JOHN KOVACH Opponent recalls Mel Triplett's talent
HUBBARD -- Mel Triplett, the former Girard High, University of Toledo and National Football League star fullback who died recently, was described by a former opponent as a double threat to opposing teams.
"When he hit the line, he was strong enough to gain the short yardage. And once he got through, he really could take off," recalled Bert Madeline, former Hubbard High left guard who played against Triplett as a junior and senior in 1949 and 1950.
"He was quick off the gun. If he got out, he was able to maneuver and he had good speed after that. He can pick his spots and hit them quickly."
Madeline and Triplett, who died July 25 at age 71 in Toledo, were members of the first Campbell News Steel Valley Conference All-Star football team as announced in the Dec. 7, 1950, edition of The Campbell News.
From Girard to NFL
After earning four letters at Toledo (1951-54) and making the All-Mid-American Conference first team in 1954, Triplett advanced to the NFL to play for New York Giants (1955-60) and Minnesota Vikings (1961-62).
His jersey number at Toledo was retired in 1955, one of only four jersey numbers to be retired in school history, and he was inducted into the UT Varsity "T" Hall of Fame in 1983.
He averaged 5.9 yards and 5.2 yards per carry in 1952 and 1953, respectively.
Triplett went on to play 97 games in his NFL career and rushed for 2,857 yards and 14 TDs. He also was the Giants' top offensive player in their NFL championship win over the Chicago Bears in 1956.
Madeline to Kent State
Madeline, meanwhile, went on to Kent State University and eventually became a teacher, spending his last 10 years at McDonald High before retiring.
"I went to Kent State but I didn't play football," Madeline said. "I do remember hearing about him [Triplett] at the time that he was Toledo.
"I remember him playing for the Giants, but I never saw him play professionally," Madeline said.
Madeline said he wasn't involved in sports at Kent State.
"I never used to go to the Kent games," he said. "I worked in a machine shop at Kent, and would come home on the weekends. I went to a few games, but very rarely."
Girard won both games
Madeline said that Hubbard, coached by Al Smelko (1949) and Dick Sontag (1950), lost both years to Girard when Triplett played for the Indians under coach Phil Koppel.
Madeline recalled that Triplett was a "big man at Girard" and a lot bigger than he was.
"I was a whopping 155 pounds," Madeline said. "I think he went about 198 pounds, which was pretty big at that time. I don't know if we had anyone over than 200 pounds on the team at the time. He would be small by today's standards."
Madeline also can remember tackling Triplett.
"Most of the shots I had on him were coming from the side close to the line of scrimmage, and he went down, but most of the tackles in those days were leg tackles." recalled Madeline.
Although he was impressed by Triplett at the time, he never thought then that Triplett would go on to gain national acclaim.
"In those days, I don't think we were thinking about college," Madeline said. "We didn't think that way [as to] who was going to go to college and play pro ball."
Encouraged by Girard teacher
While a teacher at McDonald, Madeline said he recalled reading an article about Triplett that credited Triplett's introduction to football to a Girard High teacher.
"He came up here from [Mississippi] and had never played football before, and I guess a gym teacher talked him into playing football and he was a natural," said Madeline. "He was a very quiet guy and did his job and did it well."
Madeline also shared with The Vindicator an article with photographs in the Dec. 7, 1950, edition of The Campbell News that announced the first Campbell News Steel Valley Conference All-Star football team that included Triplett and Madeline.
Scotty Wynne, who wrote the article, described Triplett as a "fellow you called a fullback going up the line of scrimmage and once past the line of scrimmage he was what you would call a 'scat' back. Mel, when called upon to get few precious yards for a first down could bull his way those few yards and with great possibilities of going the remaining distance to the goal line for a touchdown."
Also in the article, Wynne called Madeline a "watch charm" guard, noting that Madeline served as the team captain, was a two-year letterman and excelled despite usually being smaller than his opponents.
"To give weight, you must possess stamina, courage and agility. We think that Al has proven this year that he owns all these characteristics and deserving of a position on the All-Star team," added Wynne.
Others on first All-SVC team
Joining Triplett and Madeline of that first All-SVC team were ends Richard Serich (Struthers) and Frank Burlingham (Niles), tackles Al Gastalbo (Niles) and Ed Hamrock (Campbell), guard John Martinko (Campbell), center Sam Siskowic (Struthers), quarterback Bob Roth (Austintown Fitch) and halfbacks Rodney Wells (Hubbard) and Bob Lysowski (Campbell).
Making the selections were coaches Koppel, Sontag, John Knapic (Campbell), Howard Heldman (Struthers), Robert Shannon (Fitch) and James Wiand (Niles), and Fred Rollason, WBBW sportscaster. The selections were arranged by Joseph Vrable, sportswriter for The Campbell News.