By Mark Stowers – Contributing Writer
As published in the Nov/Dec Issue
Billy Ray Adams’ Adversity in Life Kept Him On God’s Road
His mother birthed him alone at home, the eleventh of twelve children in a house with no running water, indoor plumbing or electricity. He was the only one of his siblings to finish high school and the only one to go to college. At the age of six he last saw his father. That’s just how life was for Billy Ray Adams. He didn’t know any other way to live. A natural athlete, Adams excelled in any and every sport offered at Lee High School.
The Columbus native was recruited by Miss. State and the rest of the SEC and schools such as Memphis State and Minnesota but he had set his sites on playing for a winner – the Ole Miss Rebels. By the time his collegiate career had ended Adams had helped lead the Rebels to an impressive 29-3-1 record, an SEC Championship in 1960 and a share of two national titles in 1959 and 1960. As an All-American in 1961, he led the team and the league with 10 touchdowns. His 575 yards rushing led Ole Miss and was second best in the SEC. Adams earned All-SEC First Team honors from the Associated Press and the UPI in 1961 as well. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry to lead the conference and had only one carry for a loss during his career – and that was when he recovered a teammates fumble. He lost one yard.
His career at Ole Miss totaled 1,009 yards rushing and 11 total touchdowns and he was selected to play in the 1962 Senior Bowl. But a car wreck on the Natchez Trace ended his football-playing career despite being drafted by three professional leagues. He started one career then turned to business using all of the gumption built up in his young life to propel him to success.
Billy Ray Adams is Rebel Tough
“My father left home when I was six years old. I never really knew him. All of my brothers and sisters had to stop school and find jobs to provide for the family,” Adams said. “I was very fortunate to be the eleventh one down the line. Today out of the whole twelve, I only have one brother that is living.”
Tough and a lot of luck got Adams into this world as his mom’s mid-wife left in mid-birth and she finished the job alone.
“My mother had me by herself and then cut and tied the umbilical cord,” he said.
He comes by his toughness honestly it seems. But it was that toughness that helped him persevere, overcome and achieve – both on the field and off.
Making Ends Meet with Education
In high school, Adams got a job to help the family and through that job he learned how to run a business. He drove a school bus for his high school. The sophomore had to repeat some early years of his education. It seems the one room schoolhouse he began his learning in wasn’t up to standard so when he transferred to a city school, he had to repeat an elementary grade. Then as a ninth grader, his coach asked him a few other athletes to “repeat a grade” to spread out the athletic talent. So he was old enough as a sophomore to drive – so he did.
“I drove the bus route 10th, 11th and 12th grade,” he said. “On game days, I’d drive to the bus to school then to the game, play in the game and drive the bus back home.”
He made a dollar in the morning and a dollar in the afternoon. But he needed some help if he was to keep playing sports. So he “hired” another driver.
“I found a guy who wasn’t an athlete but he loved to drive busses. So I sublet it to him and he drove in the afternoon. I gave him fifty cents,” Adams said. “I also worked in the school cafeteria so I could get my lunch.”
He had no time to whine or moan about what he didn’t have, he just found a way to survive and thrive. By following his faith and staying true to his beliefs.
“God was always with me. Like the bus – God was there. He always made things happen in my life,” Adams said.
He attributes his athletic timing – being held back in school – as part of God’s plan for his life. In the sixth grade he was the smallest player on the team. As he aged and matured, the talented fullback grew into a 210-pound, 6-foot, 2-inch man that was garnering college interest.
“I was probably the biggest back in the entire Big 8 Conference,” he said.
As a sophomore, he took a trip to Oxford to take in a game against Arkansas but it was a little bit confusing, as Adams didn’t know much about the Rebels except that they won games.
“Both of them had red and white colors and they roast a pig on campus,” he said. “And Arkansas does that yell ‘sooey pig’,” he said.
When he got home his mother asked him about the visit.
“I told her that I liked it (Ole Miss) but they have a strange mascot name. They call them the Ole Miss pigs. They walk around and act like pigs.”
He would soon learn the true traditions of the red and blue of the Rebels and all things Hotty Toddy. One of those was learning how Coach Vaught coached. He believed in maturity and seniority. So Adams, talented as he was, spent time behind senior Charlie Flowers and then James (Hoss) Anderson before he could start. Adams had to fight his way up the depth chart as Vaught had signed nearly 85 athletes to scholarships – 14 were fullbacks.
