HOUSTON – The Texas Bowl Committee has selected the 2017 Class of Gridiron Legends, the Bowl announced today. The honorees will be introduced at the 2017 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff game on September 2 and will be inducted to the Gridiron Legends at a special pregame ceremony during the Texas Bowl game at NRG Stadium on December 27.
The class of 2017 features three-time Super Bowl Champion Cliff Branch, former Texas Bowl MVP and first Texas Bowl participant to be recognized as a Gridiron Legend Chase Clement, College Football Hall of Fame member and former Baylor standout Lawrence Elkins, two-time Super Bowl Champion Casey Hampton and esteemed coach Emory Bellard, who hailed from Luling, Texas.
The Gridiron Legends have each made a noteworthy contribution to the game of football in the state of Texas at the high school, collegiate or professional level. The 2017 class joins 64 other Gridiron Legends who have been inducted since the Bowl’s inception in 2006, including Texas greats Jim Nantz, Curley Culp, Bum Phillips, Joe Greene, Earl Campbell, Andre Ware, John David Crow, Jack Pardee and Dave Campbell.
Four-time All-Pro and three-time Super Bowl Champion Cliff Branch spent 14 seasons in the NFL, all with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. The former Worthing High School standout graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1972, where he set the NCAA FBS record for kickoffs returned for touchdowns with eight. During his time at Colorado, Branch also set school and NCAA Championship records in track, specifically the NCAA 100-meter record with a time of 10.0 seconds. The Raiders selected the Houston native in the fourth round of the 1972 NFL Draft with the 98th overall pick. During his tenure, Branch caught three passes for 20 yards in Super Bowl XI, five passes for 62 yards and two touchdowns in Super Bowl XV and six passes for 94 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XVIII. In four consecutive seasons (1974-1977), the former wide receiver was voted a First-Team All-Pro by the Associated Press and named to four consecutive Pro Bowls. In 1974, Branch led the league in receiving yards (1,092) and receiving touchdowns (13). During the 1983 season, he set the Raiders franchise record for the longest touchdown reception with a 99-yard score. Branch’s career in the NFL ended after the 1985 season, but he subsequently played for the Los Angeles Cobras of the AFL in 1988. Branch was the only wide receiver to be on the roster of all three Super Bowl-winning Raiders teams and was named to the PFRA Hall of Very Good Class of 2011. The two-time Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalist’s NFL career boasts 501 receptions, 8,685 receiving yards and 67 touchdowns.
UFL Championship MVP Chase Clement spent three seasons in the UFL and had two separate stints in the CFL after a record-setting career at Rice University. The former quarterback holds the NCAA FBS record, along with former Rice wide receiver Jarrett Dillard, for career touchdowns between a quarterback-receiver tandem (51). The San Antonio native broke Conference USA Conference passing records, and in 2007, he earned second-team All-Conference USA honors. In his first-team all-conference senior season, Clement lead the Owls to a win in the 2008 Texas Bowl, where he was named MVP, and earned the C-USA MVP honors. The Rice University all-time passing leader is ranked second behind Case Keenum on the C-USA lists for career touchdowns and touchdown passes. Clement completed his college career with 125 career touchdowns, and his 99 passing touchdowns tied former Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart on the NCAA career touchdown passes list. While a prospect for the 2009 NFL Draft, he went undrafted and was signed by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL in June 2009 and retired after one preseason practice. The Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL later signed Clement in 2010, and he stayed with them until 2012. During his time there, he led the team to the UFL title in 2010 and was named the championship game MVP. Clement signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL in April 2013 and was later released the following June. During his post-collegiate career, he has worked out with several NFL teams including the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys.
Former first-round draft pick and wide receiver Lawrence “Larry” Elkins’ professional career spanned five years after a highly accomplished tenure at Baylor University. The three-sport All-State player at Brownwood High School turned down an offer from the University of Texas to attend Baylor, where he set several receiving records that still stand. Elkins was a two-time consensus All-American at Baylor – the first two-time consensus pick in the university’s history. One of the best receivers in Baylor’s history, he caught 144 passes for 2,094 yards and scored a school-record 19 touchdowns. Some of Elkins’ accolades include MVP honors at the 1965 Hula Bowl and being named to the Look Magazine All-American team. The records he set include ranking third in all-time career receptions and career receiving yards, Baylor’s single-game record for receptions (12) and the NCAA single-season record in 1963 with 70 catches. Elkins was a first-round pick in the 1965 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers as well as a first-round pick in the AFL Draft by the Houston Oilers the same year. After signing with the Oilers, a knee injury in an exhibition game in his rookie season kept Elkins off the active roster until 1966. Following his time with the Oilers, he joined the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he broke his collarbone in a preseason game in 1969 after earning a starting job with the team. Elkins’ football career has been recognized and honored by many, which is evident by his induction into the Baylor Athletic Hall of Fame (1976), the College Football Hall of Fame (1994) and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame (2009). His life post-football managed to be as interesting as his time in football. From 1971 to 1978, Elkins worked for Brown and Root Inc., now known as KBR, Inc., in the United States and Europe. From 1979 to 1982, he worked with offshore drilling companies in the Gulf of Mexico and Africa. In the early 1980s, Elkins chauffeured Academy Award-winning actor Robert Duvall around Texas as he studied Texas accents for the film Tender Mercies and television miniseries Lonesome Dove. He later spent more than 12 years as a consultant for Ministry of Water in Saudi Arabia, where he was involved in the management of 26 desalination plants and several pumping stations and pipelines along the Red Sea and Persian Gulf.
