2019 Hall of Fame Inductees
1966 Championship Football Team - Outstanding Team -
1966 Taft College Football Team (9-1-0) Wool Bowl Champions
The 1966 Cougar team was unquestionably the finest of Taft College’s six seasons as members of the National Junior College Athletic Association. Head Coach Tom Harrell persuaded the Board of Trustees to join the NJCAA a year earlier because the California Community College Commission on Athletics (COA) would not permit TC to recruit out-of-district athletes. The COA even rejected a TC proposal that would permit the school to recruit enough out-of-district players to field a squad of 33 players.
The NJCAA, which governs community college athletics in all states except California, had no recruiting rules, treating community and junior colleges more like colleges than high schools. The COA retaliated by approving a rule that prohibited any California school from playing any college (Taft) that was playing outside the framework of state rules. That meant no California community college could play Taft without being sanctioned.
For the next six years TC had to play out-of-state community colleges and four-year schools. Tom Harrell coached five NJCAA teams that compiled a record of 40 wins, 8 losses and no ties. The 1966 team stood out the most. The Cougars finished 9-1 including a 21-19 victory over Cisco, TX in the Wool Bowl played at New Mexico Military Academy in Roswell, NM.
The lone bump in the road was a 27-14 loss to Arizona Western College in Yuma. The Cougars rebounded the following week to defeat No. 1 nationally ranked Boise JC 41-5 in what was unquestionably the most stunning win of that memorable season. Boise led 5-0 at halftime on a field goal and safety. The Cougars roared back to score 41 unanswered points – 34 of them in the third quarter, a school record. It was Boise’s worst defeat in school history. The 1966 Cougars outscored opponents 440-88, twice scoring 74 points in a game (Azusa Pacific University and Ricks, Idaho College).
The team placed six players on All-America lists by the NJCAA and the J.C. Grid-Wire: tackle Willie Crittendon (1st team on both lists), halfback John Tutino (2nd team NJCAA, honorable mention Grid-Wire), quarterback Paul Waite, guard Dan Goodwin, safety Ed Brandi, and linebacker Art Thomas (honorable mention Grid-Wire).
We are TC!
The 1966 team also produced two NFL coaches: Jim Anderson (running backs coach for the Cincinnati Bengals for 29 seasons) and Dante Scarnecchia (offensive line coach for the World Champion New England Patriots), who just finished his 34th season with the Patriots and has five Super Bowl Rings!
Other notables include: quarterback Dan Bonillas, who has won multiple state and world trapshooting championships including induction into the Pacific International Trapshooting Association (PITA) Hall of Fame in 2018; wide receiver Joey Pistoia, coach and administrator at nationally recognized Long Beach Poly High; Willie Crittendon, the first African-American graduate of Taft College, later played in the NFL and developed an outreach program for inner-city youth in Oakland that was championed by legendary 49er coach Bill Walsh. Crittendon, a playground assistant for the city school system, quickly became a sort of ambassador for Cougar football and was awarded the Taft Chamber of Commerce first Citizen of the Year award. He passed away last October in Oakland.
Numerous players from the 1966 team earned scholarships. Paul Waite rewrote the passing record book at Weber State, and Dennis Applebury set rushing records at Washington State, to name a few.
Players on the 1966 team came from all over the U.S., including four friends from Brooklyn, N.Y. Scarnecchia was from Montebello, one of many recruited from the San Fernando Valley, and Anderson was from Pennsylvania. They became lifelong friends whose families still get together for off-season vacations.
