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Henry Wakefield (American football)

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Henry Wakefield (American football)

Henry Wakefield
No. 14     Vanderbilt Commodores
Wakefield in 1922
Nickname(s) "Hek"
Date of birth: (1899-02-10)February 10, 1899
Place of birth: Petersburg, Tennessee
Date of death: November 19, 1962(1962-11-19) (aged 63)
Career information
Position(s): End / Fullback
Height: 5 ft 10 in (178 cm)
Weight: 180 lb (82 kg)
College: Vanderbilt
High school: Fitzgerald & Clarke School
As coach:
1925–1928 Vanderbilt (Assistant)
As player:
1921–1924 Vanderbilt
Career highlights and awards


  • 3 Southern (1921, 1922, 1923)


Henry Smith "Hek" Wakefield (February 10, 1899 – November 19, 1962) was an American football player and track athlete who was an All-American end for the Vanderbilt Commodores football team of Vanderbilt University.

Early years

Henry was born on February 10, 1899 in Petersburg, Tennessee to Samuel S. T. Wakefield and Lula Dyer. Samuel owned a sawmill in Petersburg. Every morning he went to the mill to fire up the steam boilers, then came home for breakfast. Family legend says that one morning, he fired up the boilers, stepped back to take a look at them, and one exploded, scalding him horribly. He supposedly crawled home, where he died from his burns a few days later.[1]

College football

Wakefield played for coach Dan McGugin's Vanderbilt Commodores from 1921 to 1924.[2] He was a prominent member of Commodores teams that compiled a win-loss-tie record of 26–5–4 (.800) over his four seasons, and was an All-Southern selection in 1923 and 1924.[2] The Commodores won three conference titles over this span, including their most recent one to date. He played fullback and end, as well as kicker for extra points and field goals. Wakefield was in the same graduating class as All-American Vanderbilt end Lynn Bomar, with whom he attended preparatory school. They both followed their coach Wallace Wade to Vanderbilt, where as an assistant coach under McGugin his teams went 15–0–2.


Wakefield starred in the Sewanee game to finish his freshman year. The Commodores closed the undefeated season winning 9 to 0 in the "muddiest game" in its history.[3] The Commodores were supposedly knee-deep in mud and water,[4] with players unrecognizable.[5] The touchdown for Vandy came after Hek had a punt of 54 yards. A fumble was recovered by Pos Elam, which ultimately resulted in a 5-yard touchdown run from Wakefield. Wakefield kicked his own extra point.[6]


Wakefield was the starting fullback and kicker for the undefeated 1922 team. Hek was thus a starter for the scoreless tie with Michigan at the dedication of Dudley Field. In the game against Texas at the Texas State Fair, which Vanderbilt won 20 to 10, the Commodores' first score came after Wakefield recovered a fumble by Texas' Franklin Stacy on a punt return, at the 25-yard line.[7] Wakefield also blocked a Texas field goal attempt that day. Hek made an 18-yard field goal in a 9 to 0 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats.[8] A trick play which resulted in a touchdown thrown from Doc Kuhn to Lynn Bomar against Sewanee was set up by a 33-yard punt return by Wakefield.[9] Vanderbilt won 26 to 0, finishing the year as Southern champions.[10][11] Hek made seven extra points this year.


During the 1923 season, in a close loss of 3 to 0 against eventual Southern ends. Vanderbilt and Washington & Lee would finish the season as co-champions of the Southern Conference. A poll of sportswriters elected the Commodores as best team in the south, awarding them the Pickens trophy.[14][15][16]

Brother Jack

In a postseason contest played for the benefit of local charitable institutions, Vanderbilt played a cast of Princeton varsity stars on December 8. Among the stars were Stan Keck, Frank Murrey, Hank Garrity, John P. Gorman, Ralph Gilroy, A. Barr Snively and Herb Treat.[17] It was the first showcase of Eastern football in Nashville in many years.[18] The Commodores would tie the Ex-Tigers, 7-7. Both scores occurred within five minutes of each other.

