Former University of Missouri quarterback Brad Smith, Missouri State University coach Jesse Branch, Waynesville High School coach Rick Vernon as well as two state championship high school football teams – 1981 Greenwood Laboratory and 1997 Springfield Catholic – will soon be inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
President & Executive Director Jerald Andrews announced Wednesday their upcoming inductions – as well as the Elite 11 awards – for the annual Football Luncheon presented by Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Company. The event is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Monday, October 16 at the University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center in Springfield.
The Elite 11 recognizes former high school, college and pro standouts who made positive impacts. This year’s group consists of Shannon Crouch (Seneca High School), Mitch Espy (Marshfield High School/Missouri State), Mikael Cooper-Falls (Hillcrest High School/Missouri State), Jacob Hamon (Branson High School/Evangel University), Fred Harle (Raytown High School/Missouri State), Ryan Howerton (Lebanon High School/Lindenwood University/Mizzou), Shem Johnson (Parkview High School/Benedictine College/Indoor Football League), Eric Ramsey (Warsaw High School/Missouri Western University), Nick Smart (Marionville/Southwest Baptist University), Matt Wehner (Lebanon High School/Missouri Southern) and Rodney Witt (Ava High School/Missouri State).
Sponsorship tables of eight, which include an autographed print and special recognition in the printed program, are $400. A head table ticket is $100, and an individual ticket is $40. Numerous sponsorships also are available, including congratulatory ads, by calling 417-889-3100.
Brad Smith, University of Missouri: Smith launched the coach Gary Pinkel era by quarterbacking Mizzou from 2002 to 2005, leading the Tigers to two Independence Bowls (2003 and 2005) and Mizzou’s first win against Nebraska since 1976. When he finished his college career, Smith was the most productive dual-threat quarterback in the history of the sport, as no other player in NCAA history had thrown for 8,000 yards and run for 4,000 yards. Smith was a Freshman All-American in 2002 and, in 2005, an All-Big 12 Conference selection. He remains all over the Mizzou all-time record books, including No. 1 in career rushing yards and No. 2 in career passing yards. Smith played nine seasons in the NFL as wide receiver and kick returner from 2006 to 2014, seeing playing time with the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles.
Jesse Branch, Missouri State University: Branch coached the Missouri State Bears football program for nine years (1986 to 1994), finishing 55-44-1 and becoming the only Bears football coach to record multiple conference championships (Gateway Conference in 1989, 1990). Those two teams remain the last Bears teams to reach the playoffs. Under Branch, the Bears were 27-3 at home from 1988 to 1993 – part of five winning seasons. Branch came to MSU from the University of Arkansas, where he coached in various roles from 1975 to 1985. After his MSU days, Branch was an associate athletic director at Arkansas from 1995 to 2000.
Rick Vernon, Waynesville High School: Vernon coached for three decades, including 33 years at Waynesville High School. He was 222-169 overall – that’s 25th-best in state history. Vernon got his start at Lone Jack High School and then went to Waynesville, where his 2007 team won the Class 5 state title. Vernon guided the Tigers to seven district titles and five Ozark Conference championships. He was inducted into the Missouri Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2006 and was named Missouri Coach of the Year in 2008. Along the way, Vernon sent three players on to the National Football League in L.J. Fort, Gijon Robinson and C.J. Mosley.
Greenwood Laboratory School 1981 state championship team: Led by quarterback Anthony Frazier and coach Paul Mullins, Greenwood won the Class 1 state championship, becoming the first Springfield high school football team to win it all. It was a 10-1 season that fall for Greenwood, culminating in a 14-0 victory against Gallatin in the Show-Me Bowl at Busch Stadium. Frazier, running back Glenn Adams, end Mark Jester, guard Tom Chamberlin and defensive end John Stinson were First Team All-State selections, while Tom Fite and Rich Hardie were Second Team All-State.
Springfield Catholic 1997 state championship team: It’s the 20th anniversary of Springfield Catholic High School becoming only the second Springfield team to win a football state championship in a 28-0 victory against Monroe City at the Trans World Dome in St. Louis. Led by coach Bobby Cornelison, the Fightin’ Irish had a ton of talent all around. Among their All-State selections were quarterback Kyle Cernech, end Mark Stewart, offensive linemen Derrick Cara and John Goodman as well as defensive lineman Seth Wand and Ryan Mais.
