Don Kloppenburg is as sharp as ever. The former Porterville College fooball coach who celebrated his 85th birthday this past summer demonstrated that while holding court at Poor Richards Pizza on Main Street on Friday night.
It was another chance for former players and coaches of Kloppenburg to celebrate his 85th birthday with him. Kloppenburg was PC’s football coach from 1974 through 1979.
“I think he taught me everything I know about football and some things I don’t want to know about football,” said Lewis Sewell who coached the offensive line and offensive backs for Kloppenburg.
Among the players who Sewell coached were Donald Russell, whose a member of the Porterville College Hall of Fame, and Rick Anderson, who was an All-American at PC and went on to play for California.
Anderson also served as a longtime assistant coach at Strathmore High, helping to establish that program as a state power.
And Kloppenburg remembers when he brought in one of his former players who was then in the NFL to motivate Anderson. “I did it to be a motivational factor,” Kloppenburg said. “They need to see what’s out there.”
Kloppenburg also remembered another one of his former players, Greg Townsend, who he coached at Long Beach City College after leaving PC. Townsend went on to attend TCU, but ended up being buried on the bench with a bad team and was receiving no attention from NFL teams.
Kloppenburg told then Los Angeles Raiders coach Tom Flores he needed to take a look at Townsend. The Raiders ended up drafting Townsend and the rest is history as Townsend became a Super Bowl champion and All-Pro defensive end.
Sewell said that’s one of the things he’s most proud of is all the players who went on to play at four-year schools after playing at PC. He said one season during Kloppenburg’s tenure, PC sent 13 players to four-year schools.
One of those players was John Misko, who was an All-American punter at PC and also played free safety for the Pirates. Misko went on to be the punter and play defensive back at Oregon State and then went on to be the punter for the Los Angeles Rams.
He did all this after spending three years in the U.S. Army. “The proudest thing that I’ve ever done, you would think it’s this,” said Misko, displaying his NFL union card. “But it’s not. “It’s my U.S. Military card,” said Misko while displaying that card.
“That man right there,” said Misko as he pointed at Kloppenburg, “took a chance on me and means everything to me.”
“I don’t call him Don,” added Misko, who went on to work as a Correctional Officer. “I’ll always call him coach. It’s respect. My NFL career started when I got out of the military and came to PC and started playing football there.”
Sewell also noted about many of the players during the Kloppenburg era, “a lot of them who came here, stayed here.”
He gave one example of what he said the program was all about at the time. He mentioned one player, Warren Haggray, who came from Savannah, Ga., and didn’t have much.
But with the help of longtime PC booster Harry Sunderland, Haggray ended up earning a scholarship to the University of Pacific. Haggray went on to become a lawyer.
Kloppenburg began his head coaching career at Laney College in Oakland. Kloppenburg established the program at Laney, which went 9-0 in 1965, 10-0 in 1966 and 8-1 in 1967 for a 27-1 record under Kloppenburg.
In 1965, Kloppenburg took his Laney team to play at San Quentin Prison to play a team of prisoners. One of Kloppenburg’s claim to fame came when his Laney team shut down O.J. Simpson and San Francisco City College to win the junior college national title in 1966.
Laney was 9-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation when it faced Simpson and No. 1 ranked San Francisco, which was also 9-0, in the Prune Bowl in San Jose for the mythical national title.
San Francisco was an established power while Kloppenburg said about his Laney program, still in just its second season: “We weren’t taken very seriously — yet.”
But Laney overcame a 13-0 deficit to rout San Francisco 35-13, holding Simpson to 26 yards on 11 carries. Simpson came into the game with 2,526 yards rushing and 53 touchdowns. “He was disgusted,” Kloppenburg said.
Another one of Kloppenburg’s former PC players who was at Friday’s event was Rick Waller. “He was a great linebacker for us,” Kloppenburg said. “He could get to the ball. He was smart on the field. It was like having a defensive coach on the field.”
Kloppenburg won 73 percent of his games as a head coach and also finished with a winning record at PC. “I think the best job coaching was right here,” said Kloppenburg about the coaching job he did at Porterville.
And at 85, Kloppenburg still cherishes all the players he coached and all the coaches he coached with. “That’s what makes it all worthwhile,” he said. “Your relationship with your staff and your individual players.”