There was a time in my life when I remembered everything. Those days are long gone, but I remember looking at a magazine with a Samoan Fullback playing at Michigan State back in about 1965, in Look Magazine, I believe. That was back even before I started following the game.
The Michigan State Spartans under legendary head coach Duffy Daugherty recruited nationwide. They had something of an underground railroad to the South bringing talented black players from South Carolina, Virginia, Texas and other areas. They had players like George Webster, Bubba Smith, Jimmy Raye and Charlie Thornhill who were Afro-Americans from the South and All Americans. The big schools in the South did not recruit black players and their only choices were to go to historically black colleges or to a few schools in the North, or in the West.
But, coach Daugherty was pretty ingenious in his recruiting methods and he didn’t stop there. Nobody else was recruiting Polynesian players. Daugherty had connections in Hawaii and recruited such
players as Charlie Wedemeyer and Bob Apisa.
Bob Apisa came to Michigan State in the 1964 recruiting class, again, way before my time of watching college football. Those years a freshman could not play on the varsity so he had to wait until the 1965 season to see some playing time.
In 1965, Apisa moved into the starting role at Fullback for the Spartans, while future first round NFL Draft pick Clinton Jones was the Tailback. Apisa was 6-1, 225 which was bigger than some linemen back in those years.
The 1965 Spartans were an excellent football team and ran through their schedule undefeated. Winning the Big 10 Title, the Spartans got the automatic Rose Bowl bid to play the UCLA Bruins the champions of the West.
Michigan State had beaten UCLA in their opening game and they were big favorites in this game. They had already been awarded the national championship by one Poll that handed out titles before bowl games were even played.
UCLA and sophomore Quarterback and future Heisman winner upset the Spartans 14-12.
Apisa was the second leading rusher for the Spartans with 715 yards rushing on 126 carries and 10 Touchdowns. Leading rusher, Clinton Jones ran for 900 yards and also 10 Touchdowns.
That 1966 Spartan team was really blessed with outstanding players. Bob Apisa was in his junior year at Michigan State and the big Fullback was the team’s third leading rusher behind Clinton Jones and Quarterback Jimmy Raye.
Jimmy Raye was not the first black quarterback, but he was definitely a pioneer with a lot of teams in America still having no black players on the roster.
The biggest stars on the rosters were seniors Bubba Smith and George Webster. But, there were
plenty of other stars and a lot of them were black. From the book Raye of Light by Tom Shanahan, 20 players on the Michigan State 1966 roster were black and 12 of those were from the South.
This team had an amazing 11 black starters and 7 of those were also from the South.
They also had white Safety Steve Garvey who was from Florida. I wrote about him earlier: Garvey
The Spartans were truly a national and a multi cultural team. Bob Apisa may have been the biggest breakthrough being the first Samoan to make a few All American teams in both 1965 and 1966.
Football was a lot different back in those years, obviously, and the Fullback was one of the more important positions in an offensive scheme. As proof, the 1968 NFL Draft had Syracuse Fullback Larry Csonka going with the Miami Dolphins with the 8th pick of the 1st round.
Chicago went with USC Fullback Mike Hull with the 16th pick of that same round and the New York Jets picked Lee White from little known Weber State with the 17th pick. In the 2nd round, the new franchise Cincinnati Bengals picked Lamar’s Fullback Tommie Smiley.
Does anyone even draft or use a Fullback, any more?
Bob Apisa was a really good Fullback. He was supposedly about 6-1, 225 and he could run both inside and outside. He wasn’t just some blocking back with no running talent. But, things didn’t end well at Michigan State for Apisa. He injured his knee and his senior season was a disaster. The team finished 3-7 and Apisa only ran for 183 yards.
Not only was football different in those days, so was the medical field and generally when a knee was severely injured a player was done with football. They did not have the technology to fix knees then as they often do today.
The Green Bay Packers still drafted Bob Apisa in the 9th round of the 1968 Draft maybe hoping he
could become the next Jim Taylor. But, Apisa never played in the NFL.
What he was able to do was become a Hollywood stuntman and an actor. He never really played anybody big and was basically a role actor. But, he made a career out of it.
Bob Apisa’s grandson, Jacob Isaia, plays for national powerhouse Las Vegas Bishop Gorman. He plays Right Tackle, but is projected as an Offensive Guard at the next level.
ESPN has Isaia as their 35th rated Offensive Guard and a 3 star recruit. Michigan State and many others are recruiting Isaia pretty hard and his list of top schools is really long. But, the Spartans really hope that grandson has a desire to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.
There are many Polynesian football players in both college football and in the NFL. But, Bob Apisa was the first All American.