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Muddy%20Kneeling

The rain pounded onto the field, cre­ating puddles of ankle-deep mud. But it would take a lot more than that to slow down Michigan State University’s jug­gernaut of a fullback. He ran the ball 35 yards and dove into the mucky end zone for a touchdown.

After the victory, it’s said that the coach looked at the running back, Frank Waters, and uttered: “You’re a real mudder son. We’re going to call you Muddy.”

The name “Muddy” would even­tually become syn­onymous with both Hillsdale College and college football coaching for decades to come.

After grad­u­ating from MSU, Waters started his coaching career at Walled Lake High School.

Two years later, he received a call from his college position coach who had recently taken on the head coaching job at Hillsdale. He was looking to retire, but he had a problem: He wanted to leave the “Dales” in good hands.

Waters accepted the job at Hillsdale and sky­rocketed the college’s presence in the ath­letic world.

From 1953 to 1957 Waters’ team went unde­feated, racking up a total of 34 straight wins and 7 straight NAIA Cham­pi­onships, setting the mark at the time for the most con­sec­utive wins ever in college football. Hillsdale would keep this record for Division II football until Grand Valley State Uni­versity topped it in the early 2000’s. Coin­ci­den­tally, it was the Chargers that were able to squash GVSU’s 48-game winning streak in 2009.

Jim Larkin, now 75 years old, was a line­backer for the 1957 team and would even­tually become one of Waters’ assistant coaches at Hillsdale. He remembers Waters as respectful, humble, “espe­cially excellent” with parents, and “extremely caring.”

This care for his players resulted in him turning down an invi­tation to play in the 1955 Tan­gerine Bowl hosted in Florida because black players were pro­hibited from playing.

“That was the kind of guy he was,” Larkin said. “When he found out my dad died, he was up on his boat on Lake Superior. He got right in his car and drove all the way down to see me.”

Waters helped Larkin as well as many of his other players get coaching jobs after grad­u­ating. Many of his former players would then send their best ath­letes to Hillsdale.

“Half of our team was from New York because that’s where they all went to coach,” Larkin laughed.

John Cervini, Hillsdale’s vice pres­ident of insti­tu­tional advancement, was one of these Long Islanders who traveled to Hillsdale for football.

“He was a father figure for a lot of the guys,” said Cervini, who played offensive right tackle. “He was a real master of psy­chology. He could really motivate his players and that’s one of the reasons he was successful.”

Cervini recalls that Waters had a great love for his boat, his four boys, and badminton.

“He loved to play bad­minton, and he was a very good at it. A lot of the fellas played him,” Cervini said with a smile. “He and his assistant Dan Gold­smith used to love to torment the players in matches. They used to run us ragged.”

Waters, who was also Hillsdale’s Ath­letic Director, made his mark on the college in another sig­nif­icant way in 1968 as one of the main forces spear­heading the college mascot name change. The college mascot changed from the ambiguous ‘Dales’ to the Hillsdale Chargers.

In 1974, after nearly 20 years of coaching the Chargers, Waters left his 138 – 47‑5 Hillsdale record to start a football program at Saginaw Valley State Uni­versity, taking Larkin with him as an assistant coach.

“We started from scratch. There was no tra­dition, nothing. We had to build every­thing. Our office was one of the dorm suites” Larkin said. “My recruits called it ‘Corn U’ because there wasn’t a football field yet, just corn fields.”

After only five seasons of the football program’s birth, Waters led the Saginaw Car­dinals to the GLIAC Cham­pi­onship title.

His success at Saginaw caught the attention of Michigan State Uni­versity who offered him the position of head coach.

He served as MSU’s coach for three seasons starting in 1980. His teams were not as suc­cessful, but that could be attributed to the university’s pro­bation at the time — they were not allowed any football scholarships.

The losing record, however, had no effect on the team’s admi­ration for their head coach.

After Waters’ last game leading the Spartans, a game which ended in a 24 – 18 loss to the Uni­versity of Iowa, the players carried him off the field on their shoulders.

“His players carried him off the field like they just won a cham­pi­onship. It was such an emblematic gesture of the man he was,” said Brad Monas­tiere, Hillsdale’s sports media director.

In 2000, Waters was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

“Coaches from the Big 10 and three or four NFL hall of famers were being inducted at the same time, and I think Hillsdale had the largest con­tingent of people there,” Cervini said. “About 1,000 people were at the cer­emony and half the group was from Hillsdale, which was an indi­cation of the loyalty and affection his players had for him.”

In 1997, the Jackson Citizen Patriot wrote an article fea­turing Waters. He told the paper: “I wish I could go back to coaching and do it for another 30 or 40 years. I love working with young people.”

Muddy passed away at the age of 83 from heart failure, but his name lives on. This phe­nomena is espe­cially apparent every fall when the Hillsdale football team charges onto Frank “Muddy” Waters Stadium.

“It’s great to come back and see that honor,” Larkin said. “It is a tremendous honor and it’s well-deserved. Hillsdale’s a very special place. Hillsdale doesn’t forget you.”

The name “Muddy” comes to head football coach Keith Otterbein’s mind when he thinks about his own legacy.

“To be in the same role as guys like Muddy and Dick Lowry is kind of hum­bling for me. They’ve had a great influence on many players over the course of many years,” Otterbein said. “The guys that I know that played for Muddy — they talk mostly about the rela­tionship they had with him, not nec­es­sarily all the wins they had. It shows it’s not just about winning football games. When it comes to coaching college football, you have to do what you can to win, win the right way, and develop rela­tion­ships with the players. Thirty, 40 years from now I hope they have the same kind of strong feelings [for me] that the guys that played for Muddy have.”