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Cullowhee, N.C. – One of the top football teams in school history headlines the trio of inductees slated for the 2018 Western Carolina University Athletics Hall of Fame class announced today. The 1969 Catamount football team will be flanked by fellow former football student-athletes Keith Elliott (football, 1965-68) and this year’s honorary award recipient, longtime coaching veteran, Joe D’Alessandris (football, 1972-76) as WCU enshrines the Hall’s 29th class.

WCU’s 2018 Hall of Fame weekend will be held Oct. 12-13, coinciding with the Catamount football home game against Southern Conference opponent, Chattanooga, including a Saturday (Oct. 13) morning ceremony scheduled for the Grand Room in the A.K. Hinds University Center and a special on-field recognition during the football game. Additional ceremony details will be made available closer to the event.

With the 1969 football team being honored on Oct. 13 – and the squad’s ties to its head coach, Bob Waters – the Catamount Club has altered its annual Golf Tour Schedule, swapping the date of the 14th-annual Bob Waters Memorial to Friday, Oct. 12 at the Laurel Ridge Country Club. With the adjustment, “The Mutt” Catamount Football Classic will be held Friday, Aug. 31 at The Maggie Valley Club & Resort.

Western Carolina’s 1969 football team has the distinction of representing the “beginning of a new era” in Catamount football in Cullowhee. Twenty-years removed from the program’s benchmark season with the 1949 North State Championship squad, the ’69 Catamounts helped solidify the relevance of the school’s football program and helped put WCU Athletics on the map.

On the surface, the 1969 Catamounts broke 53 school records at the time, scoring 321 points – the second-most in the nation and the most in school history until the 1983 team supplanted them with 370. The 32.1 points per game average was a school-record that held until just last season when the Catamounts averaged a school-benchmark 32.4 points per game (389 in 12 games). The team ranked as high as fourth nationally during the regular season and finished eighth nationally in the final NAIA football poll, the first WCU squad to earn a top 10 ranking in the final polling.

Individually, eight Catamounts collected All-NAIA District Six selections in 1969, with two players going on to earn All-America honors including quarterback Don Dalton who was a second-team selection in 1969 after leading the nation in passing including an NAIA-best average of 20.04 yards gained per pass completion – a record that still stands today. Among his favorite targets was Steve Spradling who caught 46 passes for 1,020 yards – one of just seven, 1,000-yard receiving seasons in school history.

In his first season in Cullowhee, Hall of Fame head coach Bob Waters guided the Catamounts to nine-consecutive victories to start the year – unparalleled in program history – before suffering what proved to be a season-ending home loss to Presbyterian College, 28-17, at Memorial Stadium. Along the way, the Catamounts defeated arch-rival Appalachian State, 35-7, in Boone while also downing in-state foes, Catawba and a top-10 ranked Lenoir-Rhyne squad. In addition to the victory over the Mountaineers, the Catamounts scored road wins over Jacksonville State, Emory & Henry, Elon, and Samford, while also scoring an unprecedented 70 points in a blanking of Newberry.

While the aerial attack Waters brought to Jackson County was on display each Saturday, the ground game did its part to compliment the offense. Asheville, N.C., native Otis McIntosh rushed for 846 of his 3,006 career yards and scored 13 of his school-record 37 rushing touchdowns in 1969.

On the other side of the football, the 1969 football team featured the “Tuff Cats” defense which was just as imposing as its counterpart high-powered offense. WCU intercepted 24 passes led by Harvey Walker’s school-record nine picks followed closely by Woody Woodruff’s seven. “The Stoppers” also recovered 26 fumbles on the year, surrendering just 150 points on the season. The defense keyed several victories along WCU’s 9-0 start to the year including stopping a third-quarter goalline fourth-down play against Jacksonville State to keep it a one-point deficit, 7-6, on the way to a 14-7 win.

All told, 10 combined former football student-athletes and coaches from the 1969 squad are already inducted into the WCU Athletics Hall of Fame as individuals including Don Dalton (1995), Spradling (2009), and McIntosh (1999), as well as Mike Biggerstaff (2016), and Steve Williams (1996). The 1969 roster also included Hall of Fame coaches Don Powers (2017), Bobby Setzer (1992), Bill Stanley (2012), Johnny Wike (2009), and the aforementioned Waters (1993).

Keith Elliott (1965-68) holds the distinction as the first African-American to receive a football scholarship at a predominately white school in the South. Originally from Brevard, N.C., Elliott was the first football scholarship signee in the state of North Carolina and at Western Carolina (1965) during a time of racial unrest in the United States. His efforts as a student-athlete helped break down the barriers for African-American student-athletes.

Recognized on the field during the 2014 All Sport Reunion in Cullowhee, Elliott was a three-year starter playing both ways as an offensive guard and defensive lineman. And though he played along the line, he was considered the fastest player on the team. In 1966, he was selected All-Carolinas Conference, while also garnering All-NAIA District 26 and NAIA All-Area accolades. As a senior, Elliott was tabbed to play in the 1968 North Carolina Collegiate Shrine Bowl – an honorary game that featured some of the best college seniors in the state of North Carolina. He recorded three sacks in the game to close out his outstanding career.

Elliott was the first African-American student to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Western Carolina and went on to earn his MBA, also spending time as a graduate assistant coach at WCU.

As a professional, Elliott worked as a system engineer for IBM in Knoxville for two years during which time he was drafted into service for his country in the United States Army from September of 1969 until August of 1971. He was stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Gordon, Ga., and Fort Riley, Kansas. He returned to Cullowhee after receiving his discharge where he earned the aforementioned postgraduate degree.

