When Leroy Propst is inducted into the Chattahoochee Valley Hall of Fame on Saturday night at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, it will have been a long time coming — 65 years.
Propst played several sports at Central High School in Phenix City, but he was a standout for the Red Devils on the football field in 1943 and 1944.
He played under hall member Tommy Garrett, who was inducted with the Class of 2002.
The hall of fame was born in 1995 with the first class inducted in ’96.
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Propst was surprised to be elected.
“When they called me, I was flabergasted,” Propst said. “I couldn’t imagine after 65 years getting this honor. I thought everything was over.
“It’s quite an honor.”
Propst’s story began in 1942, when he was on Garrett’s third-string varsity team. He played only one game. But his junior year is when the yards, points and awards started piling up. While records are sparse from his high school career, several stories were published in the Ledger-Enquirer with Propst headlining.
The 183-pound fullback ran for more than 1,000 yards each season. He led all local teams in scoring in 1943 and ’44. His senior year, he finished with 148 points.
Those kind of points are unheard of in the modern era of football because of playing time. Propst didn’t play just fullback. He was also the Red Devils’ safety, punter and place-kicker. “We only had 21 players,” Propst said. “When we played Sidney Lanier, they had more cheerleaders than we had football players.”
Propst’s career is documented mostly as the fullback that led the Red Devils to an 18-1 record in two seasons, 9-0 his senior year. Central claims a mythical state championship because there wasn’t a playoff system then. The Red Devils made easy work of the four local high school teams his senior year.
In 1944, Baker High played in its first game since becoming the fourth local team. Central didn’t give a nice welcome. The Devils beat Baker 71-0. Propst scored two touchdowns and kicked five extra points for 17 points in the game.
In the second game of the season, Central beat Valley 38-0.
The next game for Central and Propst was marked on the calendars every year as the local matchup. Central versus Columbus High. Propst and company had their way with the Blue Devils, 33-7.
Propst threw two touchdown passes to Pete Harris and one to Gene Tillery.
He wasn’t done there.
Propst scored on a 1-yard touchdown run and kicked three extra points.
Central beat Starke University School 31-7 and Lanett 34-7 the next two games. Against Lanett, Propst scored 22 of the team’s points, threw three touchdown passes and completed four conversions.
After starting the season 5-0, the Red Devils had big dreams. But next up was Sidney Lanier, highly touted as the best team in the state.
Central beat Sidney Lanier 21-7 Nov. 3. Propst had the biggest game of his life. He totaled 258 all-purpose yards while scoring two touchdowns and three extra points.
But the more compelling story wasn’t on the field.
Propst’s mother was battling cancer. After talking with his mom, however, he was given permission to play.
His mother died at 4 a.m. the next day.
“I was mortified,” Propst said.
Playing through the pain, he led the Red Devils through the remainder of their schedule, and his statistics never faltered.
Six days later, Central won the Bi-City championship, beating Jordan 13-12. Propst scored the second touchdown of the game, kicked the winning extra point and rushed for 226 yards.
No score was reported for Central’s Nov. 17, 1944, game against Alexander City, but it is known the Red Devils won.
To finish the season, Central had Eufaula left on its schedule. However, Eufaula didn’t want to play. Central searched for an undefeated team in Alabama but got no takers. The Red Devils beat Eufaula 34-7 on Nov. 22, 1944, to complete their perfect season.
“We played a lot of good teams,” Propst said. “Columbus High and Jordan. We played both ways. And coach Garrett said we could do that and win because we didn’t have to play dirty. He was a real good coach.”
After the season, the honors poured in. First starting with his team. Central voted Propst its Most Valuable Player.
On Dec. 4, 1944, the local Quarterback Club acknowledged the four Bi-City schools’ best players. Propst was among them.
“He’s one of the finest boys any coach could hope to work with,” Garrett told the Ledger-Enquirer before his death. “And I feel fairly confident he will again make the Alabama All-State and repeat on the All-Southern Prep teams.”
Garrett was right.
Propst was named to the All-Southern high school football squad — the equivalent to being selected All-America in those days — for the second year. He is still the only player in Bi-City history to be named twice to that list. He was also named all-state and All-Bi-City his senior year.
He lettered in baseball and basketball, where he also was named MVP. But Propst wasn’t the type of athlete to buy into the hype.
“I played with Bill Benton, Milton Stewart, Pete Harris and several other great players,” he said. “My teammates were the ones that made me look so good. We just had a great team.”
Life after Central
After graduating from Central in 1945, Propst signed to play football with Auburn University. Things didn’t go as planned.
After nine months at Auburn, Propst quit.
“I was injured, but it wasn’t keeping me back,” he said. “I wasn’t really injured. And I got fed up with it — a lot of politics.”
Propst joined the U.S. Merchant Marine service upon leaving Auburn and never played football again.
He retired from the Mead Paper Mill at 65 years old after 20 years with the company. The 82-year-old Propst seldom goes to football games nowadays. He and his wife, Mary Frances, reside in Phenix City. They have five kids.
“He played a little bit,” he said about his only son. “But I did not want to pressure him into anything, and he eventually got out of it.”
“All these young whippersnappers out there now,” Mary Frances said. “It’s strange after 65 years for him to get this nomination, but he is very honored.”
After 65 years of waiting to hear his name called to the local hall of fame , it came Sept. 8 of last year.
Propst, however, won’t have anything to display. All of his memorabilia , including his trophies and plaques, was stolen several years ago.
But football for Propst was never something he couldn’t live without.
“I loved the game. I had great teammates that protected me and we just had a great team,” he said. “But I played because I had fun, and I knew when I was done with it, I’d be done with it. I’d never regret it.”
Fitting for a man that several people still tout as the best to ever come out of Central High School.