John William Heisman (1869-1936)

Renowned college football coach and name-sake for the sport's highest amateur honor, the Heisman Memorial Trophy. His innovations included legalizing the forward pass, the center snap, the scoreboard, and game quarters. Heisman promoted player safety by advocating gear improvements and rule revisions. A founder of the American Football Coaches Association, he grew up in Titusville and played football near his father's local oil cooperage.

John William Heisman was not solely an outstanding coach in football, baseball, and basketball at a variety of colleges, who made countless innovations that we use today including the forward pass, the scoreboard, the center snap, and equipment for player safety. On top of saving the game of football from “destroying itself” due to significant injuries from the lack of equipment, Mr. Heisman also pursued a passion-filled acting career that had a heavy influence on his coaching style. Apart from practical training, he gave grand theatrical speeches fueling his teams to win several championships.

In 1897, John Heisman created a drama club at Auburn University. He took the lead role in the comedy David Garrick so his team could recover from the 700-dollar debt they were in after the football season. He was also the director and producer of the play. In the handbill from the play, there were testimonials from local professors and news outlets. The Opelika Post, a local newspaper, stated, “He was naturalness itself, and there was not a single place in which he overdid his part. His changes from drunk to sober and back again in the drunken scene were skillfully done, and the humor of many of his speeches caused a roar of laughter. He acted not like an amateur but like the skilled professional that he is.” Some say the debt was an excuse to put on the play since the following year he put on Victorien Sardou’s A Scrap of Paper.

The following year in 1898, Heisman appeared in the play The Diplomacy on Broadway as well as The Ragged Regiment and Caste in Harlem. It would be worthy to note that before starting his own acting group called The Heisman Dramatic Stock Company (later named the Heisman Theatrical Enterprises), he joined acting groups in Atlanta, Florida, and Mississippi playing in various states throughout the country.