Louisiana State University has become known around NFL circles as “DBU” or Defensive Back University. The Baton Rouge school has produced many solid defensive backs over the past few years. The same could be said about Vernon Parish and running backs. In fact, of the top 10 running backs in the history of the state of Louisiana, at one time, Vernon Parish running backs took up three of the top five spots on the most yards gained from scrimmage.

Louisiana State University has become known around NFL circles as “DBU” or Defensive Back University. The Baton Rouge school has produced many solid defensive backs over the past few years. The same could be said about Vernon Parish and running backs. In fact, of the top 10 running backs in the history of the state of Louisiana, at one time, Vernon Parish running backs took up three of the top five spots on the most yards gained from scrimmage.

The first of these running backs is the incomparable Cecil “The Diesel” Collins. A 1996 graduate of Leesville High School, Collins was the most dominant player in the history of Wampus Cat football, as far as yards gained on the ground.

Collins rushed for over 3,000 yards in his senior season alone, scoring 40 touchdowns as he led the Cats to the Class 4A state title game, where they fell in defeat.

Throughout his storied career, Collins made a habit to either outrun the opposition or power his way through them. At one time, he was the all-time leading rusher in the state of Louisiana, which propelled him to the first ever Mr. Louisiana Football award in 1995 and a scholarship with the LSU Tigers.

He excelled early in his career with the Tigers and eventually ended up with the Miami Dolphins in the National Football League. Though injuries and legal issues disrupted his career, Collins is remembered for his considerable talent on the field, setting the standard high for those who followed him at Leesville.

One of the backs who followed Collins onto the field at Wampus Cat Stadium in Michael “Shug” Ford. As a little boy, kids around the neighborhood often referred to Ford as “Barry Sanders” when playing. Known for his quickness and monstrous physique, Ford could make defenders look foolish as he evaded tackles and do the same as he rumbled over them.

As a sophomore, Ford rushed for almost 1,800 yards and eclipsed the 100-yard mark on several occasions, including a 300-yard performance on a muddy track late in the season.

His first two games of his junior year saw Ford eclipse the century mark with ease. But after gaining over 100 yards in the first quarter of a game against Natchitoches Central at Northwestern State’s Turpin Stadium, Ford broke his collarbone and missed the remainder of the regular season, coming back to rush for over 100 yards in a playoff loss.

During his senior season, Ford was simply phenomenal. He rushed for nearly 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns in just 12 games, going over the 200-yard mark in almost every game.

Early in the season, on a Wednesday night in Moss Bluff, Ford broke the single-game rushing record with a 335-yard performance against Sam Houston. But later, in the season finale at Tioga, he rushed for over 400 yards to break his own record, scored six touchdowns and recorded an interception on his only defensive play of the season.

In the playoffs, he rushed for 210 more yards against St. Michael. The following week, Ford ran for 299 yards in a loss at Zachary, leaving him just short of Collins’ state record of just over 3,000 yards.

Ford was a two-time all-state selection and was the runner-up for Class 4A MVP honors that season.

Ford enrolled at Louisiana State University, where he was among the top kick returners in the Southeastern Conference. He rushed for nearly 1,500 yards in his career at LSU, leaving after his junior campaign for the Chicago Bears. He is currently playing in the Canadian Football League.

Pickering has had its fair share of great running backs as well, but none more dominant than Sonny Roseborough was out of the vaunted veer attack implemented by head coach James Marcantel.

Roseborough helped lead Pickering deep in the playoffs on a number of occasions and was a multiple-time all-stater. He later took his talents to the collegiate level. He rushed for over 6,000 yards in his career and was in the top five all-time in the state when he left for the collegiate ranks.

But those three aren’t the only running backs to have an impact in Vernon Parish.

Eddie Fuller, who played at LSU and the Buffalo Bills, played at both Rosepine and Leesville during his high-school career. He began at Rosepine and moved to Leesville later in his career, where he took to the field following an injury to starter Jeff Steele.

Fuller took over the carries and worked his way to the next level, where he stood out for the Tigers, propelling his way to the NFL and the Bills, where he played in a couple of Super Bowls as teammates with quarterback Jim Kelly and wide receiver Andre Reed.

Leesville was also blessed with an immense amount of talented running backs during the early days of the program, most notably Bill Beavers, who played at Southwestern Louisiana, now known as UL-Lafayette, and Robert Pynes, Sr., who plied his wares for a little while at LSU.

Another area where Vernon Parish has produced solid players is along the offensive front.

Perhaps the greatest offensive lineman to ever come out of Vernon Parish is 16-year NFL veteran and potential Hall-of-Famer, Kevin Mawae.

Mawae and his brothers were stalwarts up front for the Wampus Cats, plowing the way for running backs for a number of years. Mawae was recruited by a number of schools, winding up at LSU, where he was an all-conference and all-American.

He later played for 16 seasons in the NFL for three teams — the Seattle Seahawks, the New York Jets and the Tennessee Titans. He was also the president of the NFL Players Association and eloquently spoke to the league following the disaster of 9/11 and the World Trade Center, asking the NFL to consider postponing games that weekend in respect of those affected by the tragedy.

The NFL listened and games were postponed until later in the season.

Recently, Mawae was among the short list of players to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Though he didn’t make the final list in his first year of eligibility, the venerable multiple-time all-Pro, Mawae should be enshrined in the years to come.

Ted Paris and Raymond Smoot were also powerhouses on the offensive line for Leesville times during their career. Paris was a two-way starter at LSU, while Smoot eventually reached the NFL for a short time.

Pickering’s Kenny Sanders and Rosepine’s Donovan Miller are a couple of more recent offensive linemen who were standouts for their respective schools. Sanders eventually played at McNeese State University, while Miller had the opportunity to play, but decided to focus elsewhere.

The remaining members of the greatest offensive players of all-time in Vernon Parish include a pair of quarterbacks, two wide receivers and a dominant placekicker/punter.

Leesville’s Zack Squyres lit up the scoreboard as a quarterback in the pass-happy days of head coach David Feaster. Squyres owns every single game and career mark passing for the Wampus Cats and is the all-time leader in most categories across Vernon Parish.

Travante Stallworth, who played wide receiver at Auburn, spent two years at Leesville as the team’s quarterback for then head coach Terrence Williams. As a junior, Stallworth became the focal point of the offense after an injury to Ford.

Stallworth responded by rushing and passing for over 1,000 yards, the only player in Vernon Parish history to achieve that status. He was an all-state selection at athlete after his junior year and led the Cats to the second round of the playoffs his senior year alongside Ford.

Though his numbers weren’t as big rushing his senior season, Stallworth still passed for nearly 1,000 yards and was an honorable mention all-stater.

Leesville has also been the beneficiary of having standout receivers during the time of Squyres and Stallworth. Two of those standouts are Le’Vander Liggins and Clinton Thurman, the two all-time leading receivers in Leesville history.

Liggins, who recently played four years as a defensive back at Louisiana Tech, was blessed to be a part of teams with both Stallworth and Squyres on it. Liggins rushed for over 1,000 yards and reeled in over 1,000 yards receiving during his senior season with Squyres tossing him the ball and was a key member of the Wampus Cat squad as a youngster with Stallworth and Ford.

Thurman is the all-time leading receiver at Leesville as Squyres’ favorite target. Thurman also owns many single-game receiving records for the Wampus Cats.

The greatest of all-time offense is rounded out by Pickering kicker/punter David Latta.

Latta owns every kicking mark in Pickering history, which included a 49-yard field goal. He later took his talents to McNeese State University, where he was a key weapon on special teams as a punter, averaging over 45 yards per punt for his career.