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Irvin “Chumley” Noil Jr.: How Today’s Athlete Differ From the Athlete of the 80s

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

Irvin “Chumley” Noil Jr. is a 55-year-old cook for one of the United States Army Corps of Engineers ships. However, before he put on the apron to make delicious meals, he put on pads, cleats and a helmet to play football for Oliver Perry Walker High School in New Orleans.

From 1979-1982, Noil Jr., who was 6’2” and weighed 180 pounds, played defensive end and center, but doesn’t remember what number he wore. He played football because he loved the game. In today’s times, he feels that young Black athletes’ mindset differs from past young Black athletes’ mindset. Noil Jr. says, “Back then, nobody thought about the pros until their second or third year in college, while others focused on getting out of school and getting a job. But today, kids are thinking about the pros in eighth and ninth grade.” He feels that players around his age played sports because they enjoyed it and were competitive. They were not focused on going pro like today’s kids, rather just playing the sport they love. That’s why young athletes still see older athletes playing pickup basketball and flag football in the community.

When Noil Jr. played, it was easier for him to focus on football and not worry about the outside pressure that today’s kids experience. “Kids have to avoid or overcome drugs, gangs and jail and deal with the possibility of injury, I didn’t have to worry about that,” he said. Also, he feels that competition is less now due to athletes being addicted to drugs and going to jail. “You don't realize how many potential great athletes aren't athletes due to circumstances,” he said.

Going to O. Perry Walker High School, a predominantly white school in a Black neighborhood, Noil Jr. did not experience many challenges off the gridiron. “My only worry was how I was going to get to practice because I had no car,” he said. However, on the field, he had issues with how the team was ran and how he was used. According to Noil Jr., O. Perry Walker High School was the “best school in the district” that won the district every year, but they never won a playoff game. This was due to his team being a run heavy team that barely threw the ball.

“When we faced teams in the playoffs and got down early, we couldn’t get back in the game because we couldn’t throw the football.” Also, he felt he was underutilized when he played. “I was a gifted receiver and wanted to play tight end, but we ran Wing-T [offense] every play.” He went on to say that O. Perry Walker never used their playmakers, unlike teams playing today. “Coaches didn't adjust to players’ strengths. They would rather run their same scheme, rather than adjusting to the players’ abilities on the team,” he says. On the other hand, coaches adjust to their players' strengths in today’s era. He used the example of Lamar Jackson, 2019 NFL MVP, to explain how coaches adjust to players’ strength. “He doesn’t fit the generic quarterback that a typical team is looking for. But, the Ravens played to Jackson’s strengths. “If I played in today’s era, it would've been a whole different ball game,” he says.

Further, Noil Jr. states, “There were no Black quarterbacks in football, unless it was at an all Black school.” At O. Perry Walker, Black athletes played skill positions like wide receiver, running back and cornerback, while white players played center, linebacker and quarterback. “There were Black kids growing up that had great arms but couldn't play quarterback due to the quarterback position being white. And [Black players] weren’t offended by it because it was ingrained in our mentality.”

In contrast, Noil Jr. says, “The passing game came to Black schools when white families started leaving public schools. Black players were able to start playing quarterback and other positions that were dominated by white players.” Noil Jr. believes that “white flight” led to the evolution of Black quarterbacks that we see today. It allowed quarterbacks like Herb Tyler, who graduated from O. Perry Walker High School, to play football at LSU, a predominantly white institution. Moreover, he believes that mobile quarterbacks with accuracy will be the new norm in the NFL in the next 10 years and half the NFL will have Black quarterbacks, while the other half will be white quarterbacks in the next 10 years. “Right now, the best athletes are going to play. Back then, there weren't any tryouts to play for a position.”

One of Noil Jr.’s favorite moments when he was playing football was playing against John Ehret High School, who won a state championship in 1981 and West Jefferson High School. “[John Ehret] had big, old country boys on their team [that featured] a couple of guys that went to LSU. West Jeff had pro-style players,” he said. He enjoyed playing against collegiate and pro level competition to see where he and his team compared against some of the best.

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