Bulldog greats McConathy, Sanford honored at NFF dinner

TECH TRIO:  Louisiana Tech football legend Leo Sanford (seated) and Bulldogs’ basketball great Mike McConathy (standing, left) visited with Tech football coach Sonny Cumbie (standing, right) before festivities began at the annual awards dinner hosted by the S.M. McNaughton Chapter of the National Football Foundation last Thursday night in Shreveport. (Photo by DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports)

By Doug Ireland/Journal Sports

Louisiana Tech sports luminaries Mike McConathy and Leo Sanford were saluted for lifetime accomplishment at the annual National Football Foundation S.M. McNaughton Chapter Scholar-Athlete Awards Dinner last Thursday night at East Ridge Country Club in Shreveport.

Chapter and national officials made a National Football Foundation Gold Medal presentation to Sanford, the longtime chapter president who has been on the NFF board since its creation in 1980. Sanford, a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, Ark-La-Tex Museum of Champions and the Louisiana Tech Athletic Hall of Fame, was a star center and linebacker at Shreveport’s Fair Park High School and at Louisiana Tech before becoming a Pro Bowl player in the NFL with the Chicago Cardinals and winning the 1958 NFL championship alongside Johnny Unitas for the Baltimore Colts.

He has been an active leader in Tech alumni activities and a donor to academics and athletics at the university, and has received recognition from the university for those endeavors. Sanford, 93 years old, was surrounded by Tech supporters and friends, and received a long standing ovation during the ceremony.

McConathy, whose playing days at Tech in the mid-70s earned him status among the elite players in Bulldogs history alongside greats like Mike Green, Karl Malone and Jackie Moreland, was presented the chapter’s Distinguished American Award for his far-reaching impact on high school and collegiate athletics and lifelong involvement with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Northwestern State football coach Brad Laird – a Ruston High football great and former Bearcats’ head coach — gave a stirring introduction of McConathy, who became the winningest college basketball coach in state history during his 23 seasons at Northwestern in a 39-year college coaching career. He is also a member of the Tech Athletic Hall of Fame and the Ark-La-Tex Museum of Champions, and NSU’s Hall of Distinguished Educators and N-Club Hall of Fame.

Previous Distinguished American award winners include Sanford, Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, Denny Duron, Orvis Sigler, Tim Brando, James Davison, Terry Slack, Billy Montgomery, and Ivan Smith Jr., along with McConathy’s father Johnny McConathy and the namesake of the local NFF chapter, Milton McNaughton.

Ten 2022 senior prep football scholar-athletes, nominated by their head coaches, received accolades and scholarships during the event. The 10 were Hunter Addison of North DeSoto, Green Oaks’ Fred Benjamin, Elijah Harper of Red River, Christian Jones from C.E. Byrd, West Monroe’s Blake Loring, Adam Parker of St. Mary’s in Natchitoches, Haughton’s Peyton Polk, Kam Robinson from Captain Shreve, Hayden Rolfe of Logansport and Northwood’s Mason Welch.

The event, attended by over 330 guests, culminated when North DeSoto’s Addison was announced as the McNaughton Chapter’s nominee for the National Football Foundation’s nationwide scholar-athlete of the year honor. He will be spotlighted during the 2023-24 year in the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.

Northwood’s Welch was spotlighted as the KTBS/Johnny’s Pizza House Scholar-Athlete of the Year after being nominated last fall for the 2022 NFF Scholar-Athlete Watch List. Fourteen standouts were spotlighted during Tuesday segments on the KTBS 6 and 10 p.m. sportscasts and on the station’s award-winning Johnny’s Pizza House Friday Football Fever weekly highlight show, and received a Griffin’s Game Ball in tribute to the late KTBS and KSLA news and sports personality, who served on the McNaughton Chapter’s board.

Jess Curtis was recognized as the chapter’s Coach of the Year for leading Many High School to back-to-back state championships, including an unbeaten season last fall. He is the new coach at Natchitoches Central.

Longtime Byrd High coach Mike Suggs received the chapter’s Contribution to Amateur Football Award after being introduced by former recipient Alan Carter, who hired Suggs at Byrd as offensive coordinator over 30 years ago.

Among other prior recipients are Eddie Robinson, Lee Hedges, Bert Jones, Joe Ferguson, Alton “Red” Franklin, Stan Humphries, Doug Williams, Jimmy “Chick” Childress, Rodney Guin, Broderick Fobbs, Joe Raymond Peace and Sam Goodwin.