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Myth Becomes Legend – The 1992 East Forsyth State Champs – Part 1

East Forsyth

Welcome to….The Rundown. This week, Part 1 of possibly the best High School football team I’ve ever seen with my own eyes…the 1992 State Champion East Forsyth Eagles. The team would finish 15-0 and nationally ranked. Lets take a look back through those that were living the dream season from the front row. 

Part 1 – East Forsyth looks for Redemption

The year is 1991. December. The East Forsyth Eagles, from Kernersville NC are in the State 4A Semifinals vs State powerhouse West Charlotte. The Eagles, who made the Quarterfinals the year prior in 1990 under longtime coach Perry Pearson, were in their first year under new coach Joe Bill Ellender. Ellender had been on the Eagles football staff since 1978 as an assistant. In his first season, Ellender had led the talented Eagles a step closer to their goal. But West Charlotte would be too much for the Eagles  this evening. 

West Charlotte would defeat East Forsyth in the 1991 State Semifinals 37-12. The Eagles would use this game as motivation going into the 1992 season. 

Joe Bill Ellender, Head Coach

We knew that we were very close in 1991 to winning a State Championship. We had a couple of untimely fumbles that ended up being the difference in the game. West Charlotte was a very good team and when you play at your opponents field you must play very solid. I think that with a couple of big breaks…we could have won it all in 91. 

Juan Davis, Senior, Strong Safety/Running Back

The loss to West Charlotte in 1991, was really instrumental and the driving force behind our burning desire to be crowned state champions the following year (1992). We felt we had a couple of bad calls and untimely turnovers early in the game that caused us to lose our composure and ultimately the game. We were also not enamored with the defensive game plan because it got away from what we had done all season. 

Marquis “Bam” Scales, Senior, Halfback/Defensive Back

After that loss (to West Charlotte), we told each other that we would be back next year. If I am not mistaken, we started a 7 on 7 that spring for next season. 

Talmadge “TK” Alexander, Senior, Nosetackle

The West Charlotte game was a very tough loss for us and gave us a desire to work out harder during the off-season. We actually ran plays during the spring to help us get more familiar with one another. That time was valuable as we got to learn more about each other, our strengths and weaknesses and challenged each other to get better in those practices as well as in the weight room. We had West Charlotte penciled in to play during the season or in the playoffs. 

Dog Days of Summer

East Forsyth

Dog Days of Summer at East Forsyth in 1992

Practice began for the 1992 season in the dog days of summer in late July/Early August. East Forsyth gathered in Kernersville to begin the long trek to Chapel Hill in December. The team collectively had a goal. 

Michelle Clayton, Junior, Student-Athletic Trainer

There was just a feeling of “we have been there” from the start of practice. From their attention to detail, everyone took things seriously. Yes it was hot, but that is summer days in NC. Coach Vogler and Coach Mills I always looked to as our motivators. Coach Mills was the “yeller and screamer” in practice. He got crazy excited. Coach Vogler was the more insightful coach. He always had a good pre-game motivational speech. 

David Wadford, Junior, Defensive End/Wing Back

Practices were always brutal in August. The heat, humidity, mixed with 2 a day practices will make any teenage kid a bit tough skinned. The coaches were hard on all of us, they expected greatness. We had very vocal Seniors. 

Talmadge “TK” Alexander

This was the hottest summer for practice I’ve been in until that point. Everyone lost weight then. I lost about 10 pounds at that time but gained most of it back. My goal was to get heavier and stay there since I was in the middle of the defensive line but I ended up playing at 195 lbs that season. We all made it a team goal to win the State Championship. It was intense as some of us (me) would get into fights and arguments on the practice field only to makeup during or after practice. The coaches seem to be more focused as well. I think we were just as hard on each other as the coaches were. 