The one player on Vanderbilt's roster not from the 1923 varsity team was Hek's younger brother Robert Allen "Jack" Wakefield. He was a highly renowned back of the freshman team; "One would hardly be wrong in calling Jack Wakefield, Vanderbilt fullback, the greatest player in Southern freshman football for the past season."[19] It would be the only game he ever played with a varsity team at Vanderbilt. He soon left to play professional baseball with the Saint Louis Cardinals. Jack twice broke his leg in preliminary work with the Cardinals,[20] leaving him out for the season. On December 10, 1924, after a quarrel with his fiancee, Jack went to the house of a friend in Memphis and committed suicide with a pistol.[21][22] By all accounts he played an inspired game, "he cut an all Princeton line into shreds of Black and Orange. He threw all America tackles aside as he would throw sacks of straw, and trampled great names into the turf."[23] Then Centre head coach Charley Moran called Jack "the greatest football player I ever saw, barring nobody."[24]


Image from the Vandy-Marines game. Hek is far right.

Fred Russell's Fifty Years of Vanderbilt Football dubs this "the most eventful season in the history of Vanderbilt football." Vanderbilt opened Hek's senior season in the rain on September 27, 1924 against Henderson-Brown at Dudley Field in Nashville, winning by a score of 13 to 0. Wakefield scored both touchdowns. The first came after captain and guard Tuck Kelly blocked a punt, the other on a pass into the end zone from quarterback Nig Waller.[3] In the game with the Quantico Marines, Vanderbilt was stymied by a 13 to 13 tie. A newspaper account describes Vanderbilt's first score:

"It was Lynn Bomar's gigantic figure that broke up what looked like a Marine cakewalk. After receiving the kickoff, the Marines drove steadily to Vanderbilt's 10-yard line as Goettge repeatedly completed short passes. At the 10, Groves dropped back. The pass from center was low. He missed it. He reached for the ball. It trickled off his fingers. The Commodores were boring in. Wakefield was in there. Then Bomar came charging through. He picked up the ball and with a twist was out of Groves' grasp. He came out of the bunch with a long, charging run. Then he seemed a little undecided. One fleeting glance behind him and he struck out. Up came his free arm to brush off his headgear. His thin, yellow hair stood out. On he swept like a thundercloud of vengeance across the goal. Bedlam broke loose."[3] To open the second half, Waller fumbled the kickoff. The Marines recovered and were already near the goal.  The Commodores' line held the Marines scoreless inside the 10-yard line on three separate occasions, mostly due to Wakefield, Bob Ledyard, and Jess Keene.[3]

As an interim team captain following the loss of both Kelly and Bomar to injuries, he scored twice in the Commodores' 13–0 win over the [2] He also played every minute of an inspired game against Minnesota, resulting in Vanderbilt's first win over a Northern school: "Wakefield chose his plays with excellent judgement. His tackling forced the Gophers frequently to take time out , and he repeatedly threw Minnesota back for losses" reported the Nashville Tennessean.[25] The final game with Sewanee saw the Tigers win for the first time in years, 16 to 0. In the first few minutes of play, Wakefield suffered a broken leg, yet played ten minutes thereon before hobbling to the bench, joining Kelly and Bomar.[3] Following his senior season, he was recognized as a consensus first-team All-American, having received first-team honors from International News Service (INS) and Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA), and second-team honors from Collier's Weekly (Walter Camp).[26]

Edwin Pope's Football's Greatest Coaches tells us this story about coach Henry Russell "Red" Sanders: "Or if you knew him back when, you might have been with him some 2:00 A. M., when he'd telephone old Vanderbilt hero Heck Wakefield, disguise his voice, and insist that Wakefield buy an insurance policy–at such length that Wakefield finally ripped his telephone from the wall."[27]

Coaching career

After graduating from Vanderbilt, Wakefield became an assistant coach under McGugin from 1925 to 1928.[28] He coached the ends.

