His father was Cedar Bluff legend L.D. Bruce, who coached football and basketball at the school 20 years (1946-65). He posted a 155-47-5 record in football, including a string of 41 games without a loss and two state championships (1959, 1962). The elder Bruce was also inducted into several halls of fame, including Cherokee County, DeKalb County and the Alabama High School Hall Fame in 1994.
But there was more to L.D. Bruce than just his coaching career, something his son wanted to bring to light.
He’s done so in his new book entitled “COACH.” The work covers his father’s life growing up in Crossville, his college football days at Newberry College in South Carolina, World War II, his distinguished service at Jacksonville State University and his career as a coach and teacher at Cedar Bluff.
“My whole thing about the book was he was a coach, but he was more a teacher,” said Lynn Bruce, who played fullback and halfback for his father in the early 1960s. ”He was teaching all the time – either on the field or in the locker room. He was the kind of motivator who would get you to overachieve. He just had a way to get people to do things that they probably shouldn’t have tried to start to begin with.”
Lynn Bruce is having a book signing at the Cherokee County Historical Museum on Saturday from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Lynn Bruce said approximately 200 books are available for purchase at $15 apiece.
“It was a lot of fun to write,” Lynn Bruce said. “It’s really as much my life growing up with him as much as it is about him. I’ve got some funny stories, some sad stories, some interesting stories and some old football stories. Some of the best stories are about the best players.”
Perhaps fittingly, Lynn Bruce said he wrote the book during the college football bowl season this year. He said it took him three weeks to write and about six weeks to scan old photographs and clippings.
“Since he passed away (2000), it had been in the back of my mind that it was something I needed to do,” Lynn Bruce said. ”When mother (Eff) passed away three years ago, we cleaned out her house and I came up with all these clippings and pictures. I was able to verify a lot of facts I had remembered. Some of the games I wrote about were in some of these albums. Some of the pictures I had never seen of his high school days. I had some of his college pictures and Navy pictures. I have a picture of (former heavyweight boxing champion) Jack Dempsey (L.D. Bruce’s commanding officer) in the book. I just came across all that stuff.
“The research was all there. All I had to do was a little bit of reading and expand on all the stories.”
The son of a Chevrolet car dealer, L.D. Bruce grew up in Crossville during the Depression era. He battled rheumatic fever and had an irregular heartbeat, but those ailments didn’t stop him from taking an interest in football.
Playing center and linebacker at Crossville, L.D. Bruce was selected All-DeKalb County and All-State in 1938. He received tryouts from Alabama and Auburn, but earned a full scholarship from Newberry College in 1939.
“When he left for school, dad left on foot with his suitcase hitchhiking all the way to Newberry every year,” Lynn Bruce said. ”He would sleep in pastures and slept on service station benches. He said he used to drink a lot of water so he wouldn’t get hungry. He had to walk across Atlanta, and it always wore his shoes out, so he put cardboard in his shoes. It took him three days to get to school, but once he got there, he had room and board and was able to function.”
According to Lynn Bruce, his father was on some good football teams at Newberry, but his career was cut short by a knee injury and World War II.
“He found himself back in Crossville recuperating from the knee injury. He got to where he could get around and got bold enough and joined the Navy. He passed the physical and found himself several months later in San Diego. Jack Dempsey was his commanding officer.”
While in the Navy, L.D. Bruce was in a commando unit that specialized in underwater combat. Bruce re-injured his knee during training and was given a medical discharge.
But that didn’t stop L.D. Bruce from serving his country. After recuperating in Crossville, he went down to the Gadsden Coast Guard office and enlisted in the Coast Guard.
“He passed a physical again and went through another basic training,” Lynn Bruce said. “They ended up sending him down to Florida to ride a horseback patrol, and that’s where he stayed until the end of the war.”
Following the war, L.D. Bruce decided to continue his football days.
