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Randolph-Macon Football History

For 134 years, the Yellow Jackets of Randolph-Macon College have been exciting fans of all ages with their thrilling victories, and sometimes, agonizing defeats.  Starting with the first game in 1881 against the University of Richmond, the Randolph-Macon Football program has a rich tradition.   This upcoming year is yet another chapter in the long journey that has become a program full of history, pride and tradition.

Photo of 1898 football team  

The 1898 R-MC team. 
The first team photographed in school history

In the beginning . . .
The program first started to grow its roots in the early 1870s, when a group of young men began playing "unsanctioned" games of what we now know as football.  Back then, the game was more like a modern form of rugby.  In 1881, the student body asked the faculty for the opportunity to play Richmond College in “sanctioned” games between the two colleges.  The faculty approved two games, the first to be played in Ashland on December 3, 1881 and the other to be played in Richmond on December 17, 1881.  Teams rode the train to their respective play sites and made the “matches” all day affairs.  Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets they were not able to win either game, but fortunately for future teams that have followed, these men took the initiative to create a program which has stood the test of time.

“Now about this Football situation . . .”     
(President William Howard Taft)

On November 12, 1910, the Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets defeated Hampden-Sydney in a 10-3 battle to set the stage for the Virginia Eastern Collegiate Championship to be played at Richmond College, home of the Spiders.  As the story goes, team manager E. Barrett Prettyman “liberally interpreted a half-day leave for the team to travel to the H-SC game and the team took the whole day off.”  This outraged the faculty and they decided initially to disband the team for the misunderstanding.  After “earnest student pleas” the team was reinstated: however, it was then declared that “no nonplaying student, managers included, might go to Richmond to witness the final contest.  A faculty committee would be there to see that this directive was not ignored. Disobedience would mean expulsion, and let there be no ‘misunderstanding’ about that.” 

football player blasting through hole. randolph-macon vs. hampden-sydney. Saturday, November 16 at 2:30 PM

Prettyman must have felt horrible about this, so he and Marion N. Fisher took it upon themselves to rectify the situation.  After hearing that President William Howard Taft would be visiting the Virginia Governor William Hodges Mann, Prettyman and Fisher decided it would be in their best interest, and that of the college, to go have a talk with President Taft, because after all, in their minds “it seemed that the prime function of an American chief executive  was to prevent injustice and to rectify wrong.”  Prettyman and Fisher walked right up to the governor’s mansion and asked to speak with the President of the United States, and with little to no objection, they were introduced to President Taft. 

After explaining to President Taft their grievance, “It began with a low chuckle, and exploded into an infectious laugh that shook the ample presidential frame.  ‘Well,’ he said, ‘if Norton’-- his private secretary -- says I can do it, I’ll do it.’ ”  Charles D. Norton, who was also very amused by the whole situation, said “if it could somehow be arranged to stop the special train at Ashland, the First Citizen would discuss the matter there for the benefit of anyone who might care to listen.”

Now it was just a matter of getting the train to stop in Ashland.  Fortunately for Prettyman and Fisher, Mr. William H. White, president of the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad, was himself a Randolph-Macon “old boy”, thus through the help of an alum, they were able to get the “special train” to stop in Ashland.

Word of President Taft’s arrival quickly spread all over the college and the town of Ashland, thus around six o’clock, the evening of his arrival, there was quite a crowd around the railroad tracks anxiously awaiting the great words of the one man that could surely “rectify this wrong.”

President Taft stepped out onto the rear platform of the train to a roaring of applause.  “Now about this football situation, if you boys were locked up in the federal penitentiary, over which I have some authority, I would not hesitate a moment about issuing an order that you should be released to see this game.  But the trouble is that I have no authority to issue an order to the faculty.  However, Dr. Blackwell has been on the train all the way from Richmond, and I have argued with him all the way as to why you should be allowed to see the game.  I have pleaded your case with all the power I have and with all arguments I can think of.  I don’t know what the faculty will do about it, but I assure you boys that I have done everything that is within my authority to persuade them to rescind their order.”

After receiving such support from the President himself, the faculty of the college realized that it would be in their best interests to allow the student body to attend the championship game against Richmond College.

“After so much trouble, it would seem only a fitting sequel  that the Yellow Jackets should defeat the Spiders.  They did, 11-6, and the championship trophy came to rest in Ashland.”

During the years of 1943 and 1944 Randolph-Macon did not field a “formal” intercollegiate football team largely due to WWII.  In 1945 Coach Taylor Sanford had very little to work with in regards to putting together a group of men who had any playing experience, but he did so and a single intercollegiate game was played against none other than arch-rival Hampden-Sydney College.  The game was played at “Death Valley” on October 5, 1945.  The following is a recount from the 1946 Yellow Jacket yearbook which provides a brief story on “The Game.”

football player carrying football
R-MC and Hampden-Sydney have
played 116 times, dating back to 1893 in a match up known simply as "The Game"

On October 5, an underdog Yellow Jacket team met the Tigers of Hampden-Sydney for the first time since 1942.  The game was the usual fight to the finish and the outcome was not decided until the final moments of the game when the Jackets struck pay dirt after a 60-yard sustained drive.  For three periods the two teams battled up and down the gridiron.  The Jackets threatened several times but always lacked the punch to cross the final stripe.  In the second period Dave Chamberlin intercepted a Tiger pass deep in the H-S territory and crossed the goal line standing up only to have the score nullified on a holding penalty. 

The second half started with R-MC receiving the kickoff.  The play for the most part of the third period was between the 30-yard markers.  The fourth period found the Tigers in possession of the ball on their 40-yard line.  In two lightning plays they marked up two first downs on their 35, but with third and seven to go the Tigers scored on a complete spinner.  A pass into the end zone was good for the extra point.

