If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
By James McAfee
O’BRIEN—C.H. Underwood, who will be inducted into the Big Country Athletic Hall of Fame next month, spent his early years growing up on a farm along the Brazos River 11 miles west of O’Brien in the Needmore community. He attended school in O’Brien, graduating in 1963.
During his junior year in high school, he was a starter in football as a receiver. The Bulldogs lost only one game that season in regional to Mozelle. He was also a starter for a district champion basketball squad.
The Bulldogs captured the regional football championship trophy his senior year with a win over Wall, averaging 61+ points a game and finishing at 11-0. Underwood was on the Abilene all-area team and played in the 1963 six-man all-star game. He was a starter for a district championship team in basketball, earning second team all-district honors. He ran legs on the sprint and mile relay units. The Bulldogs won district and regional titles and finished third in state as the mile relay placed second.
Underwood then went to South Plains College where he was a member of the track team. In addition, he was named the outstanding English and History student. After marrying Linda Kay Reed in the summer of 1965, he transferred to Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene for his junior year and then graduated from Midwestern University in Wichita Falls with a B.A. in both English and history in 1967.
Of course, he returned to O’Brien and coached both the junior high boys and girls for three years (1967-1970). The boys on the eighth football team his second year were the seniors who later won state. Both basketball teams were successful, too.
In his first year as the high school football coach in 1970, the Bulldogs bounced back from a winless season to win district before being eliminated by Highland in bi-district. The 1971 team was unbeaten in the regular season, repeating as district champions, but were eliminated in the first round. Underwood was selected as an assistant coach for the West team that lost a close decision in the six-man all-star game in Levelland that year.
With players from an undefeated junior high team also returning, hopes for a successful season looked promising in 1972. With Bennie Grill serving as his assistant, Underwood saw his team rise to the occasion, finishing 12-0, including 10 wins by the 45-point mercy rule, with the state title.t
Underwood recalls that Bill Hart, a sportswriter with the Abilene Reporter-News, called the Bulldogs “the “Little ‘uns” since they averaged only 143 pounds.
Using what Underwood called the “O’Brien Veer,” a triple option offensive plan, the Bulldogs averaged 60.6 points and 623 yards per game running the ball. Remember, many games lasted only a half. Defensively they gave up only an average of 15.8 a game.
After winning a third straight district title, the Bulldogs raced to a 76-30 victory over Ira in the quarterfinals, but then seemed to be decisive underdogs to Marathon in the semifinals. Marathon had a rich winning tradition, losing only one of its last 52 games.
That didn’t faze Underwood’s boys. They continued to score almost at will and advanced with a 78-28 win. Marathon did return to the top of the six-man heap, winning titles three of the next five years, according to Underwood.
Next up in 1972 was a mammoth Jarrell team. Observers prior to that game looked out on the field and were overheard saying, “Those poor O’Brien boys don’t have a chance, this game will not last long.”
It turns out, they were at least right about how long the game would last. With quarterback Danny Del Hierro running for 403 yards and six touchdowns, the Bulldogs won by a 60-14 margin. Del Hierro was a first team all-state selection along with safety Louis Conn while Arly Watson and Rayland Hays were second-team picks.
Underwood admitted the Bulldogs had another secret to success. They used their quickness to try onside kicks after every touchdown and were successful 26 percent of the time. “This was effective back then because the neutral zone was only 10 yards,” Underwood recalled.
Since the “72 Bulldogs were so effective with the on-side kicks, they were responsible for the six-man coaches to change a rule, electing to change the neutral zone to 20 yards for the next few seasons before reducing it to today’s standard of 15 yards.
Underwood served as the successful head coach for the West with Grill as his assistant in the six-man all-star game in the summer of 1973.
Underwood ended his football coaching career at O’Brien after the next season with an overall 40-3 record, losing to Benjamin, 68-64, in district despite holding a 32-6 lead during the first half. “We lost three starters to injuries and saw a final chance to win not happen as a pass went off the fingertips of a receiver in the end zone,” Underwood recalled. “That was our only regular season loss in four seasons.”
He wrote “Texas Six-man Football” in 1974 and then wrote “Six-Man Football,” called the bible by fellow coaches, 30 years later.
Underwood decided to return fulltime to farming in Knox and Haskell counties, but did answer a call from Knox City Supt. Bill Baker to teach English at Knox City High School for the 1975-1976 year when the district lost a teacher in July.
Knox City and O’Brien were consolidated the following year while Underwood returned to farming for three years before resuming his coaching career at Knox City.