“My mother suggested they go down to Jacksonville and see about continuing his career,” Lynn Bruce said. “Coach Dizzy Dillon was reorganizing the football program, and dad wound up being captain of Jacksonville State’s first team after World War II. That was amazing after all that. I think they had a small unit of returning veterans, but he was the first veteran to sign up for classes at Jacksonville.”
Following his stint at Jacksonville State, L.D. Bruce came to Cedar Bluff in 1946. Lynn Bruce was born in 1947, and picks up the book from his account as a manager for his father in the first grade.
“I was the only first grader with homework because I had to be on the field for practice every day,” Lynn Bruce recalls. “I remember the players, but I wasn’t quite old enough to tell a lot of stories about the games. From mid-1964, I was pretty observant. I was either a player or manager or second-string player. Out of 63 ball games, we lost one game in that period. We tied twice. The 1959 team, outscored their opponents 400-19. Harry Tucker, who recently went into the Cherokee County Sports Hall of Fame, caught 14 touchdown passes, and this was from a running-type of offense. He was selected to the All-State team. They ended up going undefeated and were selected Class 1A state champions. Dad was also selected that year Class 1A Coach of the Year.”
Lynn Bruce said his father’s coaching method was a simple one.
“The secret of our success was Dad knew how to teach guys how to block and tackle. I talk about that in the book. He had a 2x12 he used to teach guys how to keep their feet apart. He’d make them straddle the board. When they gave the signal count, they’d butt heads and their feet would be churning. If a guy ever put his feet together, he would step on the board and the other guy would drive him right off. If you got under the other guy, you could raise him up and drive him back.”
Stories on players such as Jim Bouchillon, David Bedwell, Boyd McHugh and Faris Anthony are inside the book. One of Lynn Bruce’s favorites involves Bouchillon and Bedwell.
“We always had a fierce competition against Gaston every year,” Lynn Bruce said. “They came up one year and had a strong team. Jim was a senior and David was a junior. On the first play, dad flanked Jim all the way out to the sideline. One guy came over to cover him. I was on the sideline in the 10th grade that year, and I looked and saw this little guy trying to cover Jim. I thought ‘This is going to be good. Jim’s going to kill this guy.’
“David stepped back and fired the ball over to him. He took off and run over that guy and ran 50 yards for a touchdown. Shortly after that, we got the ball back about the same position on the field. Jim flanked out on the field, and two little guys came over to cover him. I thought ‘This is going to be even better.’ David threw the ball over and Jim ran over both of them and went for another 50-yard touchdown. We run two offensive plays and already had them 14-0.
“Unbelievably, still in the first quarter, we got the ball back. David got the ball, stepped back and threw it over to Jim. Three little guys were over there to cover him. Jim stepped forward, then stepped back and threw 50-yard touchdown pass to the end coming across from the other side and we scored another touchdown. Three plays, three touchdowns. We ended up winning the game 33-0.”
The game’s result frustrated the Bulldogs so much that damage was done to the Tiger visitor dressing room door.
“Dad told me the coach from Gaston called the next day and apologized. We lived at the end of the football field, and I asked Dad that night walking home why he didn’t let us go in the game. He said the more we scored, the madder they got, and he was afraid some of the young guys might get hurt. That’s why he kept the older guys in there. That’s the only time I’ve known him to run up the score on somebody. When you only have 16 or 18 players, there’s not a lot of substituting you can do.”
The latter part of the book lists L.D. Bruce’s awards and achievements, as well as copies of letters from legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, former Alabama governor Fob James, and former Jacksonville State University presidents Earnest Stone and Houston Cole.
“It was really a significant career,” Lynn Bruce said. “It’s amazing I remembered all these things. Some things, like his coaching techniques and those things, are things I witnessed for 12 years. There wasn’t any research in that. It was all in my head. All I had to do was take the time to write it down and organize it. Once I got the outline, it was just sitting down and writing. You could make a movie about his early years, not to mention Cedar Bluff as a coach and teacher.”