Chapter 12: The Birth of OSU Football

By George Edmonston Jr.


OSU’s First Football Team

Next to "Will" H. Bloss, Oregon State’s first coach and quarterback, no one knew more about the 1893 football team at State Agricultural College (SAC) than a guy who wasn’t even on the team.

His name was Austin T. Buxton, a junior in mechanical engineering from Forest Grove, and he was editor of what might be the university’s first real "yearbook." He called it "The Hayseed," and, in addition to profiling the entire school and its various departments, the student journalist devoted four full pages to the 1893 football season...OSU’s first...and to the young men who played the games.

Looking at that time so long ago, it’s easy to see this was college football in Oregon in its infancy, played under a set of rules that today would turn milk sour at NCAA headquarters, with athletes who didn’t have the foggiest understanding of what they were setting in motion. Since 1890 or 1891, football had been the hot new game on
college campuses around the state, and by 1893, had replaced baseball as the most popular intercollegiate sport in Oregon. In essence, the young men who first kicked the pigskin at OSU simply felt they were participating in a fad.

After tryouts and workouts that stretched to mid-October, Bloss finally settled on an eclectic group of 17 athletes to play on Oregon State’s first football team. No stranger group has ever been assembled to wear the Orange and Black. The starting left guard was a high school junior. One of the substitutes was John Fulton, an alumnus and SAC faculty member assigned to a department called the "Chemistry Station." He would spend the rest of his career at his alma mater and become one of OSU’s most beloved professors. Two members of the starting lineup were brothers; their father was the secretary of the Executive Committee of school’s Board of Regents. The head coach, as we have seen, also played quarterback and was the son of the president. He was not a student. Neither were three other members of the squad, all substitutes. Among them was Clem Jones, who moved to Athens, Tenn., sometime after the season and was never heard from again.

Coach Bloss had arrived in Corvallis shortly after his president father, John McKnight Bloss, in June 1892. He had played college football in the Midwest and was familiar with the game. With this as his background, he quickly became known on campus as a person knowledgeable in the new sport of football and impressed SAC athletes with his knowledge as a "trainer." For sure, many of these acquaintances were made at the SAC gymnasium, which had been moved from Cauthorn to a room in the new
Mechanical Hall, constructed by his father directly behind the Administration Building (now Benton Hall) in 1892 to house the school’s new power plant.

It was at the Cauthorn men’s dorm in 1889 or 1890 that a group of students, including over 30 women, had formed the Oregon Agricultural College Athletic Association (OACAA), the forerunner to the OSU Athletic Department. It is not surprising that seven of the 17 original players, including three starters, were not only members of the OACAA but officers: the president, vice president and secretary. Three subs were also members of the board. (Note: Oregon Agricultural College (or OAC) had been in popular usage on campus and around town since c. 1888 but
was not the official name of the school until 1907.)

There were other similarities. In the year he had lived in Corvallis, he had watched a lot of these guys in other activities, from baseball and track and field to workouts in the college gym. By the fall of 1893, he more-or-less knew who could get the job done. Furthermore, Bloss also realized that most of his players were from farming backgrounds, replete with the mental and physical toughness that goes with that lifestyle, and knew that such experiences would serve them well when games got tough.

Here then, individually, are the 11 players Head Coach Will Bloss selected in 1893 to play on Oregon State’s first football team. Their first game would be against Albany College on Nov. 11, 1893. When known, information is given regarding what happened to these football "pioneers" once leaving Corvallis. Spellings used for positions are the ones in popular usage at the time. Starting weights and heights...forget it!

The Left End was Charles Owsley from La Grande. He was a sophomore in the fall of 1893 and sergeant at arms of the OAC Athletic Association. He graduated from SAC with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1896. After graduation, he returned home.

Left Tackle: A. Desborough Nash. The brother of SAC starting left half Percival Nash. Born in 1876 in London, England, Desborough was 17 at the time of the Albany College game and was not enrolled as a student. His father, Wallis Nash, was a member of the SAC Board of Regents and had, early in his career, worked as an attorney in London for Charles Darwin and other English and American luminaries. Survived a scarlet fever outbreak in his family that claimed the lives of two brothers and two sisters inside one week. Played first base on the SAC baseball team.

Left Guard: Daniel Harvey Bodine from Albany. Vice president of the OAC Athletic Association. In 1893, he was enrolled in the "preparatory" department at SAC, which means that by today’s standards, he was still in high school, probably a junior. He did eventually graduate from Oregon State, in agriculture in 1898, and became the city recorder for his home town. He lived at 819 W. 9th Street in Albany.

