Induction Year: 1997

By Greg Hilburn

Ruston High School football coach L.J. “Hoss” Garrett didn’t invent the mythical Notre Dame Box formation, but he used it to build a Bearcat dynasty.

There were no secrets in the box. In fact, Garrett’s teams ran only eight plays.

But Garrett’s boys knew every nuance, every shift, every trap so well that they could run the plays in their sleep – and so often did.

“We were so drilled in the running of that offense that I’d dream about which cut to make on which play,” said running back Charlie Barham, who played for Garrett from 1949-1952. “I can still remember the play numbers.”

The Bearcats weren’t the only ones who knew the plays.

“I remember the opponents would actually sometimes call out the plays before we ran them,” said Hoss’ son, Pat Garrett, who played for his father from 1953-56.

It didn’t matter. Garrett’s teams ran the offense with the precision of diamond cutters, and the Bearcats sliced up opponents week after week.

“He believed the answer was not in deception, but fundamentals,” Pat said.

The late Garrett, who was the winningest prep football coach in Louisiana history when he retired from Ruston in 1971, will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday in Natchitoches.

Garrett, who finally switched to the more modern T-formation in the 1960s, was 270-122-21 in 38 years as a head coach, 35 of them at Ruston High School.

“He was a fire-eater,” said former Neville High School coach Charlie Brown, who faced Hoss and his Ruston teams as an assistant and head coach. “They were the masters of the Box.”

“We knew what was coming, but it didn’t make any difference.”

Ruston won state titles under Garrett in 1941, 1947 and 1951. His 1944 Bearcats finished second in the state, and five other Ruston teams reached the state semifinals.

Ruston won 47 straight regular-season games and four straight district titles from 1951-1954.

“There was no doubt in his mind what he wanted done, how he wanted to do it and your part in it,” Pat said.

It was that confidence that Garrett was able to translate to his players.

“He had some rare traits,” said Buck Stewart, who was a blocking back on the 1951 title team. “He knew how to get the most out of his kids.”

“Coach Garrett had a certain innate knowledge of psychology,” Barham said. “It enabled him to get everything a player was capable of giving. That was his secret.”

Garrett’s intensity on the field was almost palpable.

“I’d hear him in the locker room at halftime: ‘I’d wish I could put that helmet on and go out there myself,’ ” Pat said.

Stewart’s job was to relay into the huddle the plays that Hoss called from the sidelines in 1951.

“He sent the play in, and that’s what he intended to run,” said Stewart. “Well, one time I changed the play. I don’t know what he picked me up by – we didn’t have face masks – but my feet didn’t touch the ground.”

Garrett’s teaching abilities weren’t limited to football. He led Ruston to four straight state track and field titles beginning in 1956, and he was offered the job as the track coach at Northeast Louisiana.

“But football was his love,” Pat said. “He lived and breathed it.”