story by Aric Mitchell
As The Varsity Wire continues to expand its record of football history in the Fort Smith region, email "Where are they now?" suggestions and other story ideas to email@example.com
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to show that Boozman did not play in the 1968 season.
Many believe the 1967 and 1968 Fort Smith Northside Grizzlies were the best two teams in the school's long and glorious history. Whether that's true, they were certainly among the best.
Racking up an impressive 21-0-1 record and two state championships at the highest level of Arkansas high school football, the team was indomitable. Led by Head Coach Bill Stancil, who enjoyed his first unbeaten season in 1961, these teams took the former Fort Smith High School to an all new level of dominance.
The 1967 Squad tore through all 11 opponents, allowing only 68 points all season. Fueled by the legs of Billy Joe Releford, this team was able to hang 334 points on its opponents for a score-per-game average of approximately 30-6. The closest tests came against Pine Bluff, Springdale, and Little Rock Hall, with the Bruins prevailing 14-7 each time. The largest margin of victory came in Week 1 against the Van Buren Pointers, 52-0.
In 1968, Pine Bluff provided the one blemish on the Grizzly schedule with a 3-3 tie. But overall, it was more of the same. In spite of losing Boozman to graduation at the end of the 1967 season, Releford was still there to terrorize defenses as the offense hung 300 points on the competition.
Five of the 11 contests ended in shutouts with the first three games of the year against Van Buren (20-0), Fayetteville (35-0), and El Dorado (34-0). The defense also held steady in routs against Little Rock Horace Mann (47-0) and Fort Smith Southside (43-0). Defensively, the Grizzlies gave up only 56 points all season. The score-per-game average was 27-5.
A look over each of these squads would reveal some familiar faces. Here are a few, along with the details on where they are now.
• Billy Joe Releford
Releford is a physical education instructor and assistant football coach for the Northside Grizzlies. Long before he was mentoring top-prospect players like Northside's Shaquille Jones, who set the all-time state record for pass receptions in the 2011 Season, he was a dynamic offensive performer himself. Releford made a significant impact on the Grizzlies' success in the 1967 and 1968 seasons. His sophomore and junior years, he didn't lose a single game.
After Fort Smith, he played at Northeastern State University and was inducted into the school's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010. He was added to the Hall of Honor at Northside in 2011 along with Charles Presley, his former assistant football coach. Releford's NFL career never got off the ground, but he did make it as far as signing as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1974.
• John Boozman
Today, he's known as U.S. Sen John Boozman, but in 1967, he was the fearsome all-state tackle from Fort Smith Northside. Boozman only lost two games throughout his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, and both losses came in 1966. In '67, he was an integral contributor to the team's first perfect record in six years and first of two back-to-back state championships. Boozman earned the all-state distinction and an athletic scholarship to the University of Arkansas to go along with a second consecutive state championship.
• Barry Lunney
While Lunney didn't make the headlines that Boozman and Releford did, the young player would go on to prominence as one of the best head football coaches in Arkansas high school football history, if not the best. Lunney won multiple state championships at Fort Smith Southside, and has continued to dominate as the front man of the Bentonville Tigers, where he remains today.