August 31, 1954 – 115 excited, young men showed up to pre-season football training camp for Texas A&M. Instead of finding the usual well-groomed football field with green grass and painted lines, what they found had them questioning if they were in the right place. Their practice field was a dry patch of cracked ground that had only been somewhat cleared of rocks and cactus the night before. They had no idea what the next 10 days held for them.
Paul “Bear” Bryant is considered by many to be the greatest football coach of all time. He was motivated by fear and was tough as nails. He wanted his players to be cold and deadly. In 1954, to avoid the input and prying eyes of the A&M alumni, coach Bryant decided to do something radical. He held the pre-season training camp at the Texas A&M adjunct campus in Junction, Texas.
In 1954 Junction was in the middle of a severe heat wave and the worst drought the region had ever seen. The land was barren, and temperatures during the training camp topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bryant would call Junction “hell’s little acre” due to the extreme heat and parched conditions. This is where he would separate the quitters from the keepers. This is where those who survived would become known as the “Junction Boys” and find out exactly what they were made of. Those 10 days of hell reduced a group of 115 quickly to a group of 35. It was a training camp of two practices a day that began before dawn and ended at dusk, with no water breaks, dehydration, broken bones, and broken spirits. Only those of strong mind and will survived.
The brutality of that training camp would weigh on the heart of “Bear” Bryant for the next 25 years. In 1979, the Junction Chamber of Commerce reunited Coach Bryant with 20 of his Junction Boys. Coach Bryant was nervous about this reunion. He wasn’t sure if the boys would be excited to see him or want to punch him. These boys who had survived heatstroke, broken bones, and searing heat were now men. They were doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, coaches, bankers, CEOs and many were millionaires.
In the speeches given by the players they expressed deep gratitude and credited their success to Coach Bryant. In the book, “The Junction Boys” by Jim Dent, player Dennis Goehring is quoted, “If not for you, I couldn’t have done the things I had to do in my life. If I hadn’t been tough, I never would have made it. You are the person that made me tough.”
When Coach Bryant took his turn to address his former players he said, “I never had a team I was more proud of. I came here today to apologize to y’all. I shouldn’t have done what I did to you twenty-five years ago. But now that I’ve seen all of you today, and heard about your happy and successful lives, I realize that maybe I did something right after all. I knew you men would be successes. But nothing like this. Hell, maybe I oughta stop feeling guilty.”
Many of the Junction Boys suspected a big heart beat beneath that tough exterior. Now they were sure of it.