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Joe Echols

Sport: Football

Born: March 23, 1917

Died: March 28, 1977

Town: Englewood

Joseph Grady Echols was born March 23, 1917 in Athens, GA and grew up in Englewood. A superb all-around athlete with great speed and leaping ability to go with a solid build and powerful left arm, Joe was usually the best player on the field or court regardless of the sport. He enrolled at St. Cecilia’s High School in 1932 and within a year he began transforming the school’s sports program. Joe teamed with Saints captain Pat Carney to give football coach Nat Pierce an awesome one-two punch in the backfield. Joe played safety on defense. He was superstitious about the number 11; regardless of the sport, the numbers on his uniform had to add up to 11.

In a 1934 game against Emerson, Joe fielded a punt on his—you guessed it—11-yard line with under a minute left and St. Cecilia’s down 6–0. He juked his way through the coverage team and exploded into the end zone to salvage a tie game. Joe was named to the All-State squad in his senior season. Joe was also the star of St. echolsheadlineCecilia’s baseball and basketball teams—some games he outscored all of his teammates combined—and was so dominant in track that the school made him coach of the team as a senior in 1936. The previous year at the New Jersey prep track & field championships, he set new state schoolboy records in the 100-yard dash (10.3 seconds) and the 220-yard dash (22.9 seconds). He reduced his time in the 100 to 10.0 flat before he graduated.The world record at that time was 9.5 seconds.


St. Cecilia’s had a connection with Fordham University, serving as a sort of incubator for football coaches. A recent grad named Vince Lombardi occasionally helped out with the football squad and formed a lifelong friendship with Joe. Lombardi would end up coaching the Saints, as well as teaching chemistry, physics and Latin at St. Cecilia's. By then, Joe had graduated and was attending Virginia State University. In 1939, he gave up his senior year of sports eligibility and spent a couple of weeks with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League. The Eagles Echols1950sknew about him from the semipro ball he played in the summer. Joe appeared in a few games in center field and was a teammate of future stars Charlie Biot, Monte Irvin, Leon Day, and Max Manning—like Joe, all in their early 20s. Joe also suited up for that fall for the semipro Teaneck Reds as their quarterback. He also began his career as a basketball referee; eventually becoming President of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials. During World War II, Joe served in the Air Force and attained the rank of First Lieutenant. After the war, he earned a Masters degree in Physical Education at NYU.

In 1950, Joe was hired as the head football coach at Morehouse College in Atlanta. After five so-so seasons he moved over to Norfolk State and won a pair of conference title with the Spartans, in 1957 and 1959. He relinquished the coaching reins after the 1960 season and became the school’s athletic director, and singlehandedly built the school’s successful men’s and women’s sports programs. Joe did so in part by creating a pipeline of talent from the NY-Metro area to the university, which continues to this day.

Joe stayed in touch with Vince Lombardi during the coach’s brilliant career with the Packers, and did a little bird-dogging for his old friend from time to time. Whenever the Lombardis traveled south, they stayed with Joe and his wife. When the Washington Redskins hired Lombardi in 1969, one of his first moves was to put Joe on the payroll as a scout. In the early spring of 1977, Joe suffered a heart attack and passed away at the age of 60. In 1982, the school named its new basketball arena in his memory.


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