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Billy Austin

Sport: Football

Born: 1938

Died: December 10, 2014

Town: Fanwood, New Jersey

William W. Austin Jr. was born in 1938, in Fanwood. Billy attended Scotch Plains - Fanwood High School from 1950 to 1955. He grew to a height of 5'11" and tipped the scales at 165 pounds. He was a quick and clever open-field runner, and rugged for his size. As a senior, he was the Raiders' top football and lacrosse player. Billy was not heavily recruited by major schools in either sport. He decided to attend Rutgers on an ROTC scholarship.

Billy first turned heads on the 1955 freshman squad. He wasn’t a standout because of his speed or size, but he had an uncanny ability to make tacklers miss by changing speed and direction, spinning and twisting out of their grasp—classic lacrosse moves. He also had a strong and accurate arm—an important attribute in the team’s single wing offense. Additionally, the qualities that made Billy a standout on offense made him a superb pass defender.

As a member of the Scarlet Knights varsity in 1956, Billy led the team with 380 rushing yards and was second in passing with 230. He accounted for a total of 6 touchdowns as the Scarlet Knights went a disappointing 3–7 under new coach John Stiegman. The team improved to 5–4 in 1957, with Billy leading the squad in passing and rushing for 946 yards and 10 touchdowns on fewer than 200 carries. He also served as the team’s punter and ran back kickoffs, and ranked second in the nation in total offense.

Billy’s senior season saw the Scarlet Knights rise to #20 in the national rankings, while Billy himself was team captain and in the running for the Heisman Trophy. Playing much of the season with a broken left hand, he threw for 8 touchdowns and ran for 15 more on an average of more than 5 yards per carry behind an superb offensive line. He was named an All-American by the Associated Press.

In his final college game, against Columbia, Billy was almost unstoppable. He scored 34 points in a 61–0 drubbing of the Lions, to be named “Back of the Week” by the Associated Press—over Billy Cannon, Don Meredith and Dick Bass. He earned the honor despite playing only 20 minutes. A week earlier, his hand kept him out of the game against the Quantico Marines. Rutgers lost the contest 13–12, denying them their first perfect season and possibly costing Billy the Heisman. All told, Billy ran and passed for more than 3,000 yards in three varsity seasons, and accounted for 42 touchdowns. He was also one the top defensive backs in the East, picking off 13 passing in three seasons.

Billy was also the Scarlet Knights’ best lacrosse player, earning honorable All-America mention twice.

Though not considered a pro prospect, Billy was picked in the late rounds of the 1959 draft by the Washington Redskins. He had a three-year Air Force commitment to honor, which effectively ended any chance at an NFL career. He went into business after his stint in the military and became a successful entrepreneur and executive, including CEO of the Raleigh Bicycle Company. One of his sons, Kent, was a quarterback for Ole Miss in the 1980s and went on to have a solid career in the Canadian Football League. After coaching at Cornell, he became head coach and GM of the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2013.

In 1988, Rutgers announced the formation of its Athletics Hall of Fame. Billy was in the inaugural class, along with eight other legendary athletes. He passed away at age 78 in 2015.


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