Don Webster is grateful that he had some height when he first attended Brother Rice High School as a freshman.
That proved to be the criteria necessary to start what would become a remarkable football career for the 1966 graduate.
“I went out for football freshman year and there were only 10 uniforms left, so the guys that didn’t already have one were told to stand in line from tallest to shortest,” Webster said. “I happened to be one of the tallest guys, so they gave me a uniform. That’s the only reason I made the varsity that season.”
While his first season was relatively uneventful, he would go on to become the first all-state player in program history.
Webster was a two-way standout for the Crusaders, demonstrating his versatility by being a running back, split end, linebacker and defensive back during his high school career.
“I never played organized football in grammar school, but I always wanted to play,” Webster said. “Most guys in high school were excited about going to the dances and getting their driver’s licenses, but I was excited that I could finally play organized football.”
Despite some talented teams, Brother Rice, which competed in the Catholic Youth Organization at the time, didn’t make the playoffs until Webster’s senior season.
Brother Rice lost its season opener and then tied its second game before reeling off eight straight victories, including an 8-7 win over rival St. Rita, which was ranked No. 1 in the state.
Webster recalls Hall of Fame football coach Tom Mitchell, who was an assistant to head coach Bill Flynn at the time, trying to motivate the players during the season with the incentive of knowing the playoff game would be played at Soldier Field.
“Tom Mitchell was building us up and talking about how great Soldier Field was and telling us we wouldn’t believe what it was like, trying to get us to play well,” Webster said. “Then we get to play there and Soldier Field was a dump at the time.
"We were looking at each other in the locker room with water dripping from the pipes and saying Mitchell was lying through his teeth. We lost to Loyola, but at least I can always say I got the chance to play at Soldier Field.”
Even if the experience lasted just a couple plays.
After having the wind knocked out of him trying to tackle Loyola all-stater Randy Marks on a punt return, Webster dove into a receiver’s legs head first on the ensuing possession trying to make a tackle and ended up breaking his neck.
“I never lost consciousness, but my head just exploded and I saw all sorts of colors after the hit,” Webster said. “I had a tremendous headache. This was 45 years ago, so all they did was wrap a towel around my head and put tape on it and I stood on the sideline.
"On the way home, I didn’t feel well. We got back to school and Mitchell asked how I was doing and I told him not too good and the next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital. I was fortunate that I didn’t need surgery and didn’t have any nerve damage.”
Webster remained in the hospital two weeks and wore a neck collar for six weeks. He was fortunate to still receive a scholarship to Purdue University where he played four seasons for the Boilermakers and still proudly sports his Big Ten championship ring he earned.
Hall of Famer Also Shined in Baseball
Webster’s older brother Jack was a standout hurdler on the track team at Brother Rice and convinced him to try the sport, which he did for three seasons.
Webster then decided to give baseball a shot his senior season and ended up being named the team’s MVP and led the Crusaders to the Catholic League championship.
He achieved All-Catholic League honors in football and baseball his senior season and was a member of Brother Rice’s 2011 inaugural Hall of Fame class, the Circle of Champions.
“It was a wonderful honor,” Webster said. “When I got there and realized the quality of individuals that were being honored, it just made it more special.
"There were people that made it to the professional ranks in baseball, football and hockey and it was quite humbling. I was sitting there during the introductions thinking I’m pretty lucky. I don’t know how I got in this group, but I’ll take it.”
COMING THURSDAY: Log on at 6 a.m. Thursday to learn what Don Webster did with himself after his playing days were finished.