Former Tennessee footballer Lon Herzbrun dies at 87

Lon Herzbrun, who was a 60-minute man when he played football at Tennessee and later returned as linebacker coach for the Vols, died Friday. He was 87 years old.

Herzbrun was born in Welch, West Virginia, and his family moved to Washington, DC, when he was 3 years old. While at Woodrow Wilson High School, he was the football co-scorer for the DC area with 66 points in 1953. In basketball, he was the metro area’s leading scorer.

He had more college scholarship offers in basketball than football, but decided to play football at UT because of the program’s tradition. He came to UT in 1954 as a fullback, but his fingers broke after being caught in a baseball game and he couldn’t carry the ball. So he was moved to the offensive line and defensive tackle.

Herzbrun was so valuable that he stayed on the pitch even when the second team came onto the pitch.

Tennessee linebacker coach Lon Herzbrun talks to Vols captain Jackie Walker (52) as the defense hands the game to the offense.  In front of a crowd of 62,990 in Knoxville, Auburn edged the Vols 10-9.  09/25/1971

After graduating from UT in 1958, he served in the military at Fort Campbell, Ky., as a Ranger and paratrooper, and at Fort Eustis, Virginia. He was MVP of the Fort Campbell team in 1960. In 1961 he played at Fort Eustis. The team won the Armed Forces Championship in the Missile Bowl. Herzbrun also won the Timmy Award as the “World’s Outstanding Service Player”. General Westmoreland asked him to coach at West Point, but refused to try with the Washington Redskins. In 1964-66 he played semi-pro football with the Knoxville Bears.

Tennessee linebackers coach Lon Herzbrun in an undated photo.  Herzbrun played offensive line and defensive tackle at UT in the 1950s.

Herzbrun returned to Knoxville and coached football at Fulton from 1963 to 1968 and helped develop three high school All-Americans: DD Lewis, Bill Wilson and Jackie Walker.

This led to his return to Tennessee as a linebackers coach from 1969 to 1976 where he worked with All-Americans Steve Kiner, Jack Reynolds, Jamie Rotella and Walker.

Herzbrun was also a pioneer in bodybuilding and conditioning at UT under trainer Doug Dickey.

“In my senior year I played in the line and brought in 220 pounds, so they put me on a diet of skimmed milk and a wedge of lettuce,” he told the News Sentinel in 2004. 350 pounds or more.”

His secret to developing so many exceptional linebackers?

Olympia Athletic Club of Maryville owner/trainer Lon Herzbrun, left, talks to Wildwood's Dawb Webb about his training schedule.  At right is Tom Fesmire of Maryville.

“I looked for the child who would pay the price,” he said. “I asked a lot.”

One of his all-time favorite players was Art Reynolds, who came to UT as an extra.

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“The first time I saw him he was 155 pounds,” Herzbrun said. “But he wanted to be the best and he wouldn’t settle for anything less. I started him at center linebacker his senior year and he was all-SEC.

“I had Phillip Fulmer for a week or two at linebacker. He’s a competitor but they needed him in the line. John Chavis was one of my favorites. He was an extra with a huge desire. “

Lon Herzbrun in 2004.

Herzbrun did more than write the linebacking book. He brought the words to life on the pitch. “The Making of an All American Linebacker” was published in 1973.

After UT, Herzbrun served as the defensive coordinator at Maryville College in 1977. In 1978, he opened Olympia Athletic Club until 2018 with his family.

Herzbrun was inducted into the DC Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the Jocks Hall of Fame for high school and sand sports in DC Herzbrun was inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame in 2004 and later the Blount County Hall of Fame.

He was a familiar voice in Blount County on the sports radio show “The Sports Page.”

A funeral service is scheduled for Thursday at 5 p.m. at Fairview United Methodist Church in Maryville.

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