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Tallassee's version of the "four horsemen" in 1954.
Photo courtesy of Dan Wilbanks

From THS Tiger to Crimson Tider

By Michael Butler

Danny Wilbanks has witnessed the changing of the Tide firsthand. We’re talking about the University of Alabama football program. 

Wilbanks played for the Crimson Tide during the J.B. “Ears” Whitworth years in the 1950s and finished at the Capstone with the transition of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. The periods couldn’t have been more contrasting.

But, Wilbanks’ football career began in Tallassee where he was an all-state selection.  The 1954 team went 9-1.

“We received the Birmingham News state championship that year,” Wilbanks said. “We had some great players on that team. We had some big players for those days.”

Wilbanks on WTLS

In big, Wilbanks means 200-pounders. Wilbanks was a 200-pound full back.  J.W. Woodall was a 200-pound guard.  Tommy Higgins weighed in at 205 as a tackle. All three played in the AHSAA All-Star Game.

“Herb Chapman was our coach from Holtville," Wilbanks said of the game. "When we played Holtville that year, they had a great running back James Shaw. They were untied, unscored on and undefeated when they played us in Tallassee. We beat them 34-0.”

Seven players on the ’54 squad were all-state picks. And, seven went on to play college football.  Woodall and Higgins went on to Auburn. J.B. Ashurst went to Troy.  Jerry Golden went to Clemson. Ed Christian, Lafayette Peters and Wilbanks went to Alabama.

“It was a once in a generation type thing,” Wilbanks recalled. “And as small a town as we are, we were just fortunate to have that many guys come together. We didn’t have that many guys. We went to Lanier and they dressed about 95 to 100. We dressed 23 guys, but we had 18 that could play.”

Tallassee beat the Poets 14-6 in the season finale. The team’s only loss that year was to Valley 13-0. The Tigers were led by first year coach Charles Hattaway and beat the likes of Auburn, Opelika and Wetumpka.

Wilbanks arrived in Tuscaloosa in 1955.

“Freshmen weren’t allowed to play in those days,” he said. “We had a freshmen schedule. We had three games. My freshmen year the varsity went 0-10. You know who the quarterbacks were? Bart Starr and Albert Elmore. Of course Bart went on to be a great player in the NFL. Albert owns the State Farm Insurance Agency here in Tallassee. I see him every Tuesday at Lion’s Club.”

The wins under Whitworth were few and far between. Alabama had just four victories in three years. Wilbanks led the team in rushing and scoring in what would be Whitworth’s last year, 1957.


“That wasn’t much,” Wilbanks joked. “Coach Bryant came in the winter of ’58. This is the 60th year since Coach Bryant’s first year at Alabama. That spring he came in. I’ll never forget the first meeting we had with him. He had on this great looking suit with alligator shoes and an alligator belt. He looked like he was about eight feet tall. We were all scared to death of him. He told us, ‘We’re going to practice first-class. We’re going to play first-class. And we’re going to win with class.’ He meant every word that he said.

“Football’s changed so much in 60 years since I played, but one thing that hasn’t changed and that I see with Coach Bryant and Coach Saban is the physicality of the game and practice. Coach Bryant’s practices were physical. Coach Saban’s practices are very physical.”

Wilbanks is a season ticket holder these days for games played at Bryant-Denny Stadium with a seating capacity of more than 100,000 – a far cry from its days as a 31,000 seat facility when he wore the crimson jersey himself.

As for the resurgence of the program under Saban, Wilbanks talked about the return to dominance.

"You have to fit into the system. They don't adjust to you. You adjust to them. If you're willing to do that, you'll do well."

Today, Dr. Wilbanks is still running his dental practice on South Dubois Street in Tallassee where he has been for five decades.

“I work three days a week. I like to eat, can’t break that habit.”

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