Tommy Wilcox – Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of FameFootball Player, 1973-84
Bonnabel H.S./University of Alabama
As a true freshman, he was relegated to the “scout squad,” he said, “or the dummy squad where I got the hell beaten out of me.”
When the 1978 season ended and so did his personal torment, Wilcox was summoned to the office of head coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant.
Bryant offered the former triple option quarterback a pair of options: he could compete at quarterback with senior incumbent Steadman Shealy or he could switch over to defense and possibly start at safety.
Wilcox opted for the healthier move and his timing could not have been any better.
In his freshman season at safety, Wilcox played for a national championship squad (12-0) which defeated Arkansas 24-9 in the Sugar Bowl. He was named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year, the first of numerous honors including first team All-American in 1981. In 1992, he was voted to the Alabama ‘Team of the Century’ which included just four defensive backs from the Tide’s first 100 years.
His standout performances as a high schooler and as a collegiate have enabled Wilcox to be selected to the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame.
“I really appreciate this,” he said of the honor. “But as I have said many times, this is not just about one player. So many people have had a role in this, from my father (Freddie), to the great coaches at Bonnabel and Alabama, to all the kids I played with. I would just like to thank all of them.”
His wizardry with the football enabled him to lead Bonnabel to the lone football state championship appearance in school history in 1977. Despite singlehandedly accounting for 350 yards in the title game against South Lafourche and its quarterback, Bobby Hebert, Wilcox and the Bruins were upended 21-20 in a heartbreaker.
“I thought we controlled the whole game,” said Wilcox. “But it was just one of those nights. It was not meant to be. After all, we had to win the last game of the season by a certain number of points just to get in.”
Wilcox was named the Class 4A All-State quarterback, as well as all-district and all-city, before facing a deluge of recruiters. He signed with Alabama at the Harahan City Hall where his late father Freddie served as mayor for 16 years.
“Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Oklahoma – they were all after me but I kind of wanted to stay closer to home,” he said. “There was just something about Alabama. I have always prided myself by not always doing the easy thing. I knew if I could make it at Alabama, I could make it anywhere.
“Coach Bryant was the only coach who made no promises, not a jersey number nor a guarantee to start. He told me I have a chance to be on TV and a chance to win a national championship ring.”
As a true freshman scout-teamer, Wilcox played both positons before the major position switch.
“I just wanted to play. I just wanted to get on the field,” he said.
After graduation, Wilcox had a brief fling with the old U.S. Football League before injuries ended his career.
He spent 20 years in pharmaceutical sales before settling into work with another love to rival football – hunting and fishing. Wilcox has been the host of “Tommy Wilcox Outdoors” for 13 years in Tuscaloosa, where he still lives with his wife Mary. The couple has two daughters: Kristi, a lawyer, and Kacie, a nurse.
Wilcox was previously inducted into the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame for his accomplishments at Bonnabel. Now he adds the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame honor to his résumé.
“Like I said, so many people played a role in this.”
Story submitted by Bill Bumgarner of the Greater New Orleans Sports Awards Committee.