Coach Joe Bill Ellender

We knew we had the ingredients of an excellent team as long as we did not get any major injuries and the players stayed focused on team success and not individual glory. We had several outstanding players who were great leaders and were very unselfish players. Athletic ability was obvious, but maintaining focus for a 15 game schedule was paramount to winning a state championship. Winning does not happen without everyone buying into the Team Concept. If the coaches have done a great job of preparing the players each week, it is obvious in their performance on Friday nights. 

Juan Davis

The early practices were extremely hot but we were enthused and excited so the heat didn’t bother us. We knew we would be talented because we had 7 players…myself, Aaron Lyczinski, James Clyburn, Gary Wadford, Tony Sanders, Marquis Scales and Rodney Funderburke that had all started on Varsity since we were sophomores and each year we made it one step further in the playoffs than the previous year. We were talented and we knew we had what it took to be real contenders in the state. We had 18 seniors starting and we had 22 players on our team to make at least one honorable mention all conference. I don’t think that has ever been done since. 

We also knew we had one of the greatest quarterbacks to come thru the city by the name of Joe Lagarde and with another year in the system and confidence in his teammates, the sky was the limit. 

Leaders emerge

Leaders began to emerge from the pack in those hot days leading up to the Week 1 matchup vs Parkland.

East Forsyth

All Conference Offensive Tackle James Clyburn became a vocal leader of the veteran Eagles squad in 1992

David Wadford

The ones that stand out as our leaders were Juan Davis and Tony Sanders on defense and the quiet monsters that anchored both ends of our offensive line, James Clyburn and my brother Gary Wadford. 

Juan Davis

We wanted it bad and many of us shaved our heads for the season as a sign of solidarity and brotherhood. Practices were intense and extremely physical and we felt if we worked hard in practice, the games would come easy, and in most instances they did. I was extremely vocal and a leader especially of the defense. Tony Sanders, Rod Funderburke, and Marquise Bam Scales, who was my cousin and had played on the same team with me since we were 8 years old were also very vocal on defense. Joe (Lagarde) was the captain of the ship on offense and James Clyburn and Gary Wadford were also very vocal leaders as well. 

Talmadge “TK” Alexander

As seniors, we all provided leadership as well as Joe Lagarde, Scott Munsie, Woody Good and Rod Funderburke. 

Michelle Clayton

Joe Lagarde was the quiet leader. He clearly did a great job in the huddle and controlling the field but you never heard him. Gary Wadford and James Clyburn were the BEASTS of the line. No one questioned them ever, everyone just worked hard. 

The Charlotte “Hurdle”

For years now, there had been a sense that Triad teams could not compete with Charlotte Schools in the State playoffs, a sentiment that has survived to this very day. The players for East Forsyth in 1992 were aware of the thought…but they didn’t back away from it. They relished the opportunity to prove the thought wrong. 

Talmadge “TK” Alexander

No…we knew we could play with them (Charlotte schools) and beat them as we beat West Charlotte in 1990 when they were the #1 team in the state and had Brian Knuckles…who was arguable the #1 back in the nation when I was in 10th grade. He ended up with 170+ yards on the ground but we beat them in West Charlotte. Seems like the Charlotte Schools had a resurgence around 1995-96 when the Panthers arrived in town. 

Juan Davis

We took it one game at a time and knew that we eventually wanted to settle the score with West Charlotte but fortunately for them, they got upset. We felt we could compete with anybody state wise as well as with anyone in the country so there was never a doubt about us beating Charlotte teams. 

Michelle Clayton

I do believe we wanted West Charlotte in order to get redemption and leave no doubt. Northern Durham was the team in the state that year though. They were ranked nationally (USA Today) and I think we all knew that they were going to be the team to beat. 

Idols become Rivals

 East Forsyth had other rivals within closer proximity however…

Coach Joe Bill Ellender

Our rivalry for many years was Greensboro Page. Our conference for many years only consisted of one other Forsyth County school and that was North Forsyth. Greensboro Page had a long string of successful seasons and was a consistent challenger for the Conference Championship as well as State Championship. 

