This year’s inductees — Meredith Heckel-LaRue (softball), Solon Mobley (basketball), Mac Newcomb (football), Joe Daw (baseball), and Paul Russell (football) — are among the most accomplished in their respective sports in school history with a long list of honors and records.
Also scheduled to be honored is Larry Smith, who served as the school’s sports information director from 1961-78 and is a member of the NAIA Hall of Fame. Smith will receive the UAM Spirit Award.
This year’s class will be formally inducted during a banquet on Thursday, October 20 at 6 p.m. at the John F. Gibson University Center. Tickets are $35 and may be purchased by calling the Department of Athletics at (870) 460-1058.
Meredith Heckel-LaRue admits to being nervous before her first at-bat in college, but it didn’t show. Heckel-LaRue launched a home run the first time she stepped to the plate in a game at UA-Pine Bluff. “Meredith was one of the most competitive and naturally gifted players I’ve ever coached,” says Cotton Blossoms Coach Alvy Early. “She was a powerful hitter and allowed us to do something I’d never done before. We put her in the lead-off spot and we started a lot of games ahead 1-0. She played with a passion that very few players exhibit.”
A product of Lake Hamilton High School where she was primarily a shortstop, Heckel-LaRue made a quick transition to first base at UAM. She became an instant starter as a freshman on a team that won the 2005 Gulf South Conference championship, earning the first of four straight All-GSC honors.
During a spectacular junior year in 2007, she set single-season records for home runs (22), slugging percentage (.836), at-bats (226) and runs scored (72) while batting .438. That performance was good enough to earn All-America honors from Daktronics (second team) and the National Fast-Pitch Coaches Association (third team). She was also first team All-South Region and the GSC West Division Player of the Year. “I remember when I broke the single season home run record,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if it was fair or foul at first. That’s one of my favorite memories.”
A stand-out in the classroom as well as on the diamond, Heckel-LaRue made the GSC All-Academic Team and the ESPN/CoSIDA Academic All-District Team in 2006, ’07 and ’08 and was an NFCA Academic All-American in 2007.
When she completed her UAM career, Heckel-LaRue held career records for home runs (51), total bases (470) and runs scored (180). In 2010, she was named to the Gulf South Conference All-Decade First Team.
Heckel-LaRue, her husband, Brad, and their sons – Braddox, 2, and Jack, 4 months, will soon be moving from Hot Springs to Russellville, where Meredith has accepted a promotion to sales representative for United Rentals.
She still has fond memories of her UAM career. “I don’t miss the 5 a.m. workouts, but the friendships I made and getting to play for Coach Early will always be special to me,” she said.
UAM basketball can thank much of its success in the 1950s and ’60s to the Mobley family of White Hall. Harold Mobley starred for the Boll Weevils from 1956 to 1960 and was inducted into the UAM Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. The youngest Mobley, Ricky, was a sharp-shooting guard for the Weevils from 1967-71. Middle brother Solon, was the most prolific scorer of the three.
A hot-shooting guard, Solon Mobley lettered four years and started three for the Weevils and is still, after 56 years, the ninth leading scorer in school history with 1,515 points. Mobley averaged 15.5, 18.7 and 21.1 points his sophomore, junior and senior seasons and at the completion of his playing career in 1964, was UAM’s all-time scoring leader.
“I was small, I wasn’t fast, and I couldn’t jump, but I could shoot,” Mobley said. “My dad told me early on that if I wanted to play basketball, I’d better learn to shoot because I wasn’t big enough for much else.”
Solon earned first team All-Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference honors in 1962 and ’63. He eclipsed 30 points in a game four times, topped by a 36-point performance against Millsaps College in 1962. He still ranks among UAM’s statistical leaders in career field goals made (566), career free throws made (383), single season free throws made (149), career assists (383), career free throw percentage (.786) and still holds the school record for free throws made in a game with 18 vs. Northeast Louisiana (now Louisiana-Monroe) in 1962.
Following graduation in 1964, Mobley spent two years as head basketball coach at Redfield Junior High before inheriting the defending state championship team at White Hall High School where he coached his little brother Ricky for one season. Mobley spent the next 17 years as head basketball coach at White Hall before moving to the administration. He retired as associate superintendent in 1999.
Mac Newcomb is the answer to a trivia question. Newcomb is the last player to wear the number 18 at the University of Mississippi, a number that passed into legendary status when worn by Ole Miss folk hero Archie Manning. The number was retired shortly after Newcomb left Oxford for his new home in Monticello.
Newcomb was recruited out of Parklane Academy in McComb, Miss., by Louisiana Tech Coach Billy Brewer. When Brewer took the Ole Miss job in 1983, he offered Newcomb the chance to play for the Rebels. “It was a chance to play in the SEC so I jumped at it,” Newcomb remembers.
