There could be a game of six degrees of Porterville. Chances are mention any subject or person and there’s a link to Porterville somehow. Like O.J. Simpson.
When it comes to Porterville’s link to O.J. Simpson, it just happens to be former Porterville College football coach Don Kloppenburg.
Kloppenburg, who had a successful run as PC’s coach in the 1970s, recently celebrated his 85th birthday in Scottsdale, Ariz., and there was a large number of former players who either called or came to Arizona to pay their respects. “They were like little kids when they got together,”said Kloppenburg’s son, Don Kloppendburg Jr.
Before Kloppenburg came to PC he launched his head coaching career at Laney College in Oakland, beginning the program there.
The program had begun just the year before when it rose in 1966 to a 9-0 record, a No. 3 national ranking and a showdown with Simpson and the nation’s No. 1 ranked team, 9-0 San Francisco City College, for the mythical national championship in the Prune Bowl in San Jose.
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.
Kloppenburg Jr. said his father stressed conditioning and that was the key to stopping Simpson. “They just wore that line out for O.J.’s team,” Kloppenburg Jr. said. “And they didn’t miss any tackles.”
When Kloppenburg began the program at Laney he had 160 players who tried out for the team. One of the them was a welder, Al Andrews, who worked in Oakland. When he heard Laney was starting football he decided to try out and went on to play in the NFL and actually played with Simpson for the Buffalo Bills.
“That was the toughest game I ever played,” said Kloppenburg Jr. about what Simpson told Andrews concerning that 1966 game. “I used to be able to break tackles. I couldn’t break any tackles.”
But the game against Simpson wasn’t the only memorable game for Kloppenburg at Laney. In his first season at Laneyin 1965, Kloppenburg took his team to San Quentin Prison to play a team from the prison.
Since the program was still young, Kloppenburg was doing everything he can to schedule games to fill the schedule and ended up scheduling a game at San Quentin Prison. During that game, Kloppenburg actually noticed one of the players from San Quentin, Leon Burns, and ended up recruiting him. When Burns got out of prison, he joined the Laney football team, went on to Long Beach State and was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 1971.
In his three seasons at Laney from 1965 to 1967, Kloppenburg posted a 28-1 record. Laney competed as an independent in 1965 and went 9-0 and went 9-1 in 1967.
A couple of the players who played on that 1966 team from Oakland were at Kloppenburg’s birthday celebration. The game was like an episode of Scared Straight for them. While they were tough, Kloppenburg Jr. said, the trip to San Quentin “scared the dog out of them.” Kloppenburg Jr. said the trip also “inspired them” to stay in school.
Kloppenburg coached several players who went on to play in the NFL, including John Misko at PC, who went on to be the punter for the Los Angeles Rams.
One of Kloppenburg’s favorite players was Rick Waller, who played linebacker for PC from 1976 to 1978. While not the biggest player, Kloppenburg Jr. said about Waller, “unbelievable talent. He was the ultimate overachiever and dad loved him. He had the heart of a lion.”
Another one of Kloppenburg’s favorites was Rick Anderson, who was a lineman at PC and went on to play for California before a successful stint as a longtime assistant for Strathmore High, helping to develop that program into a state power. “My dad loved Rick Anderson,” Kloppenburg Jr. said. “He does talk highly of him.”
Of course, Kloppenburg had a lot of favorites and still remembers them all. “My dad’s memories are still sharp,” Kloppenburg Jr. said, “He can still name the players.”