David Wadford

Our biggest rival if I can remember correctly then was Page. Page was always on top of the Metro 4A and usually our last conference game. In 1992, things were different. Now High Schools can recruit and gather quite some talent. It wasn’t that way then. We knew we could compete with anybody. We had the size, speed and talent to be the best. 

Juan Davis

Rivalry Wise? Carver is always considered because of proximity and we were in the same conference, as well as Greensboro Page. West Forsyth was always tough and knocked me out of the playoffs my sophomore year so they were always tough. We took it one game at a time though. 

Talmadge “TK” Alexander

The Seniors asked Bum (Bumgarder) who was the athletic director back then, if we could play a select list of top 4A teams like Wilmington New Hanover, Greenville Rose, South View, West Charlotte, Asheville High and Richmond County. Bum made calls to them and none of them said they wanted to play us during the preseason. We had to play our original preseason schedule of Parkland, West Forsyth, and Reynolds. We had West Forsyth, Carver and Page penciled in as “revenge games”. West Forsyth beat us in the State Quarterfinals in the 1990 season, Carver beat us during the 1991 regular season and Page, just because they were Page. 

Week 1 – Parkland

The first game of the 1992 season started with a 22-8 win over Parkland. The game featured Parkland’s star Tight End Cuncho Brown, who would go on to play College Football at Penn State. 

Coach Joe Bill Ellender

It was a typical opening game where we wanted to play well but it was so early in the season that we were probably still fatigued from all the preseason work and we were prone to mistakes that stopped drives and prevented us from a great opening game showing. Early in the season you want to gain experience against other players and schemes and develop depth and who we can count on to make a big play when needed. It is a maturation process that takes time to work out all the kinks.

Juan Davis

The Parkland game was a good tough opener and they pushed us. I was friends with a lot of those guys and even had cousins that played for them. They hit hard and played hard and although the score was 22-8, it was a lot closer than the score would indicate. It helped us to really see what we needed to work on and shore up for the Championship run. 

Talmadge “TK” Alexander

The thing that stood out to me about this game was that we shuffled players in and out the game as we didn’t have the right combination on offense and defense. Cuncho Brown would catch a TE dump pass (seam pass) get up  and celebrate then get a 15 yard penalty for excessive celebration. We found a groove on offense and won that one. It was warm that game. We talked about what needed to happen and made changes. 

David Wadford

The Parkland game, two things stick out to me. One, I caught my first pass in an organized football game. Second, Steve Vines, who was the starting Defensive End was injured and I was put in as first string. It was very warm, lots of cramping up and both teams showed their early season rust. 

Week 2 – West Forsyth – “The Run”

East Forsyth

East Forsyth QB Joe Lagarde in action vs West Forsyth

The second game of the year was a 32-27 win over cross county rival West Forsyth. Many people point to this game, and the State Championship, as the two closest games East Forsyth would have all season. The game would become known for “The Run”, where Eagles QB Joe Lagarde would scamper late in the game eluding multiple West Forsyth defenders, some more than once, to score the deciding touchdown. 

Coach Joe Bill Ellender

We did not always play well at West Forsyth in the previous years and when both teams point to a game as a “Season Maker” there is a lot of pressure to win and perform. West Forsyth was an excellent team and they kept coming back after we had taken a slim lead. They had great players and were well coached and that makes for a tough Friday night in Clemmons. Joe Lagarde made “The Run” as we referred to it in East Forsyth Football folklore…where he eluded almost every player on the West team once and a couple twice, before he dove in the End Zone. The play was viewed so many times that it became legendary to the people who saw it. Great players make great plays and that is what happened in that instance. 

