TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Don Salls has had a lifetime to remember.
The former Alabama football player, World War II veteran and Jacksonville State coach was honored at a celebration for his 90th birthday, entitled “A Lifetime to Remember” on Friday.
The speakers at Jacksonville State’s Houston Cole Library included university President William Meehan, trustee James Coxwell, former JSU player Terry Hodges and family members.
“I don’t think there will be any tears,” Salls, who wrote the book “Live And Love To Be 100,” said before the celebration.
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“I think there will be so much joy and happiness because these kids that I had have grown up. These kids have been successful, and it’s just awesome. And their kids have become doctors and lawyers and so on. I’m just so proud (wife) Diane has done this and the president is behind it.”
He led the Gamecocks to 97 wins and seven conference championships in 18 seasons, including a victory over Rhode Island in the 1955 Refrigerator Bowl.
Before that, he was a 169-pound fullback and linebacker for Alabama after arriving on campus in 1938. Two years later, he finally got his chance to get on the field and scored on a 76-yard interception return against Kentucky.
“From that point on, I knew I had an opportunity to play some football at Alabama because they got a glimpse of my potential,” he said.
Salls got into an advanced ROTC program that allowed him to enter military service as an infantry officer.
He was sent to France as a replacement officer with the 79th Infantry Division shortly after D-Day in 1944 and took part in the liberation of Paris.
When he was sent to a hospital after getting shot in the hand, Salls said doctors examined his sore back and found out that he had spent 60 days in combat with five fractured vertebrae.
Alabama coach Frank Thomas later recommended JSU hire Salls as football coach.
He said his first team won only one game. Then he hired Raymond W. “Dirty” Wedgeworth as an assistant coach and the Gamecocks went undefeated in 1947, playing in a new on-campus stadium.
“He had been a defensive coach at Gadsden High School,” Salls said of Wedgeworth. “He taught me more football that one season than I learned my entire life. It was a wonderful world from that point on. I loved every bit of it, except when I lost.”