Former Haskell Football Standout Inspired by Thorpe, Levi and Mills
Wade McGee’s decision to enroll at Haskell Indian Junior College was life-changing.
An exceptional 8-man football high school career at Delaware, Oklahoma led to a tryout at Oklahoma State University in 1988, but a fella named Barry Sanders was already in place. Poor study habits and not getting any playing time at OSU led McGee to make one of the best decisions he could have made: to enroll at Haskell.
“I wasn’t really raised traditionally. I started learning when I got to Haskell, which turned out to be a real blessing,” said McGee, who is a descendent of Chief Red Bird Smith. “I met other tribal members who were distant relatives, who started teaching me. Benny Smith was the dean of students when I was there and made a huge impact on my life. He taught me how to grow up.”
McGee spent hours walking through the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame during his time in Lawrence, Kansas. Names like Jim Thorpe (Sac/Fox), John Levi (Arapaho/Cheyenne) and Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota) inspired him.
“Jim Thorpe has always been my hero,” McGee said. “I remember seeing pictures of Jim Thorpe and John Levi and the rest of the famous Indian athletes. One of my goals is to be in the American Indian Hall of Fame some day.”
When he graduated from Haskell, which is in the National Junior College Athletic Association, he held seven football records at the university, was an academic All-American, and graduated with degrees in liberal arts and natural resources. McGee held the record for longest touchdown run from scrimmage (86 yards); most touchdowns in a single game (4); most touchdowns in a season (19); and most career touchdowns (36), among others.
In 1992, McGee was the leading NJCAA rusher in the nation, as well the national leader in scoring. His 9.8-yards per carry attracted NFL attention and he was invited to some combines.
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