1966 Season Summary
Cougars 32 New Mexico Military 6
Cougars 49 Arizona State Frosh 19
Cougars 74 Azusa Pacific Univ. 0
Cougars 48 Eastern Arizona 6
Cougars 25 Columbia Basin WA 0
Cougars 62 San Jose State Frosh 6
Cougars 74 Ricks Idaho 0
Cougars 14 Arizona Western 27
Cougars 41 Boise Idaho 5
Cougars 21 Cisco TX 19 (Wool Bowl)
Tom Harrell, Head Coach, Offensive Line Coach
John Downer, Offensive End Coach
Dene Hillygus, Back Coach
Herb Williamson, Defensive Coach
Art (Buster) Ray
Dante Scarnecchia - Outstanding Male Athlete -
Dante Scarnecchia, a center on Taft College’s 1966 championship football team, was recruited to play in Taft by legendary Coach Tom Harrell. In between seasons, Scarnecchia accompanied his coach on recruiting trips to Southern California, where he attended Montebello High. Scarnecchia played two years at Taft College. After the Cougars won the 1966 Wool Bowl in New Mexico, and after the completion of the 1967 season, Scarnecchia and teammates Jim Anderson and Les Hitchcock earned scholarships to California Western University (now known as Alliant University) in San Diego where they played for two years. Scarnecchia coached fro three seasons while completing his graduate work. During this time, Scarnecchia earned his Masters in Physical Education while also serving as a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps Reserve.
Scarnecchia began his coaching career with the offensive line at Cal Western in 1970. In the next ten years, Scarnecchia would continue coaching, making stops at Iowa State, Southern Methodist University, University of the Pacific, and Northern Arizona University before getting hired by the New England Patriots in 1982.
Under his guidance the patriot line has flourished, finishing near the top in major statistical categories nearly every season. In 2018, Scarnecchia coached an offensive line that finished fifth in the NFL in overall offense and fourth in scoring. In 2017, his offensive line led the NFL in total yards and was second in scoring. One of Scarnecchia’s major coaching accomplishments came in 2009, when the Patriots offensive line allowed just 18 sacks, the fewest in New England history since the NFL moved to a 16-game schedule in 1978. In 2007, Scarnecchia was named SI.com’s NFL Assistant Coach of the Year. Anchored by an offensive line that sent three players to the Pro Bowl (C Dan Koppen, T Matt Light and G Logan Mankins), the Patriots offense broke several NFL records, including total points and touchdowns. The offensive line powered a Patriots rushing attack that posted the franchise’s highest average yards per rush in 22 years (4.10). Protected by the line, NFL most valuable player Tom Brady broke the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season (50) and led the league in both passing yards (4,806) and passer rating (117.2, also a franchise record).
A few days before the LIII Super Bowl New England’s franchise quarterback Tom Brady called Scarnecchia “the best offensive line coach in the history of the game,” which only made the famously media shy Coach Scar “cringe.”
The Patriots 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in 2019 capped Scarnecchia’s 47th season as a coach, his 35th in the NFL, and 33rd with the Patriots. With this win, Scarnecchia has earned his fifth Super Bowl ring as offensive line coach and assistant head coach of the World Champion New England Patriots. And…he is not stopping yet! As a 47-year coaching veteran, Scarnecchia has enjoyed 17 division championships, nine conference titles, and five Super Bowl championships! We wish Scarnecchia all the best as he enters his 34th season on the Patriots sidelines as the longest current tenured NFL coach.
Debbie Hegeman - Distinguished Classified/Management -
Debbie Hegeman began working at Taft College in 1985 as the EOPS Secretary, then as a Financial Aid Technician in 1992, the Assistant to the Vice President of Student Services in 1996, and finally as the Executive Assistant in Administrative Services in 2013. Debbie retired in 2016 with a total of 31 service years.
Debbie coordinated 22 graduations, produced the college catalog for 20 years, was honored with the CSEA Employee of the Year Award, and had twice been honored with the EOPS Favorite Employee of the Year Award. She participated in our shared governance system for many years through her involvement in Governance Council, Budget Committee, Facilities Committee, and the Collective Bargaining units. For many years she was the defacto event coordinator on campus and would set up and participate in events all over campus. She was always involved in the student experience and embodied “college spirit”. She would drive the cheerleaders to football games, chaperone at Casino Night, coordinate the golf tournament, be a personal hole sponsor at the golf tournament, be involved with football (including the booster program), and provide extensive support of dorm students, among many other things.
In short, there is no way to catalog all the “extra” things Debbie did. Debbie was not “just a cog in the wheel” of Taft College; she was often a driving force of the machine that is Taft College. You can look at the multitude of projects and special tasks she accomplished and point to each of them and say, “This one is good; that one is great, this particular one is exceptional”, but when you look at her career as a whole, as a single body of work, and the sustained dedication, integrity, and effort in consistently giving 100% of herself for 31 years, her greatness is magnified yet again. We can easily recognize Debbie Hegeman as one of the finest examples of what it means to be worthy of the Taft College Hall of Fame.