Two-time Super Bowl Champion Casey Hampton spent 12 seasons in the NFL, all with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The former nose tackle got his start at Galveston Ball High School, where he was a two-sport All-American in football and track. Hampton was twice named the District Defensive Player of the Year and was a Texas Class 5A All-State First-Team selection. His high school jersey number (No. 63) was retired at a parade and dinner in April 2009, and he is the only football player in Galveston Ball’s history to receive this honor. Hampton went on to have an impressive collegiate career at the University of Texas, where he started in 37 consecutive games for the Longhorns from 1997 to 2000. During his time at UT, he became the first defensive lineman to lead the team in tackles in two consecutive seasons (1999-2000). Hampton recorded 329 career tackles, which placed him 11th on the school’s all-time list. The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year by the Conference Coaches (2000) was also a two-time consensus All-American and a two-time first-team All-Big 12 Conference selection. Hampton was a first-round pick, 19th overall, in the 2001 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He played in all 48 games in his first three seasons and took a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2003. A knee injury six games into the 2004 season kept him out for the remainder of the season, but he came back to win Super Bowl XL and XLIII with the Steelers. During Super Bowl XL, Hampton sacked Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, sealing the game for Pittsburgh. During his professional career, the five-time All Pro played in 173 games with 374 combined tackles, 9.0 sacks, three passes defensed, four forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles. In commemoration of the Steelers’ founding in 1933, the franchise’s top 33 players were selected by fan voting to the Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Team. Hampton was named to the group as a part of the franchise’s 75th season celebration in 2007.
Deemed to have had one of the most advanced offensive minds in football, notable head coach Emory Bellard was selected by the Greater Houston Football Coaches Association to receive this Gridiron Legend honor. The Luling, Texas native is credited for inventing the Wishbone Offense, regarded as the most dynamic and groundbreaking offensive scheme in college football during the 1970s and 1980s. Bellard was a running back at the University of Texas his freshman year, but broke his leg the next season. Due to his injury and the return of players from World War II, he transferred to Southwest Texas State, which is now Texas State University. His tenure of 21 seasons as a head coach started at Ingleside High School in Ingleside, Texas, where he coached from 1952 to 1954. Bellard then moved on to Breckenridge High School, a powerhouse in the state in the second-highest UIL classification. During his time there from 1955 to 1959, he led the team to two state championships (1958, 1959). Bellard won another state championship in 1966 during his tenure at San Angelo Central High School, which spanned from 1960 to 1966. After an impressive high school coaching career, he made the jump to the collegiate level, where he also succeeded. Bellard was hired as linebackers coach for the University of Texas in 1967. From 1968 to 1971, Bellard was their offensive coordinator, and during this time established and applied the wishbone formation. This system, also known as the triple-option, helped the Longhorns win 30 games in a row and a national championship in 1969. Other teams, such as powerhouses Alabama and Oklahoma, began adopting the wishbone offense. From 1969 to 1979, seven national championships were won or shared by teams that implemented this scheme. Bellard left the Longhorns to become Texas A&M’s head coach from 1972 to 1978. He led the Aggies to a 48-27 record during his tenure, which included three top-15 finishes and three consecutive bowl games. He resigned midway through the 1978 season and then became the head coach at Mississippi State in 1979, where he stayed until 1985. Bellard led the Bulldogs to a record of 79-85 and they twice finished in the top 20 in the polls. After his time at Mississippi State, he returned to the high school level, where he coached Spring Westfield High School from 1988 to 1993, making his overall high school coaching record 177-59-9. Bellard passed away on February 10, 2011 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He is survived by his wife, Susan, and his son, Bob, who coaches high school football in Texas. His family will receive the honor in his name.
The 2017 Texas Bowl will feature teams from the Big 12 and SEC conferences and will kick off at 8 p.m. CT on Wednesday, Dec. 27. The game, which has ranked fourth in bowl game attendance in the country behind only the Rose, Cotton and Peach Bowls since 2014, will air nationally on ESPN and ESPN Radio with a local radio broadcast on Sports Radio 610 (KILT-AM).
Limited tickets remain for the 2017 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff game featuring the Louisiana State University Tigers and the Brigham Young University Cougars and can be purchased through the website at http://www.advocaretexaskickoff.com/.