the country, Florida State overcame incredible odds to succeed both on and off the field. Mired by financial constraints, a lack of adequate facilities, and the long-standing tradition of the other Florida colleges it had to compete against, the Seminoles consistently rose to the occasion and grew from scrappy underdog to a premiere program in every way. The newly proposed team was quickly assembled, leading to the problems cited with the University Of Florida. Ed Williamson was their first coach, a professor who was a one-year stand-in and he went winless in five games. However, the WW II veterans who made up at least half of this squad got the program established and did so with a particular hatred focused upon their competitors in Gainsville who refused to play them. PhD Don Veller was hired from Indiana as the team's first "real coach" and did quite well, guiding the new team from 1948 through 1952, compiling a 30-4 record his first four years and an overall mark of 31-12-1 which included an undefeated season in 1950. The level of competition wasn't high but the program was growing and the players and administrators desired a more representative schedule. 


Veller’s attention to detail had an immediate effect as the squad that had gone 0-5 in 1947 made an immediate turnaround in ’48 and went 7-1! What made this transformation even more amazing was the fact that Veller arrived at FSU in early August and had the opening game on October 2nd. Going into the 1949 season, Veller again demonstrated his penchant for doing “things correctly” and after much study, switched the Seminoles to Riddell plastic RT helmets that were sunflower gold. This was typical of the coach, a former star running back at Indiana University who had won over eighty percent of his games as the head coach at Indiana’s Elkhart High School. He served with distinction in the U.S. Air Force for four years during World War II and returned stateside to head the program at Hanover College in his home state. He returned to IU as an assistant while beginning his doctoral studies, working under his former coach Bo McMillan. His late arrival for the ’48 season was due to his presence on the IU campus to complete the year’s work on his advanced degree. Indiana teammate Bob Harbison came to Florida State with Veller and stayed as an assistant for thirty-seven of FSU’s first forty years of football, working under seven different head coaches. Veller and Harbison immediately taught the “Indiana System”, eschewing the brush-blocking style of play that had become popular after the War and taught the Seminole players to essentially knock opponents onto their backs and ran the aggressive system from what they called a “Cock-eyed T Formation”. This allowed the quarterback to take a snap under center or in a short-punt formation with an unbalanced line and it proved difficult to stop. After their successful debut, they proved to be more than a flash-in-the-pan as they finished the ’49 season at 9-1 and that included a victory over Wofford College in the Cigar Bowl. The post-season “classic”, held between 1946 and 1954 in Tampa did not pretend to rival the Orange Bowl but it did give Florida State added respectability. Although FSU was not yet officially a member of the NCAA, center Joe Marcus, running backs Red Parrish and Buddy Strauss, end Norm Eubanks, and Indiana transfer tackle Jerry Morrical were named to the All Dixie Conference team, a hastily formed contingent of six southern schools that banned together in May of ’48. Tackle Hugh Adams was named a Little All American.


Entering the 1950 season, the lack of facilities became an issue. As Veller established the program and tried to drum up enthusiasm for potential recruits, the grassless, dusty practice field, absence of a locker room, and poor dining facilities were taking a toll on the credibility of the football program. While Veller was earning a paltry $3200.00 a year as a full time professor and football coach, the University Of Florida hired Bob Woodruff to head its football program at a salary of $17000.00. To make matters worse, when Veller went on a recruiting trip and obviously could not teach classes on those days, he had to pay a substitute professor out of his own pocket! Needless to say, recruiting trips were infrequent. The number of graduating starters from the excellent ’49 team made some doubt further success but another Indiana transfer, FB Mike Sellars came in with former Army star and former Tallahassee high school phenom Tommy Brown to deliver a terrific undefeated 8-0 season. Dwight Osha, Brown‘s cousin and another effective tackle, played well next to guard/LB Bill Dawkins, rated as the best lineman during Veller’s tenure. Returning tackle Adams had another great season, earned his PhD while serving as an assistant coach, and became President of Broward Junior College. HB Nelson Italiano rushed for 424 yards and put up 883 total to set a school record that was very respectable. Morrical was named Little All American tackle as was Adams, the second time for the latter. Playing in a new stadium, named for local benefactor Doak Campbell, the record may have been better but the fact that the players had to pay for their own room and board on campus during preparation for the previous season’s Cigar Bowl and then did not receive promised wrist watches as the winning team, made them turn down bids from three reputable bowl committees.


As the 1951 season arrived, FSU’s administration agreed to grant football scholarship money and a move was made to gain entrance to the Southern Conference, leaving the Seminoles as an Independent. The schedule had been upgraded but the real challenge would begin in ’52 when all military teams and “small colleges” other than cross-state rival Stetson University would leave the schedule. Behind a productive Italiano, and the great leadership of Sellars the Seminoles finished 1951 at 6-2. They lost their inaugural contest against Miami 35-13 but played well and defeated Sul Ross State of Texas who featured big Dan Blocker at tackle. Blocker of course was later a star of “Bonanza” the hit television series. Unfortunately, reflecting the era, the final game against Bradley was cancelled as it was against Florida law for the all white Seminole team to play against a team that had African American athletes. In 1952, most of the WW II veterans had graduated, including Sellars. The improved schedule coincided with a lack of quality depth and very quickly FSU learned how the other half lived as they limped in at 1-8-1. HB Stan Dobosz stood out with 609 rushing yards and both T George Boyer and end Ronnie King showed talent. Tommy Brown completed a solid career as Veller also completed his Florida State coaching career. Immediately after the season he requested a release, in part due to a lack of pay and a distaste for recruiting, and used his doctoral degree as a full professor in the physical education department, one that wrote numerous professional and technical articles. Also serving as the long-time Seminole golf coach, Veller remained an important part of the Florida State community.

If interested in any of these Florida State helmets please click on the photos below.