Before Kenny Stabler became a sports legend, he was a typical Foley High School student with an extraordinary talent.
“He showed flashes of brilliance and excellence even at that young age,” said former Foley Football Coach Ivan Jones. Jones said he first met Stabler when he played on the “Pee Wee” league, which was called the “pony” league at the time.
“He was always there and was real competitive and just had a lot of God-given talent…..he liked to win!” Jones chuckled.
Even though Jones was the head football coach while Stabler was in high school, he said it was the middle school coach who gave Stabler the emphasis nickname, “Snake,” after he weaseled his way through the defensive line during a game.
“We were always told it was Denzel Hollis who was the one who gave him the nickname “Snake.” That’s the story anyway. Everybody at that time called him Snake and that stuck through college and of course the pros,” recalled Lester Smith, who was the senior quarter in 1961 when Stabler was a sophomore just starting his varsity career.
“Some people think he was even better in baseball and basketball. He averaged 29 points a game in basketball,” Smith said. “Ken excelled as a pitcher in baseball and had a big contract to sign with Major League Baseball, even after his senior year, but he chose football, and I think he chose right.”
Smith said his family was close to Stabler and his wife was a classmate of his, which is why he wanted to extend his condolences to Stabler’s entire family.
“Ken was one of those that liked everybody. He was just real jovial and friendly with everybody. He expressed great confidence in what he could do,” said Smith.
Smith said Foley High School has a tradition of strong football teams, but many refer to the years he and Stabler attended as “the golden age.”
“The school record is 23 straight wins. It started the last three games my junior year and then through the 10 games my senior year and then the 10 games of Ken’s junior year. Had they been able to beat Vigor… it would have been a 33 game winning streak had they been able to pull that one out,” Smith recalled.
Smith said the record still stands today.