When Jimmie Morrell speaks, his eyes bore deep into the listener, his focus never wavering. He leans forward, elbows on his knees, his body still strong and imposing at 63, his voice robust and direct.
Morrell's presence suggests two things to the listener: First, that he must have been a fearful sight in high school, staring at opponents from across the line as a two-way lineman. Second, one feels compelled to agree with Morrell.
And what he says is that the vaunted rivalry between Pasco and Hernando high schools might have been contentious in decades long past, but the real rivalry _ when it became truly impassioned and fierce _ does not lie in the legacy of those schools.
It lies, he says, in the heritage of the black schools of Brooksville and Dade City.
"We were hard hitters, some of us were like eliminators," recalled Morrell, a two-way tackle in 1953 and '54 for Moore Academy _ later renamed Mickens School _ in Dade City. "Our job was to take a player out. Even I was knocked out of a game at one time."
Moore had two fierce rivals _ Moton School in Brooksville, and Booker T. Washington School in Inverness.
Chief of the two was Moton, since Dade City and Brooksville are closest geographically, and Moton was the strongest of the three programs. Hernando County's first NFL player, Maulty Moore, played for Moton in the '60s. He went on to earn two Super Bowl rings with the Dolphins.
(Moore's most famed sports alumnus was in baseball _ Jim "Mudcat" Grant, who graduated from Moore in 1953 and became the first pitcher with 20 wins and 20 saves in a season.)
Pasco High athletic director Willie Broner played for the Dade City school, then named Mickens (its original name was Pasco County Colored School) in the early '60s.
"It was very intense, as intense as anything we have today," Broner recalled. "When we played in Brooksville, all the black folks would be there, and I mean all the black folks. There would be standing room only. Everybody knew where to find everybody on a Friday night."
Broner was the Wildcats' starting quarterback in 1964 and '65. One of his teammates was a running back named Charles Harrison, who went on to be the first black deputy in Pasco County.
Morrell, who is retired from the Army and education administration and now lives in Brooksville, said he felt the games were so hard-fought because young black men at that time were urged to work twice as hard as whites to overcome discrimination.
"In order to succeed, you had to go all the way, to the ultimate," he said. "I had to be twice as good as a white man to survive. And (in football), we were extremely physical. That was how you expressed it."
In a newspaper account, Maulty Moore recalled an anecdote from his playing days at Moton:
"I remember coach (Raymond) McDougal gave me what he said was a new jersey with the number 44 on it," said Moore, who was a lineman. "He said it was picked because 44 rhymed with Maulty Moore. I swallowed that story.
"Later I realized the white school had given us that jersey, and the coach didn't want me to know it. You see, 44 was a backfield number, but I had played tackle all my life. I should have had a number in the 60s or 70s."
Schools were integrated a couple of years after Broner graduated, with Mickens students moving to Pasco and Moton students to Hernando.
Broner recalled the time: "The end of the Moton-Mickens rivalry was a big loss. For everyone who played in it, it was like our special thing. It was our identity.
"On the other hand, we are happy to see integration and see a new era. But we still hang on to our memories. I am very proud to have graduated from Mickens."
_ Times files were used in this report.