David Wadford

West Forsyth. What a game, again very warm. I think almost everybody suffered from cramping up. Lee Brush, the West Forsyth quarterback, was a heck of a player and leader. Both teams moved the ball fairly well. I can remember watching film on this game and watching Joe’s run at the end of the game. I think we counted everyone on the West Forsyth team had one shot at him and a few had two shots. It being labeled “The Run” we all saw a bit of the greatness Joe had in him and won a very tough fought game. 

Juan Davis

The West game was a nail biter and it’s simply known for “The Run” by Joe Lagarde. He ran the game winning touchdown with under a minute to go and some of the defensive players had two chances to tackle him but he would not be denied. We were also killed with a lot of penalties, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but we knew we were too talented to be giving up that amount of points. 

Michelle Clayton

This was an absolutely electric game from the start. We were at West and my goodness we (East Forsyth) have a HUGE crowd there. I remember the cheerleaders being so involved and this was truly when Eagle Country began the HUGE backing of the team. I would be remiss if I didn’t take time to mention my Mom (Gail Clayton) at this point. This woman was the TEAM Mom no doubt. She had to be at the bus before we left for pregame to give hugs to her guys. They were all her sons. I am sure there are several, and most importantly Joe that will back this up. She was one of the main people in charge of the game program (selling ads, having it printed each week, cover, etc), she got the t-shirts and then the sweatshirts done and sold. I have never really thought about it much but she was a HUGE instrumental piece to that team/program. She cried after every win, I mean every single one. She had her rosary in her hand for every single game. 

Week 3 – Reynolds

Week 3 saw an offensive explosion from East Forsyth as they defeated RJ Reynolds 49-17. The Eagles were 3-0. 

Talmadge “TK” Alexander

Practice that week was business as usual. We started to get in our groove with who was playing where and the contributing underclassmen like Rahim, AC, William Butler, Curtis Wilks, Jerry Hooper, etc got more familiar with our offense and defense. we also continued to bond with them in the locker room. Reynolds had Chris McCoy who ended up playing tailback at Wake Forest, and Jomo Leggins who played safety at UNC. They didn’t have much else on offense or defense. We settled in and played our butts off. We were flying from sideline to sideline that night. 

Juan Davis

The next game against Reynolds, we welcomed back our brother Jomo Leggins, because he had moved and transferred to Reynolds. We started to see we were a special group and continued to improve. The touchdowns vs our defense were trick plays and I also picked off a pass that game and took it back. We knew what we were capable of on defense and it was starting to take shape. The offense was also starting to click on all cylinders as well. We were wanting shutouts and to totally dominate you while bringing pain. We all wanted to make the crowd “Oooh” and “Ahhh” from a big hit or big play and you could just see it take shape. Our Offensive line and Defensive line were big and physical and would just impose their will. We set a state record for interceptions that year with 30 and big plays came in every phase of the game, offense, defense and well as special teams. 

David Wadford

The pregame meals at First Methodist Church in Kernersville were great. We all sat, ate and talked as a team. We were always a loose group. Having fun, joking around. We had a sense of business as usual once the lights came on but we were all still teenagers and liked to have some fun when we could. So many memories…..

Week 4 – Greensboro Smith

East Forsyth, entering conference play in the Metro 4A, were rolling at this point. A dominant performance vs Greensboro Smith resulted in a 42-7 victory. The local media was slowly starting to find out about this veteran group in Kernersville. 

Coach Joe Bill Ellender

The Piedmont Area knew that we had a good team but we had not reached the great team status because we were still early in the season. It is important that you prove yourself every Friday night and not just when you are playing a rival or top-tier team. Our players knew the importance of being at their best on every Friday night  and not just occasionally. This was not a young team….we had many Seniors (18 starting) and they had already finished 3rd in the state in 1991 as juniors. We were a veteran team with plenty of experience in high pressure games and situations. 

Talmadge “TK” Alexander

We continued to gel on and off the field as well as getting better with film study. Film study made a huge difference in preparation from week to week. Otherwise this game was similar to the Reynolds game where our talent, game preparation, fearlessness and togetherness showed. The AP Top 10 still had the usual teams for 4A like New Hanover, Richmond County, etc. The media coverage was very little for us at this time.

