LEOMINSTER — It’s been over 100 years since the football world first heard of Lou Little. Author Mark Bodanza is making sure the legacy of the city-born icon remains.
Little first gained national attention as an All-American tackle at the University of Pennsylvania in 1916 and 1919 and between his years there served in World War I. After a stint in the professional football league with the Frankford Yellow Jackets, Little went on to serve as the head coach at Georgetown University, where he rebuilt the Hoyas’ football program over six years, and then spent an impressive 26 years coaching at Columbia University.
Bodanza’s latest literary foray, “When the Lion Roared: How Lou Little Helped Shape College Football,” continues the author’s exploration of regional history and the characters who helped shape it, delving into the story of Little, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1960 following an illustrious career.
Bodanza, a longtime city resident and city councilor, said he has “long been interested” in Little’s story for many reasons including that the man who was born in Leominster on Dec. 6, 1893, “spent his formative years” in the city and launched his football career there, playing for Leominster High School, where he graduated from, and then spent a year playing at Worcester Academy.
“He was a highly successful player and coach and the first LHS grad of three total that played in the NFL,” the prolific author said. “Moreover, he helped a number of LHS grads get scholarships to Columbia University where he spent the vast majority of his coaching years, 1930 to 1956. He became known as the coach who valued the whole athlete, not just for winning, but also for academics and future success after college. I think that especially makes a worthy figure to remember.”
The 208-page book published this month by North Hill Press, Bodanza’s 12th book, is dotted with vintage photographs and images including a ticket stub from the 1910 Thanksgiving Day faceoff between storied rivals Fitchburg and Leominster and chronicles Little’s “humble beginnings.”
“I totally enjoyed the intricacies of the early professional football world in the 1920s that Lou was very much a part of, having played for the Buffalo franchise of the NFL and a professional team in Philadelphia not aligned with the new league at the same time,” Bodanza said. “I learned how important it is for a coach to be a motivator, to inspire his players to work together as a team and get out of the collective more than anyone believed possible. Those coaching qualities can’t be taught. Little had them in a very big way, witnessed by some of the stunning upsets he led against Stanford in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1934, and against Army in the 1947 season.”
In today’s college football circles, Bodanza notes, Little is not as well-known as some of the luminaries of his day.
“Frank Leahy, Pop Warner, Fielding Yost, and Alonzo Stagg may all be more recognizable figures today, but Little’s contributions to the development and promotion of college football are no less significant,” Bodanza wrote. “In the years after World War II, Little could have taken his talents to many a Division One college football program or a professional team. However, his loyalty to his friend, Columbia’s newly installed president, General Dwight David Eisenhower, kept Little at Morningside Heights.”
Bodanza said it took him about six months to pen the book and another six months to publish it, adding “I always find the writing part to be the greatest fun.” His hope is that readers “understand how much football mirrors life, especially in the early days of the sport.
“I would like to foster a greater understanding of how coaches like Little built the sport and the impact it has had on all of us. Though Little’s exploits have been obscured by the passage of time, they are no less important today than when he paced the sidelines. People are drawn to football because it embodies the American love of the underdog. No other sport provides a greater opportunity for the outmatched to prevail by the application of teamwork. People see this clearly by Coach Little’s example and have truly enjoyed his story.”
Next up for Bodanza is a biography on Johnny Appleseed that he plans to release late next year. He just finished the first draft and said learning about the local legend has been “absolutely fascinating.”
“It has shattered all of my preconceptions about the man,” Bodanza stated before going on to say that he plans to start another book project later this year “based on the thesis that Ben Franklin and Walt Disney are more responsible for American culture than any two other Americans.”
Bodanza has his first book signing for “When the Lion Roared” on Aug. 20 from noon to 4 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 120 Watertower Plaza, Leominster. The book is available for purchase at the store, online at http://barnesandnoble.com and http://markbodanza.com, and through Amazon.