Center Rush: Harvey "Pap Hayseed" McAlister or McAllister. Originally from Lexington, Ore., in Morrow County, McAllister played one of the toughest positions in early football. Anchoring the center of the line, it was "Pap’s" job to clear a hole for the popular "wedge play," which meant one guy running the ball with 10 blockers out front. Guess who ended up at the bottom of the pile? That he did this as a freshman is remarkable. His personal scrapbook, which includes numerous newspaper
clippings of the 1893 season, was his gift to the OSU Archives years ago and is one of the primary research tools school historians use today to recall Oregon State’s first football season.

Right Guard: Henry M. Desborough. He was a senior at the time of the game and graduated in 1894 in mechanical engineering. In 1925, the Alumni Association’s Student Directory lists "no record" for this early football pioneer.

Right Tackle: Thomas Beall. He was a junior in 1893 and graduated in 1895 with a degree in agriculture. In 1904, he became the first player from the '93 team to die. President of the OAC Athletic Association. Played center field for baseball team.

Right End: Charles Small. Freshman. Secretary of his class. Graduated in 1897 in mechanical engineering but spent his career as a farmer in Benton County. Not related to the well-known Small family in Corvallis that includes clothier Phil Small (now deceased) and daughter Shirley Small, the wife of retired OSU Alumni Director Don Wirth.

Quarter Back: William H. "Will" Bloss. The subject of Part 1 of this series. Son of SAC president. Left after 1893 season to return as coach in 1897. In his two years at SAC, Bloss lost but one game, that to the University of Portland. Many SAC fans said the loss was a fluke, since the UP had sent "spies" to campus the week before and had practiced for the game by scrimmaging a team that had played SAC earlier in the year. Today we call this "sour grapes."

Left Half Back: Brady F. Burnett. Probably Will’s favorite player. Team captain. Scored the first two touchdowns in Oregon State history, back-to-back fumble recoveries, the second TD for 60 yards. At the time of the game, he had already graduated from SAC (agriculture) and was listed in "The Hayseed" below the senior class as a "special student." Member of SAC May 1893 track and field team, first in school history. He eventually became an attorney in Roseburg with the B.L. Eddy law firm.

Right Half Back: Percival Nash. Older brother of Desborough. Same background as brother. Like teammate Brady Burnett, Percival had graduated in 1893 in agriculture and was listed as a "special student" for the fall of '93. After leaving Corvallis, he became a Federal Probation Agent in Reno, Nevada. Played right field on the baseball team. Born in London. Like his brother, he was a survivor of the scarlet fever
epidemic that took four of his brothers and sisters.

Full Back: Ralph Terrill. A sophomore, Ralph graduated in 1897 with a degree in mechanical engineering. For years he worked at the Acme hardware store in Wilmington, Calif., and lived at 315 Canal Ave.

The "subs" were: A. Lambert (not a student); W. Abernethy (not a student); Arthur E. Buchanan, who graduated in 1896 in mechanical engineering and died in 1916; John Fulton, an SAC alumnus and faculty member; Harry W. Kelley, a graduate in agriculture in 1896; Clem Jones (not a student), who moves to Athens, Tenn., and quickly disappears from alumni records.

The First Team

The school's first football team played in 1893-94.

Photo from The Orange and Black.

Until May 2, 1893, Navy Blue was the official school color for both Corvallis College and State Agricultural College. On that date, the SAC faculty voted to begin using "orange" to represent the school at all official activities, particularly athletics. Black was added two weeks later by a vote of the student body, still remembering the
classy-looking, all-black baseball uniforms town clothier J.H. Harris had donated the SAC team in April 1892. There was only one catch. Mr. Harris had put his initials on the shirt-fronts of the uniforms, "J.H.H." in big white letters, and "hoped," he said when they were delivered, "you college boys won’t mind."

For such gorgeous uniforms, the "college boys" didn’t mind a bit.

Not content on stopping here in this business of starting new school traditions, President Bloss appointed a faculty committee to confer with students in the writing of a "college cry" or "yell." Thus the cheer, "Zip Boom Bee, Zip Boom Bee, O. A., O. A., O. A. C." was born, the first such in OSU history. Just who actually came up with this three-line historical ditty is still a mystery. Some credit Gordon C. "Don" Ray, an engineering student in the class of 1896, with penning Oregon State’s first, while others say it was coach Bloss himself who did the deed.