See also


  1. ^ "Rootsweb". 
  2. ^ a b c Vanderbilt Football 2014 Fact Book, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, pp. 125, 137, 142, 151 (2014). Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Russell, Fred, and Maxwell Edward Benson. Fifty Years of Vanderbilt Football. Nashville, TN, 1938, p. 42, 67
  4. ^ "Vanderbilt Wins From Sewanee In Final Quarter, 9-0". Augusta Chronicle. November 25, 1921. 
  5. ^ "Vanderbilt 9, Sewanee 0.". Morning Oregonian. November 25, 1921. 
  6. ^ "Final Period Rally Wins for Old Vandy". Charlotte Observer. November 25, 1921. 
  7. ^ "Big Gains Are Made On Punts And Wide Runs In Dallas Game." Fort Worth Star Telegram 22 Oct. 1922: 14.
  8. ^ "Wildcats Lose Hard Fought Game To Vandy Eleven At Nashville". The Kentucky Kernel. November 17, 1922. 
  9. ^ "Sewanee Loses To Vanderbilt, 26-0". The Sewanee Purple. December 14, 1922. 
  10. ^ Grantland Rice (November 24, 1922). "The Sportlight: Football Alphabet". The Boston Daily Globe. 
  11. ^ e.g. "Vanderbilt Team Only Undefeated Eleven In South". The Washington Post. December 2, 1922. ; "Few Titles Changed Hands During 1922". The Washington Post. December 31, 1922. ; "No Outstanding Football Eleven During The Year." New Castle News 27 Dec. 1922: 17.; Farrell, Henry. "Sports Kings That Kept Crown." Middletown Daily Herald 31 Dec. 1922: 6.
  12. ^ "Wakefield Star On Vandy Team". The Kingsport Times. November 27, 1923. 
  13. ^ Ed Hebert (October 27, 1923). "Tulanians Await Starting Whistle For Vandy Battle". Times-Picayune. 
  14. ^ "Wolf Pack, U.C. Grid-Game Held Season Feature". Nevada State Journal. December 3, 1923. 
  15. ^ Walter Eckersall (December 30, 1923). "6 Grid Teams Undefeated In 1923 Season". Chicago Daily Tribune. 
  16. ^ cf. "Champions of 1923". Boston Daily Globe. December 30, 1923. 
  17. ^ "Vanderbilt Ties With All-Star Princeton Team". Springfield Republican. December 9, 1923. 
  18. ^ "Vandy Eleven Ties Ex-Tigers By 7 To 7 Score". Chicago Daily Tribune. December 9, 1923. 
  19. ^ Ben A. Green (December 6, 1923). "Ben Green Selects All-Southern Freshie Team". Times-Picayune. 
  20. ^ Keene, Jack (April 8, 1924). "Spotlights On Sport". Torrance Herald. 
  21. ^ "Ball Player Kills Self". Cleveland Plain Dealer. December 12, 1924. 
  22. ^ Fred Russell. Bury Me In An Old Press Box: Good Times And Life Of A Sportswriter. p. 46. 
  23. ^ "Jack Wakefield Was Mythical Son of a Past Era". Commercial Appeal. Oct 16, 1938. 
  24. ^ Rice, Grantland (September 15, 1949). "Charlie Was Versatile Fellow". The Roundup Record Tribune. 
  25. ^ William L. Traughber. Vanderbilt Football: Tales of Commodore Gridiron History. p. 83. 
  26. ^ 2014 NCAA Football Records Book, Award Winners, National Collegiate Athletic Association, Indianapolis, Indiana, pp. 5 & 17 (2014). Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  27. ^ Edwin Pope. Football's Greatest Coaches. p. 209. 
  28. ^ The Commodore, Vanderbilt yearbook. 1926, page 110.

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