East Forsyth

East Forsyth had one goal in mind in 1992. Bigger, Faster, Stronger.

Michelle Clayton

I can remember rushing to be able to watch Rich Brenner and Friday Football Fever. It was crazy. My entire family and Gary Wadford would be in the family room watching. The area/state was on the lookout for the Eagles for sure. Media coverage had started to increase and we were ranked in the state. I can remember making sure we bought the Winston-Salem Journal, Greensboro News and Record on Saturdays so that we could read all of the coverage. I can’t remember off the top of my head but maybe Tuesday or Wednesday we would get the Raleigh News and Observer for the state rankings for that week. 

Week 5 – South Stokes

The Eagles destroy an out-manned South Stokes team, 48-3. At this point East Forsyth is 5-0 on the season and in 1st place in the Metro 4A. 

David Wadford

The offense was clicking on all cylinders and our defense was beginning to show its strength and power. The team unity was starting to come together. We played as a group, a team, every person knowing their role. There were no selfish players on this team.

Michelle Clayton

Gary Wadford got injured in this game when after a play in a pile one of the South Stokes players stood up and stomped on his ankle. It was a super ugly sprain and it was day-to-day for a while. I remember at this point, David Wadford was playing unreal football, which was incredible because it was his first year playing. He was a tremendous athlete. 

Coach Joe Bill Ellender

South Stokes did not have the same quality of athletes at this time as East Forsyth. We were bigger, faster, stronger. In the Weight room during the season and off-season, this was one of my mottos for our players. We wanted to be bigger, faster, stronger than all of our opponents. We were starting to gel as a unit at this time and if I remember correctly at one point in time we went about three weeks and did not have to punt the football. Our defense was playing well and we felt like we could move the football on everyone on our schedule. 

Talmadge “TK” Alexander

Scott Munsie and I…we traded Neumann gloves as he had a pair of black ones and I had white ones. We said that we would trade back after the game if we lost…but we kept winning. I still have the gloves to this day. We would always sing on the bus to away games in the regular season which was hilarious! Jodeci, Boyz II Men, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc. We called our stadium “The Terrordome” before the season started and tried to act that out the best we could. We did have players from opposing teams that came up to us after games telling us that they were scared of us because of how hard we hit on film. 

Juan Davis

The bond was unreal and the love and respect I have for those guys is like none other. 

Marquis “Bam” Scales

There was one instance that to this day stands out very strong which even made some of us if not all even closer. It was one day after school and we had went and ate at the church in Kernersville. We would still have some free time before we had to be back at the school before the game. There were about three cars heading down the hill on Linville Road going towards Hwy 158 and one of the cars, which was  being driven by one of our starting guards, proceeded to pass two other cars. One of the cars he was passing did not see him and also started to get into the passing lane and hit the rear passenger side tail light, which sent the first passing car out of control up a hill. That car flipped over about twice. We did not know how to explain what just happened to our fellow teammate but we did and going into that game that day was very emotional before the game…not knowing what or how he was doing. But what made things 100% better was that he was able to come to the game later on and be on the sidelines with us. Well, needless to say after that scare, Coach (Ellender) would not allow us to leave campus after that…..

 

Next Week…..

Part 2 of “Myth Becomes Legend – The 1992 East Forsyth State Champs” follows the team through the second half of the Regular Season as they prepare to enter the State playoffs as a top seed…undefeated. 

 

Read “Myth Becomes Legend – The 1992 East Forsyth State Champs” Here:

Prologue

 

Desmond Johnson is a 1996 graduate of East Forsyth High School. He is the Editor/Owner of SportsCarolina Monthly and lives in Kernersville with his wife and two daughters. To reach him, email at JohnsonMediaGroup1@gmail.com 

 

 

 

 

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