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John DeShazier: Drew Brees shares memories of his grandfather, Ray Akins

Posted Dec 27, 2017

Brees: 'They just don’t make them like that anymore'

There isn’t a need for clarification as to whom New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees most admires as a man and role model. His grandfather Ray Akins, a longtime Texas high football coach, remains the overwhelming choice.

Akins died Tuesday morning in Texas. He was 92.

Akins was the second-winningest coach in Texas high school football history when he retired in 1988, with 293 wins. He coached at Gregory-Portland High School from 1965-1988 and guided the team to a state-record of 12 consecutive district titles, and a berth in the state finals in 1971.

But those weren’t the most prominent memories that came to mind for Brees when discussing his grandfather. On Wednesday, the future Hall of Famer shared a four-minute, 20-second tribute of the past Hall of Famer, who, in 2005, was awarded the President Gerald R. Ford All-American High School Coaches Award, which distinguished him as one of the all-time best high school coaches in the U.S.

Here, uninterrupted, is Brees’ recollection:

“They just don’t make them like that anymore. He was 92 years old. He lived an unbelievable life. He taught me so much about life, about respecting others, about caring for others, about discipline, about hard work. Obviously, he was a football coach for 38 years, so there was plenty of ball being coached along the way. But more so than that, just spending time with him. Watching him and my grandmother, the way that I’d say they modeled for us what a relationship is supposed to look like, and a marriage. They were married for 66 years, 67 years – truly remarkable.

“A guy who grew up, very humble means, in Brady, Texas, which is like, if you look at a map of Texas, is like the dead center of Texas. His dad was a straw boss – basically like a sharecropper on a big property and grew up in a house with a dirt floor, no running water, no electricity, have to take the mules to the well to go get water maybe once a week. Basically you have to hunt, kill and grow whatever you ate. Rode a horse to school. So when people have this impression as to what Texas is, what it’s like, that was my grandpa.

“When he turned 18 years old, graduated from high school, took a train down to San Antonio with some other boys from his high school and they enlisted in the Marine Corps. There was about 100 guys there when they got there and they ran them through a battery of physical tests and psychological tests and they chose 10 of them, saying, ‘You 10 have qualified to have the opportunity to become a Marine, and go serve your country.’ So he took a train out to San Diego, went through Marine Corps boot camp, shipped over to Guadalcanal for more training and then was there for the invasion of Okinawa, Japan, April 1, 1945, 1st Marine Division, 1st Battalion, 1st Regiment, Special Weapons Company.

“What he endured over there, I heard a lot about that over the years from him. He was very proud of being a Marine. That was something he took so much pride in. While it was hard to talk about the war for a long time, I think he reached a point where he felt like there were so many lessons from it and it was a way to honor the guys that he served with, too. He had 153 men in his special weapons company and he was one of three to survive. That just tells you how brutal that fighting was over there.

“But the fact that he made it back and then went on to become a football coach – he actually played college football at Southwest Texas University, from 1946 to 1950. And he had the opportunity to go play center for the Chicago Bears in 1950. They were going to pay him $500 a month, so he was going to make 6,000 bucks for the year. And instead of that he decided to go become the athletic director at a 1A high school in south Texas called Goldthwaite, where he was going to be the head football coach and the athletic director. So, times have changed a little bit.

“But that was the start of his coaching career. He was a coach, athletic director, teacher for 38 years. Retired in 1988 to New Baden, Texas, to his property that he had bought out there in 1960 and basically did all the work on that land. He had about 100 head of cattle. That’s what he loved – he loved being out there, working on fences and feeding the cows and checking on the heifers and doing all that stuff. And that’s the stuff that I got to do with him as well, me and my brother and the rest of my family. So, lots of good times, lots of good moments. He came here and watched a lot of football games. He was an incredible man, I have a ton of memories and his legacy will live on forever in his family. Those are all the things I want to instill in my kids, too.”