ENGSTER: Hokie Gajan remembered as a force of nature

By JIM ENGSTER
President, Tiger Rag Magazine

Hokie Gajan was the rare person seared permanently in the memory banks of anybody who met him. Gajan died last week, but his image endures for those who admired his genuine personality and uncommon pursuit of excellence.

His LSU teammate John Ed Bradley vividly recalls the first of many meetings he had with Hokie. It occurred in a 1974 scrimmage pitting Gajan and Baker High against Bradley and Opelousas High.

“Baker was a real power back then,” Bradley recalls. “They had a pair of superstars in LeRoid and LeRoyal Jones.  But there was a kid who stood out. This white running back. It was Hokie. He was a terror out there. I hit him head on once and I thought, good God, this guy is unbelievable.”

No LSU player has returned a kickoff for a touchdown at Tiger Stadium in more than three decades. The list of players with opportunities includes Leonard Fournette, Odell Beckham, Patrick Peterson, Trindon Holliday, Eddie Kennison and Todd Kinchen.

The remembrance of No. 47 dashing the length of the field on a kickoff against Georgia at Death Valley in 1978 brought a smile from here after receiving word that Gajan had lost his bout with cancer and debilitating arthritis on April 12.

Hokie was an overachiever who played two years as an apprentice in the LSU backfield to the more naturally gifted Charles Alexander, a College Football Hall of Famer.

Gajan left LSU with a modest total of 1,563 yards and was the 249th player taken in the 1981 draft. It was one of the best classes in the history of NFL. The much criticized Bum Phillips selected a dozen players who made the roster of the New Orleans Saints that year including George Rogers, Russell Gary, Rickey Jackson, Frank Warren, Hoby Brenner, Jim Wilks and Gajan.

Phillips relished tough guys from major colleges. Gajan was Bum’s kind of player and was a splendid bargain in the tenth round.

In four years with the Saints, all under Phillips, Gajan rushed 252 times for 1358 yards, a remarkable 5.4 yards per carry. Hokie led the NFL in rushing average in 1984 with 6.0 per attempt. In his professional career, he fumbled just six times.

In the last decade, Gajan was as popular as a folksy truth teller in the broadcast booth as he had been as a fierce competitor on the carpet at the Superdome. His natural wit complemented the measured voice of veteran Saints play-by-play voice Jim Henderson.

“Everybody loved him. He had that kind of personality,” Bradley says of his friend of more than 40 years. “The Hokie I knew was a big talker, raconteur, just a funny guy. You just wanted to be around him always.”

Two men positioned in the backfield behind Bradley when he received All SEC accolades at center in 1979 have died. Quarterback David Woodley succumbed to liver disease in 2003 at 44. Gajan made it to 56, outliving Woodley by a dozen years.

“When you are young and in that kind of physical condition, you think you are immortal,” Bradley notes as he reflects on the loss of cohorts who were determined to beat all odds and make it in the NFL. “When you wear that (LSU) uniform, you have the sense of being special.”

Gajan, listed at 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, would not likely get a chance on the NFL stage today. Scouts would grumble that he was too slow to be a running back and too small to play fullback. Bradley knew a different story.

“Hokie was the kind of guy who put it out there every play,” Bradley says. “The back of my triceps were black and blue from him hitting the holes so hard. He was a power runner and would take on anybody. The guy was fearless.”

Royal battle of the band pits King vs. Queen and King

Some LSU alumni are ticked off about a University decision to place the popular Golden Band from Tiger Land director Roy King on administrative leave. A petition with more than 1500 signatures has been delivered to another King named Alexander who runs the campus.

The petition reads: “Roy King has invested nearly 20 years of his life directing the Tiger Band, the same band that he served as drum captain during the 1980s, and LSU is better for it.”

King’s attorney Jill Craft says her client is the victim of a money hungry LSU School of Music. Dean Todd Queen (yes, this is accurate) is allegedly seeking a share of athletic funds delivered to the Tiger Band for scholarships to band members.

LSU is not commenting much, but spokesman Ernie Ballard says the leave is unrelated to “any alleged dispute between the Tiger Band and the School of Music.”

Many purists in the School of Music have argued that playing in the Tiger Band harms the ears of students who must have a keen sense of hearing to perform their craft effectively.

Perhaps the most famous graduate of the LSU School of Music is Bill Conti, who has written scores for a catalogue of film and television productions, including Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky V and Dynasty. Conti played piccolo for the LSU Band.

Conti’s hearing and timing appear to be just fine. The legendary composer, who grew up in Providence and Miami and came to LSU on a music scholarship, turned 74 on April 13 and remains one of the top ambassadors for the LSU Music School and Tiger Band.

Abdul-Rauf remains best at line in NBA history

New York Knicks President Phil Jackson weathered a barrage of criticism when one of his tweets compared the NBA’s reigning best player Stephen Curry to former LSU standout Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (Chris Jackson). In comparing the two guards, Curry is bigger and scores more (6-foot-3, 190 pounds with a 22.4 career points per game average) than Abdul-Rauf (6-foot-1, 162 and 14.6 PPG average), but the similarity in their styles is obvious.

Abdul-Rauf is not officially the career leader in NBA-ABA free throw percentage because he did not attempt enough free throws to qualify. But his accuracy from the line is better than any player in league history.

[table]Players,Years Active,Free Throws,Attempted,Percent

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf,1990-2001,1051,1161,.90525

Steve Nash,1996-2014,3060,3384,.90426

Mark Price,1986-1998,2135,2362,.90390

Stephen Curry,2009-2016,1668,1850,.90162 [/table]

These are the only NBA players with career free throw percentages above 90 percent. Rick Barry, regarded by some as the best free throw shooter ever, completed his 14 year career with 5713 conversions in 6397 attempts from the line (.89307 pct.).

Louisiana Tech’s Karl Malone holds the NBA record for most free throws made. The league’s second leading scorer all-time converted 9787 free throws in 13188 attempts for a percentage of .74211.

Among other LSU stalwarts, Shaquille O’Neal was 5935 of 11252 from the line in his NBA career (.52746 pct.); Pete Maravich was 3564 of 4344 from the line (.82044 pct.); Bob Pettit was 6182 of 8119 for (.76142 pct.).

author avatar
Jim Engster | President, Tiger Rag

2 Comments

  1. Mr. Howard Lee (Hokie) Gajun has never gotten the credit that he deserved from neither the LSU Tigers, nor the New Orleans Saints. The guy was a force at running back and had an infectious personality. Thanks for the piece on “Hokie”.

    • I agree … LSU owes much to Hokie – 4th and 1 easy.. 3 – No problem .. God rest in Piece … HE just needed another great running back against that team in red !

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