Otis Smith - Outstanding Male Athlete -
Otis Smith was a four-sport athlete in high school at East Jefferson High School in Louisiana. He stayed busy competing in football, basketball, track, and baseball. At that time, he never dreamed of becoming a Super Bowl champion. His passion was basketball, and it was his high school basketball coach that motivated him to be the best he could be. Otis signed with Southern University to play basketball, but things didn’t work as planned, so he went back home. He had several friends from high school that were headed to Taft College to play football. They encouraged him to call Coach Al Baldock to see about going to Taft. Otis called, and was accepted to TC. Otis said it was Coach Baldock that developed his real love for football. He played cornerback for the Cougars for two years. In the off season, Otis competed in Track and Field. Otis was fast, but he couldn’t hang with the likes of his high school teammate Harlan Davis who became a California State Champion in the 200 (20.34) and 400 (46.07). Head Track Coach Doug Wells, a former All-American Decathlete, felt Otis might do better in ten events, than one. Sure enough, Otis finished 3rd in the State in the decathlon in his first year.
(Taft was a long way from home and sure did not look like the California he had seen on television. Otis said he stuck with Taft due to the kindness and support of people he met around town.)
After graduating from TC in only three semesters, Otis received a football scholarship at the University of Missouri as a member of the Big 8 Conference. He continued to study, learn, and hone his talents as a defensive back in football. Otis was not drafted by an NFL team but did sign with the Philadelphia Eagles under Coach Buddy Ryan as a free agent in 1990. His professional football career almost ended in his first year after suffering an appendicitis. His weight dropped from 190 to 178 pounds. It took months of serious determination and effort to get back into football shape. After five years with the Eagles, he was traded to the New York Jets in 1995. In 1996, Otis played as a New England Patriot under Head Coach Bill Parcells, and Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator, Bill Belichick. In the 1996 AFC Championship, Otis scooped up a Jacksonville Jaguar fumble and ran it back for a 47-yard touchdown, propelling the Patriots to Super Bowl XXXI with a 20-6 victory. The Patriots lost the Championship game to Brett Farve and the Green Bay Packers 35-21.
In 1997, Coaches Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick left New England to coach and manage the New York Jets. Otis opted to go with them and played for the Jets in 1997-99. Otis returned to the Patriots with new Head Coach Bill Belichick in 2000. In 2002, under Coach Belichick, Otis and a very young Tom Brady became Super Bowl XXXVI Champions with a win over the Saint Louis Rams 20-17. It was the Patriots first Super Bowl win. At 36, Otis was the oldest player on the Patriot roster. Reporters stated Smith was playing the best football of his career. Smith and Ty Law were highly lauded for their play in that game with an interception each. At the time, Otis said he felt like he was still 18 years old. In 2003, Otis played for the Detroit Lions.
Coach Bill Belichick – “When I Think of Otis Smith, a few things come to mind immediately: His incredible work ethic, the respect he earned as a result of leadership he brought to the team, and his production in some of our biggest games. Otis helped the Patriots win a championship and he will always be remembered for that as well as for his professional approach to the job.”
Otis retired as a New England Patriot, being signed to a one-day contract for that purpose. Otis was a 14-year veteran cornerback of the NFL. He played 180 career games and was credited with 525 tackles, 29 interceptions, and seven touchdowns. Otis Smith is a Super Bowl Champion.
After retiring as a player, Otis coached defensive players for the new England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, and Kansas City Chiefs. He currently runs an investment company with his wife, Sandy of 24 years and will be coaching in the Extreme Football League for a team in Los Angeles.
Patricia Bench - Extraordinary Service -
Patti Bench, a native and longtime resident of Taft, began her connection with Taft College as a student in 1987, graduating from TC in 1990. Her 27-year working career at the college started in 1989 as an academic advisor and re-entry coordinator. Working as the GAIN Coordinator and liaison between TC and the Department of Human Resources, Patti wrote several grants for the Displaced Homemaker program taking the part-time position of Re-Entry Coordinator/Advisor to fulltime. Eventually, the college closed the Re-entry Center and moved Patti into the counseling center as an academic advisor, probation coordinator, and eventually general counselor.
