Charleston Daily Mail

used by permission

Marshall movie emotional for many

Frank Giardina
For the Daily Mail

Thursday August 17, 2006

THE upcoming movie "We Are Marshall" is striking an emotional chord with Marshall University alums everywhere.

Never was that more apparent than in a newspaper column this past weekend in the Huntsville Times in Alabama.

The column, written by John Pruitt, focused on Roger Hillis, a native of Hazel Green, Ala., a Huntsville suburb.

Hillis was recruited to Marshall by former assistant coach Red Dawson in the winter following the 1970 plane crash to help rebuild the Marshall program.

He would go on to become a four-year starter and graduate assistant coach for the Thundering Herd.

Hillis credits his high school coach, Ken McKinney, with sending film of him to Marshall.

"One day in January, 1971, coach McKinney called me into his office and said that Marshall was sending a coach down to look at me," Hillis told Pruitt. "He told me to wear platform shoes and a heavy coat and don't take off the coat. You need to look bigger than you are.

"I credit coach McKinney for getting me a scholarship. He knew all of the angles."

Hillis also recalled the recruiting process and his recruiting visit.

"When I was being recruited, we didn't talk much about the crash," Hillis said in the column. "He (coach Dawson) talked to me about the opportunity to play right away and to be a part of helping to rebuild the program.

"They introduced me and a bunch of prospects at a basketball game and the crowd went crazy. Then they had a big snowstorm and we were snowed in for nearly a week. Everybody got a real good feeling about the place."

In the column, Hillis brought up a point that many Marshall fans might not remember. The reason Hillis said he chose Marshall was because of the widespread rumor that former West Virginia All-American and pro football Hall of Famer Sam Huff was going to be the next head coach. The rumor proved to be not true.

Despite the fact that he did not play for Huff, Hillis is proud of his playing experience at Marshall.

"We all have a bond, all of us who were at Marshall in those years," Hillis said. "And it will be a bond forever."

After college, Hillis returned to Huntsville and worked as a high school coach and guidance counselor. He is now the guidance counselor at Sparkman High School.


  • THE FACT that the release date of "We Are Marshall" has been pushed back to Dec. 22 could be a good sign for the impact of the movie.

    All indications are that Warner Bros. is getting a strong reaction from its focus groups and thus is releasing the movie at a time when the year's biggest pictures are released.

    For those of us who lived through the events at Marshall in 1970 and '71, this is a "Titanic" type story, not just a sports story. Its impact on moviegoers is sure to be chilling, emotional and inspirational.

    One of the added benefits of the movie is that it will also serve as a reminder of the talents of former Marshall quarterback Reggie Oliver.

    Many college football fans think the Herd's quarterback tradition started with Carl Fodor in the early 1980s. But Oliver had major college talent at Marshall from 1971-73. He just happened to play at the wrong time, when Marshall had few offensive weapons around him. And, the NFL was not exactly opening the door to African American quarterbacks in the 1970s.

    Had Oliver played 15 years later, he likely would have earned a spot on an NFL roster. He did play briefly with the Jacksonville Sharks in the old World Football League.