The late Nanny Duver was noted for his Central Junior High football program that was, in effect, an incomparable farm system. CJHS helped push Lawrence High's record up among the best the nation has ever seen.
Hard-core Nanny wasn't one to spew verbal superlatives so you had to take him seriously when he said of a young John Hadl, "This kid's really gonna be SOMETHIN'!" Was he ever! LHS head coach Al Woolard drooled for a long time waiting for the kid to show up on his roster.
When John was a 1956 junior, halfbacks Hadl and Jerry Hall, fullback Doyle Schick and quarterback Donnie Wrench devastated opponents and beat everybody. With the other three gone, Hadl teamed up with quarterback Larry Hatfield, fullback Andy Graham and other backs like Phil Kipp and Marvin Pine and didn't miss a beat, helping run Lawrence's victory string (it would eventually reach 47) to 20. That squad had many standouts like Roger Scott, Dennis Cawley, John Mull and Les Nesmith. There were nights when they didn't let the opponents even breathe on Hadl.
Take that 1957 outing when LHS ripped Argentine, 57-0. Halfback Hadl was allowed by a merciful Al Woolard to handle the ball only five times. He scored on three runs, threw for a touchdown and had a long scoring canter called back by a penalty. Lawrence got three touchdowns before it ever registered a normal first down. The starters saw combat for only nine plays.
Hadl, for all his long association with KU heroes and coaches, first chose to go to Oklahoma to play for Bud Wilkinson. Then a smooth-talking KU coach with the charm of a riverboat gambler, Jack Mitchell, used a pair of his Tennessee walking horses, a jug of spiked orange juice and a long evening ride to change the picture. John says he saw Jack ride up to pick up his dad, Jess, who ran an auto shop. When they got back, the jug was about empty and Jess told John to make plans to go to KU in the fall of 1958, so he did.
Two of the greatest football backs the country has ever seen originally planned to go to OU, Charlie Hoag of Oak Park, Ill., being the other. Mitchell, who could sell cold chili to Eskimos, kept Hadl from being kidnapped. Hoag will tell you he was OU-bound until he met KU basketball icon Phog Allen. Doc sold Hoag on becoming a major two-sport star. Which he became.
Charlie got a knee wrecked in football in the fall of 1952. Hadl, who chose the number 21 because his hero Charlie had worn it from 1950-52, achieved uncountable honors and soon will have his No. 21 retired at LHS where he was so all-sport brilliant.
Thought I knew about everything about John Hadl until the guys on the Rock Chalk Sports Talk radio show here had an interview with Bill Bridges, the brilliant 1959-61 Jayhawk basketball star. Asked to name the KU player who impressed him the most, he answered, "John Hadl."
According to Bridges, John was as good as "anyone we had at the time." John was also a brilliant baseball player, by the way. But Jack Mitchell, Don Fambrough and Co. guided John into productive football channels.
Nanny Duver called that shot the first time he saw the shy, bashful kid in junior high. John Hadl has made a lot of people look just about as good with his incredible career in sports.