The Idle American: The heart of an athlete

Lawrence Elkins was the product of a hardscrabble childhood, but football was his ticket to greatness.

“No one is an idol to his valet.” Historian/writer Thomas Carlyle so contended two centuries ago.

In one case dating back 60+ years, Carlyle would have been “dead wrong” about a couple of Brownwood High School athletes. Lawrence Elkins–the “idol”–re-wrote dozens of records in four sports, dazzled at Baylor in football and might have re-written National Football League stats if injuries hadn’t “done him in.”

His “valet”–a year behind him–subbed for Elkins on the 1960 AAA State Championship football team. Ron Davis, also 76, is best known for church music ministry. Now, he’s also an author….


   A friend claims that about one of every 100 people who mention writing a book does so, and of that number, only a handful get around to publishing.

At one of Lawrence’s eight Hall of Fame inductions several years ago, Ron told Lawrence he’d like to write a book about the Brownwood sports legend.

Elkins answered, “Go for it.”…


   For the past few years, he has conducted interviews, visited sports luminaries, and researched vigorously. Published late last year, his book includes many stories and statistics. Elkins–a three-sport star at BHS–was Baylor University’s first-ever consensus All-American football player to earn the honor in successive years (1963 and 1964).

It’s as much about “heart” as athletics, though. Elkins’ “ticker” is as big as the expanse of the Old West, and his Texas drawl exceeds any the Marlboro man could muster.

He was the product of an asphalt-covered Central Elementary playground, a hardscrabble childhood, and races to the dinner table to “avoid being last.” There were nine other half-brothers and sisters, and he was the youngest….

Don Newbury

Yep, he was, as they say, “all boy.” His mother, an ardent church-goer, regularly dragged him to the Pentecostal Church of God, stationing him on the first pew.

Once, a lady seated next to him accidentally blackened his eye with an errant elbow.

“Momma let me sit on the second pew for a few Sundays, and called me a ‘little heathen’ less often,” he mused, admitting he was “somewhat inattentive.”…


   Everyone knew he was destined to greatness, this youngster who balanced on handlebars of bicycles ridden by siblings and friends. Besides re-writing high school football, basketball, and track records, he was an ace pitcher on amateur teams each summer.

Football was king. When the late Gordon Wood came to town in 1960, the Lions had beaten Breckenridge only once, back in 1941. Elkins helped the Lions beat the Buckaroos 18-14, en route to the 1960 AAA championship.

Immediately, Wood was THE town favorite, so viewed until his death in 2003. After all, he won seven BHS state football titles….


   The Elkins’ word was their bond. After a baseball tournament in 1961, a scout offered Lawrence a $25,000 signing bonus. Lawrence’s dad–a big baseball fan who supported his family driving trucks and later operating a bank elevator–was big-eyed.

But Lawrence’s mom reminded him of his commitment to Baylor, and off to college he went.

There, he set several records (none of them academic, he jokes), and fans still speak of him in reverent tones….


   Upon graduation, he signed with the Houston Oilers for $170,000, kidded a year later by Texas Tech’s Donnie Anderson, who signed with Green Bay for $944,000. “The Oilers’ offer included the gift of a Phillips 66 service station, which Elkins claimed upon retirement. With a chunk of his bonus, he remodeled his folks’ home, bought them a new car, and deposited $2,500 in their bank account. He also funded central heating and cooling for his mom’s church.

The 76-year-old Elkins–with “creaks in his get-along”– lives in Clifton with wife Becky.

Elkins and Davis are “co-champions” in one category, that being for their absolute modesty. Read the Amazon book, and you’ll understand why. They’re both champions….


  Don Newbury is a former educator who writes weekly and is a longtime public speaker. Comments/speaking inquiries to: [email protected]. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: don newbury

Don Newbury is the author of the humorous and inspirational memoir When the Porchlight’s On. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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