In time, Patti became Director of Counseling before serving as Dean of Student Services when longtime administrator, Don Zumbro retired in 1997. After about three years, Patti was ready for a new role, so she became the coordinator and counselor for the newly developed distance learning program creating many of the current online student services processes and procedures. During this time, she also developed the college’s counseling and student service programs for the Federal Prison.
As a faculty member, Patti taught for the Psychology Department from 2001 – 2017. Courses taught included College Survival, Math Anxiety, and several psychology courses. Although she taught in the classroom some, much of her teaching was through the college’s online program.
In 2010, Patti was asked to serve as the Interim Vice President of Instruction. Although this position was only supposed to be short-termed, she performed these duties for three years before retiring in 2013.
When asked which position Patti enjoyed most, she answered all of them! Patti believes in Taft College and all it does for the community of Taft and the students they serve. She knows this because she was one of those students whose life was changed for the better!
Patti continues her life of serving and helping others in her retirement years through quilting. Donations include yearly quilts for the college volleyball team’s Breast Cancer fundraiser as well as quilts for the Salvation Army, the Kern River Valley Pregnancy Resource Center, the local Family Resource Center, the Bakersfield Hospital’s Neo-Natal Centers, and the Camp Pendleton Navel Wounded Warrior Program. She says, “Giving people a handmade quilt is like wrapping your arms around them when they truly need it.”
Thomas Harrell - Outstanding Coach -
You can’t think of legendary Coach Thomas Harrell without thinking about Taft College football! Tom had an extensive history in football even before coming to Taft. He played football and baseball in high school in Norman, Oklahoma and football in college at the University of Texas where he was a starting guard for the Texas Longhorns in 1945 for the legendary Coach D.X. Bible. Tom received his Masters degree at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado. Tom was a United States Navy Veteran, serving in WWII, which included South Pacific combat for over two years. He married his wife, Mary, in 1949, and they made their way to California.
Tom’s extensive career at Taft College was from 1954-1985 and during these 31 years he served in a variety of roles, including drivers training instructor, physical education instructor, and head football coach for a team that had the most wins of any junior college team ever. Additionally, Tom’s coaching titles at Taft College included: football line coach, assistant football coach, defensive coordinator, athletic director, head basketball coach, golf coach, and tennis coach. During this time, Tom also served at Taft Union High School as the football B Team head coach and won the South Yosemite League championship in 1959!
In 1963, Tom became the head football coach at Taft College. His most notable years at TC were from 1963 through 1969 and 1973-1975. Tom coached a total of 10 years as head coach with an overall record of 52-35-3. Impressively, his five NJCAA teams went 40-8-0, including the Wool Bowl championship played at the New Mexico Military Academy in Roswell, New Mexico in the epic 1966 season. Tom’s contributions to Taft College and its athletic programs will not be forgotten. One of his contributions is still very evident today, as he was also very instrumental in changing the school colors from maroon/silver to black/gold!
After stepping down as the Cougars head football coach, Tom coached alongside his best friend, legendary Coach Al Baldock, as defensive coordinator and athletic director. During these years, the Cougars held the title as 15-time conference champions, won five Potato Bowl titles, three state titles, and two Junior College Grid-Wire National Crowns. Some of Tom’s most notable players were Willie Crittendon, NFL New England Patriots coach Dante Scarnecchia, NFL Kansas City Chiefs Tracy Rogers, and Hal and Steve Chealander. The roster players and students that Tom had a positive influence on is much too long to list.
After retiring in 1985, Tom and Mary moved to Morro Bay, but Tom still had that passion for TC football. He came back part-time to coach football again and manage the dorms. In 1990, he shared the head coach position with Jeff Chudy and again had a stellar season where they went to the Potato Bowl and defeated Bakersfield College in one of the most exciting, nail-biting games in the history of the Taft vs. Bakersfield rivalry!
Tom passed away in Aurora, Missouri on July 10, 2011. Mary, his wife of 61 years, Mary, passed away shortly thereafter. He and Mary are survived by their children David, Marsha, Mora, and Tracey and their families.