May 21, 2012
First African-American football scholarship athlete to play in the Southwest Conference
When Jerry LeVias entered Southern Methodist University (SMU) in 1965, he became the first African-American to receive an athletics scholarship in the Southwest Conference. He made both athletics and academic All-America football teams and led the Mustangs to their first conference title in 18 years.
His success, on and off the field, led to a highly anticipated varsity debut in 1966, and quickly became one of the most exciting players in the nation on the conference-champion Mustangs. This first campaign on the varsity squad, LeVias led SMU to their first Cotton Bowl appearance since Heisman winner Doak Walker suited up for the Mustangs, almost two decades earlier.
After earning his Bachelor of Science degree from SMU in 1969, LeVias played professional football for the Houston Oilers and San Diego Chargers. He now holds distinctions in the SMU Hall of Fame, the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and the African-American Hall of Fame, among others, and, in 2006, was given the highest honor the university bestows upon its graduates, as he was awarded the Southern Methodist University Distinguished Alumni Award.
In 2008, HBO produced a documentary, "Breaking the Huddle: The Integration of College Football," which highlighted Coach Hayden Fry and Jerry LeVias' struggles while they integrated the Southwest Conference. This struggle was placed amongst the context of other efforts across the nation to desegregate college football. However it should be noted, the first African-American to ever play in a football game in the SWC was John Hill Westbrook from Baylor University.