Shannon Crouch, Seneca High School: One of the best ever to play for Seneca High School, Crouch ranks fifth in the state in career all-purpose yards (7,476) as well as 10th in the state in career rushing attempts (836) and ninth in career rushing touchdowns (77). In 1986 and 1987, he was a USA Today All-American, as well as a First Team All-State, plus led Seneca to the Class 2 state championship his senior year as the Indians beat Brentwood 20-13. These days, Crouch is a state trooper with the Missouri Highway Patrol.
Mitch Espy, Marshfield High School/Missouri State: Espy was All-State in 1999 as a running back at Marshfield High School, where he owns the third-most career rushing yards (2,727), second-most points scored in both a season (128) and career (246) and is fourth all-time in total offense for a career (2,882 yards). Espy also is second all-time in most rushing yards in a game (264). Espy, who also was All-State in baseball and played one baseball season at Missouri State, now serves on Marshfield’s School Board.
Mikael Cooper-Falls, Hillcrest High School/Missouri State: Cooper-Falls was a four-year starter at running back and corner back at Hillcrest High School, earning Class 5 All-State selection on the Hornets’ 2008 playoff team. He then played four seasons at Missouri State, earning a spot on the Missouri Valley Conference All-Newcomer Team in 2009. He later overcame two years of injuries to lead the team with 604 yards rushing as a senior. He is now an assistant coach at Hillcrest High School.
Jacob Hamon, Branson High School/Evangel University: A linebacker, Hamon was All-State in 2003 and was a two-time All-Central Ozark Conference as both a linebacker and tight end in his final two years. When he graduated, he held the school record for career tackles (152), which stood for six years. Hamon went on to play four seasons at Evangel University and is now the head coach at Hollister High School.
Fred Harle, Raytown High School/Missouri State: Harle was a standout at Raytown High School and then, despite being a walk on, became a three-year letter-winner at defensive back for the Missouri State football team from 1966 to 1968. Harle helped the Bears win the MIAA in 1966, an undefeated season, and was all-conference as a junior and a co-captain his senior year. He has worked for State Farm Insurance for 39 years and started the MSU Booster Club, serving as its president for 15 years.
Ryan Howerton, Lebanon High School/Lindenwood/Mizzou: Howerton was an All-State selection in 2008 and ranks in the top 10 of three single-season state passing records – including No. 6 in pass attempts (434). He also ranks in the top 10 of four state single-game records, including the second-most TD passes (8). He signed with Lindenwood University’s football program before walking on at Mizzou.
Shem Johnson, Parkview High School/Benedictine/IFL: Johnson was voted the All-City Back of the Year by the Springfield Quarterback Club in 1994 and went on to Benedictine College before playing in the Indoor Football League with Bismarck, North Dakota in the summer of 2000. He also in the East-West All-Star Game. He owns Primal Fitness and is an assistant at Central High School in Springfield.
Eric Ramsey, Warsaw High School/Missouri Western: Ramsey was a two-time All-State quarterback in Class 2 and led Warsaw to the 1990 state title, setting nine Show-Me Bowl records in a 42-6 win vs. South Shelby. He was a four-year letterman at Missouri Western and coached high school football for 12 years, including four years as Willard’s head coach. He is now Parkview High School’s principal.
Nick Smart, Marionville/Southwest Baptist: Smart earned Class 1 First Team All-State in 2003 as the then quarterback led Marionville to a state championship. At Southwest Baptist, he was a 2007 First Team All-American by Football Gazette magazine, plus earned All-MIAA and an invitation to the Cactus Bowl, the NCAA Division II All-Star Game. He’s an attorney for Strong Garner and Bauer in Springfield.
Matt Wehner, Lebanon High School/Missouri Southern: Wehner was Class 5 First Team All-State at running back for the Lebanon Yellowjackets in 1991. He then played at Missouri Southern, where he was a four-year letterman. Wehner in 2015 was inducted in the Lebanon Area Sports Hall of Fame.
Rodney Witt, Ava High School/Missouri State: Now a chiropractor in Nixa, Witt was a First Team All-State running back for Ava in 1980, when he was also the MVP of the South Central Association. That season, he finished second to Joplin’s Alan Cockrell for the scoring title of southwest Missouri and played in the Lyons Club All-Star Game. Witt then spent four seasons as a Missouri State running back.