The now-angry Yellow Jackets took the kickoff and returned it to the 35.  In less than four minutes from the kickoff Billy Hallmark, on a reverse, bucked his way for six yards and a score.  Hallmark added the extra point on a wide end run.

Features of the game were fine directing of Whit Crowell (captain), the line bucking of Tom Hughes, and the fine defensive play of Dunn, Cotton, Turnbull and Kent in the forward wall.  (Yellow Jacket 1946)

Mason Dixon Conference Championsfootball team team photo
2008 marks the 58th anniversary of the 1950 Mason Dixon championship team.  Completing their season with a 5-4-0 record, the Yellow Jackets of 1950 defeated Hampden-Sydney 21-13.  This was just the second Mason Dixon championship team in the school’s history.  Starting out the season 0-3 against powerhouse programs like University of Richmond and Florida State University, the Yellow Jackets went on a five-game winning streak to capture their title, beating Catholic University, Washington College, Bridgewater, Atlantic Christian (now Barton College), and Hampden-Sydney.   Leading this team from the sideline was coach Paul Severin, and on the field was Virginia Sports Hall of fame inductee Ted Keller. 

man wearing headset and coaching football
R-MC Legend Ted Keller led R-MC to the 1969  NCAA Eastern Championship

The most successful team in Randolph-Macon history is arguably the team of 1969.  That year marked the 100th anniversary of college football and the inaugural year of the Knute Rockne Bowl.  This was the first post-season bowl appearance in Randolph-Macon’s 88-year football history.  In the Knute Rockne Bowl, the Yellow Jackets trounced Bridgeport in a 47-28 decision.  With this win R-MC secured its first Eastern Championship in the NCAA.  The entire 1969 football team was inducted into the Randolph-Macon Athletic Hall of Fame in fall 2004.

“This year’s football season included a second consecutive ODAC championship, an All-American tackle in Rick Eades, another Coach of the Year award for Ted Keller, and a down-to-the-wire victory over arch-rival Hampden-Sydney.  The Yellow Jackets were undefeated again (4-0) in the ODAC, and ended an eight-year losing streak at home against Hampden-Sydney by defeating the Tigers 9-7 at Day Field.  At the conclusion of the season, junior tackle Rick Eades was nominated to the Kodak Small College All-American Team.”
(Yellow Jacket 1980).

Randolph-Macon finished the regular season 9-1, capturing another Old Dominion Athletic Conference title with a perfect 5-0 record.  The Yellow Jackets were led by third-year head coach Jim Blackburn and top-rated quarterback (in Division III) Cody Dearing.  Dearing’s most efficient receiver was Keith Gilliam, who caught 35 passes for 891 yards and 19 touchdowns.  Gilliam set NCAA records for highest average gain per reception (25.5), highest percentage of passes caught for touchdowns (54.3%) and most consecutive passes caught for a touchdown (9).     

Finishing the regular season ranked fifth in the nation, the Yellow Jackets took on Washington and Jefferson, in their first match-up ever, in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.  Washington and Jefferson came to Day Field ranked 11th in the nation with an 8-1 record.   In a heartbreaker, the Yellow Jackets lost to the visitors, who scored with just 40 seconds remaining to take a 22-21 lead and advance to the Division III national semifinals.

The following athletes received post season national honors for their success both on and off the field:

two football players standing
Cody Dearing (7) and Keith Gilliam (28)

Cody Dearing: KODAK All-American 1st Team, Little All-American 2nd TeamNCAA Division III No. 1 QB, All-State, All-ODAC, Earned 8 school records.

Keith Gilliam: The Rich Haney Report’s Division III Player of the Year Offensive Player of the Year, All-State,  All-ODAC, NCAA record holder for consecutive, touchdown receptions (9).

Greg Amick: District Academic All-American, All-ODAC, National Football Foundation & Hall of Fame “Scholar Athlete.”


The 1993 season was a season to remember, for several reasons.  The season was one of expectation and excitement.  The 1992 team had the second-rated offense in the conference and 7 of the 11 starters were returning for the 1993 season.  This year also marked the 100th anniversary of the oldest small college rivalry in the South against the Tigers of Hampden-Sydney, which made "The Game" much more publicized, getting national exposure from media outlets like Southern Living magazine and The Today Show on NBC. 

Coming  out of the gate, the Yellow Jackets were perhaps a bit too confident, dropping two of their first three contests.  These, however, would be their only two losses of the season.  The Yellow Jackets went on to win six of their last seven games (with a tie against Western Maryland), finishing with an ODAC record of 5-0, thus being the last team in R-MC history to win the conference outright.    

The last game of the season against H-SC would be the determining factor in winning the conference title.  The Tigers played a tough game at Day Field but came out on the losing end as the Yellow Jackets took home their seventh ODAC title. 

2004-Present  - The Arruza Erafootball team hosting trophy
Randolph-Macon College Head Football Coach Pedro Arruza is in his 16th season on the sidelines of Day Field in 2019.   Over the course of the past 12 years, R-MC has experienced a level of success not seen by the program since the 1960’s with 10 winning seasons and three ODAC Championships.   In 2008, Arruza led the Randolph-Macon program to its first ODAC Championship since 1997 and its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1984.  For his efforts, Arruza was named ODAC Coach of the Year for the first time in his short career.  R-MC won the ODAC Championship again in 2016 and 2018, with Arruza earning Coach of the Year honors in each of those seasons. The 2018 squad posted a 23-20 at No. 8 John Carroll in the first round of the NCAA Playoffs, the first NCAA Tournament victory in program history.