After toiling in the background as a back-up wide receiver his freshman year and hungry for playing time, Newcomb decided to transfer. “My dad and I had heard about some good NAIA programs in Arkansas so we drove over to look around,” he said. “I really liked the coaches at UAM and decided that was where I needed to be.”
Newcomb was eligible for the 1986 season and quickly became one of the most versatile players in school history.
As a sophomore, Newcomb played both ways as a wide receiver and safety, catching 8 passes for 137 yards and grabbing a team-leading six interceptions. Moved strictly to defense in 1987, Newcomb again led the Weevils with five interceptions but the best was yet to come.
As a hard-hitting senior free safety in 1988, Newcomb led a devastating defense that held opponents to less than 13 points a game in a 10-2 season, the only 10-win season in school history. Newcomb patrolled the back end of arguably the best defensive secondary in school history. Teaming with strong safety Craig Jones and cornerbacks Jerry Johnson and Gvona Turner, the foursome intercepted 20 passes with Newcomb claiming four picks.
Following a UAM victory over Washburn University in the first round of the 1988 NAIA playoffs, one Washburn assistant coach had seen enough of Newcomb. “That safety was the best player we’ve seen all year,” the coach muttered.
Newcomb finished his UAM career with 15 interceptions and was both an honorable mention NAIA All-American and a first team All-Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference pick.
After spending several years in real estate, Newcomb is back in football as the defensive coordinator and head baseball coach at Wilkinson County Christian Academy in Woodville, Miss. “Being named to the Hall of Fame is an honor and a privilege,” he said, “but really it was all of us — Craig, Jerry, Gvona and the rest of those guys that made it so special.”
The list of UAM baseball players to earn first team All-America honors is a short one. Only three players are on that list — Darrell Rhodes in 1982, Corey Wood in 2016, and Joe Daw in 1993.
Daw earned first team All-America honors from the NAIA after leading the Boll Weevils to an unexpected AIC championship. The ’93 Weevils were 25-22 overall but a stellar 19-5 in league competition, with Daw redefining the word “durable” by pitching almost every meaningful game.
The strong-armed righthander was 10-0 against AIC competition with a 3.34 earned run average and set single-season school records for wins (15) and innings pitched (122) while leading UAM to its first conference title in nearly 30 years. Daw was the 1993 NAIA South Region Player of the Year and earned first team All-AIC honors.
Daw, his wife, J.J., and daughter Sydney live in the Houston, Tex., suburb of Conroe where Joe works as principal at Knox Junior High School.
“That ’93 team was a great group of guys,” said Daw. “Anything I accomplished was because of them.”
As a senior in high school, Paul Russell was mulling his college choices over dinner one night when the phone rang. UAM coach Tommy Barnes was on the other end. “We talked about hunting, fishing, faith, family, what I was having for dinner,” Russell said. “I felt like I was talking to my uncle. He never mentioned football. When I hung up the phone I told my Dad, ‘I know where I’m going to school.’ True story.”
Tommy Barnes knew a good lineman when he saw one. Paul Russell became one of the most decorated offensive linemen in school history, earning All-America honors twice as a center. A four-year letterman, Russell became a starter as a sophomore in 1992 and anchored the offensive line for the next three seasons.
Russell earned NAIA honorable mention All-America honors as a junior in 1993 while leading the Boll Weevils to the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championship, an 8-4 record and a berth in the NAIA Division I Playoffs. He was named a second team All-American as a senior in 1994 while becoming a two-time All-AIC selection. During Russell’s sophomore and junior seasons, he paved the way for both Undra Holman and Roy Watkins to both surpass 1,000 yards rushing.
Russell and his wife, Amy, a former UAM cheerleader, live in the Houston suburb of Kemah, Tex., where Paul works for a chemical company. The couple has two children.
Larry Smith essentially invented the position of sports information director at what was then Arkansas A&M College. Beginning in 1961, Smith built a reputation for compiling meticulous records and statistics, generating reams of publicity, staffing all home athletic events and traveling with the Boll Weevils and Cotton Blossoms on countless road trips.
It was Smith who organized both the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference Sports Information Directors Association and the NAIA Sports Information Directors Association and was later inducted into both the NAIA Hall of Fame and the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Hall of Fame.
For his 18 years as UAM’s first SID, Smith has been selected as the recipient of the 2016 UAM Spirit Award.
“Larry was the hardest working person I’ve ever met,” said Solon Mobley, a 2016 Hall of Fame inductee. “He made every trip, created the first media guides we’d ever had and you could tell he really cared about the athletes.”
Smith was more than the SID, working as public relations director for the campus while founding the Knights and creating some of the school’s most beloved traditions, including “Old Smokey” and “The Headhunter.”
After leaving UAM, he served as sports editor and managing editor of the Advance Monticellonian before diving back into sports information as SID at Arkansas Tech. Now retired and living in Russellville, Larry is remembered fondly by generations of Boll Weevils and Cotton Blossoms.