Ferris State and Michigan State pioneer Gideon Smith honored
College Football Share

Ferris State and Michigan State pioneer Gideon Smith honored

Photo: Gideon Smith at Ferris State in 1912. Note the white player in the back row with his hand extended to Smith's shoulder as an act of friendship.

The American Football Coaches Association's website story on Gideon Smith selection to receive its AFCA: The Trailblazer Award.

Follow up story from Jan. 12 award in Louisville

The award will be presented posthumously Jan. 12 in Louisville.

AFCA: Gideon Smith Honored with 2014 Trailblazer Award

Smith is best known as Michigan State's first black athlete who led the school to its first two wins over Michigan in 1913 and 1915. He is a member of Michigan State's Hall of Fame.

But Smith arrived at Michigan State from Ferris State in Big Rapids. Smith played at Ferris from 1910 to 1912. In those days, Ferris founder Woodbridge Ferris had a working agreement with what is now known as Hampton University in Virginia to bring about a dozen black students a year to Ferris. They were given college prep classes and then transferred on to places such as Michigan State and Michigan. Smith was among the students and discovered his athletic prowess at Ferris.

He later played pro football with Jim Thorpe as a teammate on the Canton Bulldogs. The Pro Football Hall of Fame lists him as the fourth black pro players. He returned to Hampton as a football coach and assistant athletic director before his death in 1956 at age 78.

Smith's story is told in Chapter 5 of "Raye of Light," a book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football under head coach Duffy Daugherty. Jimmy Raye arrived at Michigan State as a freshman in the fall of 1964 from segregated Fayetteville, N.C. He said portrait of Smith at Jenison Fieldhouse inspired him, deciding if Smith could overcome obstacles in 1913 he could do the same 50 years later.

“It was so remarkable to see a black football player from 1913, and my initial thoughts were to try to imagine what kind of support system he had in the environment that existed at that time,” said Raye.  “What a tremendous individual Gideon must have been, and couple that with the extraordinary talent he must have possessed to be issued a uniform.  I realized what he faced must have been overwhelming, and later I felt the obstacles I faced were not as insurmountable.”

Note: Michigan State was previously known as Michigan Agricultural College and Ferris as Ferris Institute.

Ferris Raye of Light Flyer


Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom spent the bulk of his career in San DIego writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has covered NCAA Tournaments, Super Bowls, Rose Bowls, the NBA Finals and the World Series in a career that included writing for Voice of San Diego, the San Diego Hall of Champions and Chargers.com. He contributes to the Detroit Free Press, Raleigh News & Observer, MLB.com, Rivals.com and the National Football Foundation's Football Matters. He won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003. USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter presented its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans. It explains Duffy Daugherty's pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer: "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in."