First SSU football team earns Hall of Fame nod
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By Dave Williams  April 25, 2014 12:00 am

The year 1969 is remembered for the United States putting a man on the moon, Woodstock, the New York Jets upsetting the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III and Richard Nixon taking the Oath of Office as President of the United States.

Locally, it also was the year Sonoma State University fielded a football team. 

Since it was the first year of football at the school, SSU was considered a junior varsity team. But that didn’t stop the then-SSU Cossacks from going unbeaten during their league schedule.

The team that featured standout players such as Jack Trujillo, Mike Johnson, Doug Pricer, Jim Baker, Benny Guerrera and Sam Tharpe finally is getting its just desserts and will be inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame on Oct. 24.

Lloyd Helgeson coached that team but subsequently was dismissed from the team. He went on to coach a Sacramento area high school team to a championship after leaving SSU. Also, Carl Peterson, who for years was general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, also was an assistant coach on that team.

“We had a good group of guys,” said Sam Tharpe, who played linebacker and defensive end on that team but now is one of the leading citizens in the Rohnert Park-Cotati area. He founded his own church and coached several teams throughout the years. 

“But we were playing football in times of hippies, free love and all that, and they didn’t want us on campus.”

Still, Tharpe believes the establishment of the football team had a significant social impact at SSU.

“The football team played a large role in integrating that campus,” Tharpe said. “There was little to no diversity at Sonoma State before the football team.”

Tharpe said he’s kept in touch with a few of the players on the team. 

And from now until the time of the induction ceremony, he Pricer and Baker will be trying to round up as many of their former teammates as possible.

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