After receiving his MBA, Elliott then began work in the training division of America Enka Company based out of Central, S.C., located near Clemson. In September of 1973, he embarked on a 31-year career in the United States Postal Service that included assignments in supervisory to executive-level positions in four states during his career before retiring in 2004.

A religious individual who has been involved in the ministry since 1980, Elliott received a Master of Ministry degree in 1989 and a doctorate of ministry degree in 2003 from Covington Theological Seminary. He founded and served as the pastor at the New Covenant Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., from 1987-91, and currently, Elliott is the Pastor of the Sentertown Missionary Baptist Church, a position he has held since 1998. He remains active with Western Carolina, currently serving on the WCU Alumni Association Board.

Keith Elliott is married to Nina Thomas Elliott, celebrating 47 years of marriage in June 2018. Nina holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Knoxville College, as well as a Master’s in Education from Western Carolina and a pair of doctorates in educational psychology from Tennessee and theology from Covington Theological Seminary. She likewise retired in 2004, doing so as the Associate Provost for Academic Affairs at the University of Tennessee. The Elliott’s have two children and seven grandchildren. His son, Keith Elliott Jr., and wife Grace reside in Wilmington, Del., with their five children while his daughter, Christina Campbell, resides in Atlanta, Ga., with her husband, Milton, and their two children.

A four-year letter winner and three-year starter for the Catamounts in the mid-1970s under legendary head coach Bob Waters, Joe D’Alessandris (1972-76) has compiled a 40-plus year coaching career that has spanned both the collegiate and professional ranks across the North American continent. D’Alessandris – or more affectionally known as “Joe D” – played guard for the Catamount offense during his career, serving as a team captain and garnering Team MVP honors his senior year in 1976. He was also a part of WCU’s 1974 squad which finished 9-2 and advanced to the NCAA Division II national playoffs.

After earning degrees in parks & recreation and health & physical education, D’Alessandris began his coaching career as a graduate assistant on Waters’ staff in 1977 while pursuing his master’s in education. He parlayed that two-year experience into his first full-time coaching position as the offensive line coach at Livingston University. Much of the early portion of his coaching career was spent in the trenches with the offensive line at the collegiate ranks, in the CFL (Ottawa & Memphis), and the World League (Birmingham).

His coaching ledger includes stops as an NCAA Division I assistant coach at Texas A&M (1994), Pittsburgh (1996), Duke (1997-2001) and Georgia Tech (2002-2007). At A&M, the Aggies finished 10-0-1 and averaged 172.0 rushing yards per game behind D’Alessandris’ offensive line. He mentored several linemen in five seasons at Duke who went on to play in the NFL including guard Lenny Friedman, who was drafted in the second round by Denver in 1999 and Drew Strojny, who was a 2004 pick by the New York Giants. He also coached future NFL players in Troy Andrew (Miami) and Shawn Lynch (Arizona), who signed as undrafted free agents.

While at Georgia Tech, he developed a number of standout linemen including tackle Nat Dorsey, who was drafted by Minnesota (2004), guard Mansfield Wrotto (Seattle, 2007) and guard Andrew Gardner (Miami, 2009). Behind the D’Alessandris-led offensive line, the Yellow Jackets led the ACC with 2,591 rushing yards (199.3 ypg) in 2007 while also allowing a league-low 10 sacks.

D’Alessandris received his chance to return to the professional ranks in 2008, getting his first call to the National Football League (NFL) with the Kansas City Chiefs. He spent two seasons on the sidelines in Kansas City, helping tutor guard Brian Waters to his first Pro Bowl as his offensive line paved the way for running back Jamal Charles to collect his first 1,000-yard rushing season.

D’Alessandris spent three seasons as the O-line coach with the Buffalo Bills (2010-2012). He guided the unit that allowed the fewest sacks (23) in the NFL in 2011 and hit the high-water mark with running back C.J. Spiller’s 1,244 rushing yards and second-best yard-per-carry average (6.01) in 2012 before taking his talent to the west coast and the San Diego Chargers (2013-15). The 2013 Chargers allowed only 30 sacks while cresting over 100 rushing yards in 12 of 16 games en route to the NFL playoffs. In three seasons, D’Alessandris developed talented linemen King Dunlap and D.J. Fluker while also providing protection for quarterback Philip Rivers.

He made the move back east in 2017 and is entering his second season on staff with the Baltimore Ravens. In his first year, he unified an offensive line that overcame early-season injuries and became a strength for the team, helping Baltimore finish ninth in scoring (24.7 points per game) and seventh (tied) in both fewest giveaways (17) and sacks allowed (27).

Enshrinement in the WCU Athletics Hall of Fame marks the third for D’Alessandris who was inducted into the Beaver County (Pa.) Sports Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Center High School Hall of Fame. Originally from Aliquippa, Pa., D’Alessandris and his wife, Toni, have three daughters: Kelly, Emily, and Anna with two grandchildren, Maxwell and Ella Murray.

Including this year's induction class, Western Carolina's Athletics Hall of Fame has enshrined 120 individuals, six athletic teams, 11 Patron Award winners, and two recognized for career achievements since its creation and establishment in 1990.

To be considered for induction into the Western Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame, nominees must be submitted to the Hall of Fame committee where they are kept on file for a period of five years. Each spring, the committee convenes to vote upon a list of nominees that are approved by the Hall's executive committee, which checks that those nominated meet the criteria as put forth by the committee’s constitution. Appropriate forms are available online at CatamountSports.com.

 

 

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