Willie Jeffries spent a lifetime knocking down doors in the world of college football.
Tuesday, the doors of the College Football Hall of Fame opened for him.
The former South Carolina State football coach was named one of six new members of the division class of the Hall of Fame by the National Football Foundation. The division class honors players and coaches from the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, Divisions II, III and NAIA.
Jeffries, who had two stints at S.C. State during a head coaching career in which he won 179 games at four schools from 1973 to 2001, was thrilled by the national recognition.
"This is an honor for me, my former players, South Carolina State and all the schools I've coached," he said. "This is about the top one a coach can receive."
Not only did Jeffries win the most games in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference history and win three
national titles among historically black colleges, he was also was the first African-American to be named a head coach at an FBS school when Wichita State hired him in 1979. His best season there was an 8-3 mark in 1982.
Jeffries, the only person in history to coach against both Bear Bryant and Eddie Robinson, recognized that he was a pioneer at the time.
"Once I got there (to Wichita), after about a week or two, I said, 'Oh, my goodness, I am a trailblazer.' There was a lot of weight on my shoulders," he said. "But I found out as I went across Kansas that people are people, and they will treat you well according to how you present yourself."
Jeffries also is a member of the S.C. Athletic Hall of Fame, the S.C. State University Athletic Hall of Fame and the MEAC Hall of Fame. Jeffries will be inducted into the Division Hall during for this latest honor in ceremonies July 16-17 in South Bend, Ind., along with players Emerson Boozer, Troy Brown, Brian Kelley, Milt Morin and coach Ted Kessinger.
Brown, a former Marshall University and New England Patriots standout as a receiver and kick returner, also has a South Carolina connection. A three-time Super Bowl champion and the Patriots' all-time leading receiver, the Barnwell native played for Blackville-Hilda High, which he led to a state championship in 1988.
Jeffries, who won six MEAC titles with the Bulldogs and one with Howard, earned the lifetime achievement award from the Black Coaches Association in 2002. He also coached College Football Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Donnie Shell at S.C. State.
Another one of his former Bulldogs players, Buddy Pough, has served as S.C. State's head coach for eight seasons and has guided the program to consecutive MEAC titles.
"I'm so happy for him," said Jeffries. "The more he wins, the better it is for all of us and the standards we started to set in 1973."
Pough is proud to be carrying on that standard.
"We feel like we're all a part of coach. Everybody has taken something from him," Pough said. "For him to be inducted is like a dream come true to all of us."