“The teams I played on those three years were equivalent to today’s Alabama team,” he said. “We only had 21 points scored against us in 1959.”
The 1959 team, deemed one of the sport’s best ever, had 12 players drafted professionally.
Adams played left cornerback as well on defense in Vaught’s scheme where each offensive player had a designated defensive position.
The Egg Bowl
The team never gave much thought to the bulldogs.
“I think they only scored about 14 points against us in those three years,” Adams said. “Back then we weren’t concerned about them beating us but only about how bad we were going to beat them.”
In 1959, the Rebels trounced State 42-0 in Starkville, then won at home in 1960 – 35-9 and followed that up with another win in Starkville in 1961, 37-7. Adams scored three touchdowns against State his senior season. He could have had more.
“There was an alumni who told me if I scored four touchdowns he’d give me $100. Now that’s like $1,000 today,” he said. “We had a guy on our team who played fullback and he never scored a touchdown in college.”
With a payday looming at the goal line, Adams turned away from the cash to help a teammate. He told Coach Vaught to put in the other player.
“It took him two or three tries but he made it,” Adams said. “The alumni said, ‘well you didn’t make it. You only scored three.’ And I just said, ‘yeah, I forgot.’”
Even though he grew up in State’s backyard, there was no doubt that Adams wouldn’t stay home to play.
“When I was recruited by State their coach asked me what I was going to do,” he said. “I said I was going to Ole Miss and he asked me, ‘Why don’t you like Miss. State? We’re right here 20 miles from you.’ And I said, ‘Coach, I don’t like losing and you guys lose too much.’”
Another factor that helped in his decision was while in high school Adams and the rest of the team had to wash their own uniforms – and they were maroon and white.
“I grew to hate maroon and white because of that,” he said with a laugh.
On Coach Vaught
Adams has much respect for his college coach and described him as a “real fair guy” who “believed in senior leadership.”
“He kept things simple,” Adams said. “If you had a bad day at practice you might drop four or five positions (on the depth chart).”
And Vaught wanted his athletes to be students.
“He stressed academics. He always said, ‘if you’re not smart enough to pass your schoolwork then you’re not smart enough to play for me. That comes first.’ And he stood by it. We had guys who never played in games but they made their grades and kept their scholarships.”
Vaught did “mess with” Adams and never called him by the right name.
“We had a lot of double name kids on the team – Bobby Ray Franklin, Billy Ray Adams, Billy Ray Jones. So he always called me Bobby Roy. But he did so in jest.”
So Adams asked the coach about that a few years later at a banquet.
“He said, ‘Bobby Roy, I never forgot a player that contributed to the program.’ And I said, ‘thank you, coach.’”
Growing up without a father, Adams felt that Vaught was the father figure he needed to help him be successful in life.
“He treated me like I was his son. I couldn’t ask for anything better there,” he said.
Toughness off the Field
Following his senior season win over State, Adams was at a banquet in Jackson to accept an MVP award and left to catch a plane to be on the Bob Hope All-American Show where every All-American college football player would appear. While driving up the Natchez Trace he fell asleep, his car flipped and Adams football career was over. He lay there for nearly three hours before he was found. His injuries included a ruptured spleen, torn knee, broken ribs and wounds to his back. He spent seven weeks in the hospital recuperating. He missed the Cotton Bowl game that season.
Adams was still drafted by the NFL, AFL and CFL. The San Francisco 49ers in the third round, Houston Texans and Montreal.
After he got back on his feet, Adams went into coaching and actually had a job in Texas where he coached against the legendary Bum Phillips.
“He was probably the smartest coach I’d been around in awhile,” Adams said.
Bum got the better of Adam’s teams in their matchups. After Texas, Adams came back to coach in Mississippi before “retiring” and moving into the insurance field. The successful insurance salesmen (Barksdale Bonding and Insurance) has celebrated 52 wedding anniversaries with his wife D.J. (Dorothy Jean) and they have two sons, Brad and David. He also has two grand kids – Peyton, an Ole Miss student, and Makenna, a junior high student. For his work on the gridiron, Adams was elected into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame (1987 class) and the Ole Miss Sports Hall of Fame. He was also honored as an SEC Legend in 2003.
Success that was rooted in his toughness – Billy Ray Adams – Rebel Tough. – RN