To win a football state championship, it takes a certain amount of talent.
Looking back 30 years when Hickman last achieved that feat, talent came in a surplus.
More than 20 members of Hickman’s 1974 state championship team went on to play collegiate football and four made it to the professional level.
Leo Lewis, Gerry Ellis and Ron Crews all had careers in the National Football League, while David Newman played in the Canadian Football League.
Lewis, the Kewpies’ quarterback, and Ellis, the running back, both played four years at Missouri before having successful careers in the NFL.
Crews, who died at age 47 in 2003, played four years at Nevada-Las Vegas as a defensive end before the Cleveland Browns drafted him. He played 16 games his rookie NFL season before injuries shortened his career.
Ellis, who was a fullback for the Green Bay Packers for seven seasons, remembers how arrogant Sumner, Hickman’s opponent in the championship game, was about playing a small-town team from mid-Missouri.
They came down the ramp before the game, snapping their fingers and calling us turkeys,” Ellis said. “Well, their turkey was pretty much cooked by the end of that game.”
For Ellis, that championship game served as the beginning of a long football career.
Growing up in Columbia usually playing sports with kids older than him, it didn’t take Ellis long o realize he had enough athletic talent, especially in football, to play at a high level.
“My dad would watch football every Sunday, and I remember sitting there thinking, I may want to do that someday,” Ellis said. “When you love to do something, you want to go one step further, no matter what it is. The NFL was the last step for football.”
Ellis was inducted into the Packers’ Hall of Fame in March 1994, finishing his career with 3,826 yards rushing and 2,514 yards receiving from 1980-86.
Lewis switched positions after high school and joined Ellis as a wide receiver for Missouri in 1975. After a year in the CFL, Lewis went on to play wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings for 11 seasons and had a short stint with the Cleveland Browns in 1990.
From his home in Minnesota, where he works as director of player development for the Vikings, Lewis said he hasn’t been back to see a Hickman football game in two decades but still values the experience he had 30 years ago on Hickman’s only championship team.
“It was a great part of my athletic career to be a champion, and I think that’s one thing that the current players should embrace,” Lewis said. “You don’t get opportunities in life to say that you’ve been the best in something.”
Lewis, whose father and brother both live in Columbia along with a daughter who attends MU, said he has occasionally received news on the Kewpies’ season.
“They’ve proven all year long that they deserve to be in the state championship because they’ve beat the best teams in the state,” Lewis said.
Besides becoming the second state champions in the football program’s history, Lewis said this season’s team has an opportunity to do something even better.
“Ironically, they have a 10-1 season, like we had (in 1974),” Lewis said. “They may be the first team to have 11 wins. It’s something that they can do that’s unique compared to what we did.”