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January 29, 2018 Happy Birthday Anniversary Frank Villa

Posted on January 29, 2018 by Barry Gallagher

Today is a great day to honor the Happy Birthday Anniversary of Frank Villa who was born on this day in 1873. Villa came to Ann Arbor from Oregon in 1893. Yes, he was one of the early Pigskin Pioneers who really wanted to play football at Michigan. Before we look at the Michigan Football career of Frank Villa, we must attend to the day’s Wolverine “trivia.”

Part I. Trivia Question of the Day – January 28, 2018:

Who was the first African American to “Captain” a Michigan Football team?

Part I. Trivia Question Answer for January 28, 2018:  Ron Johnson 

Ron Johnson became the first African-American player to Captain a Michigan Football team in 1968. In fact, the record-setting Johnson was also the first African-American to earn first team All-Conference and All-American honors and be the team’s Most Valuable Player, in one season! Oh yes, he was also the first African-American player to be a two-time team MVP (1967 and 1968).

Ron Johnson Michigan Football 1968 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Ron Johnson – the first African-American to “Captain” a Michigan Wolverine Football team in 1968. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

Ron Johnson was a great player and a better man. He quietly waited his turn (1965 and 1966), then, went on to enjoy two record-setting seasons in 1967 and 1968. The talented Johnson earned a starting job in Bump Elliott’s backfield in 1967. In his third start, he broke the Michigan and Big Ten Conference single game rushing record with 270 yards on 26 carries in a 21-26 loss to Navy. Johnson finished the season with 982 yards on 210 carries. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry and scored 6 touchdowns. He earned All-Conference honors with his stellar play and was named the Most Valuable Player of the 1967 Michigan Football team.

Ron Johnson had a record-setting senior season in 1968. Here are some of his best accomplishments in his final year at Michigan.

  • Johnson is the first, and only, Michigan Man to rush for 347 yards in a single game! (A 34-9 win over Wisconsin on November 16, 1968).
  • Ron Johnson is the first man to score 5 touchdowns in one game in the “modern era.” He scored 5 rushing touchdowns against Wisconsin in 1968.
  • Johnson is the first, and only, Michigan running back to rush for 19 touchdowns in a single season. (1968)
  • Ron Johnson was the first Michigan Man to record over 1,300 yards in a single season in 1968. He finished with 1,391 in that record setting season. He was also the first man to average over 130 yards per game in a single season in 1968. (He finished with an average of 139.1 yards per game in 1968.)
  • Johnson was the first Maize and Blue running back to record at least 4 games of more than 150 yards in a single season in 1968. (Note – he was also the first man to record two 200-yard games in one season in 1968 and also the first to total over 300 yards in one game.)

Part II. Trivia Question of the Day – January 29, 2018:

Who is the first, and only, Michigan Man to earn four varsity letters in the same academic year?

Part III. Wolverine of the Day: Frank Villa       

The purpose of today’s post is to remember the Happy Birthday Anniversary of a Michigan Wolverine named Frank Villa. Actually, Mr. Villa had, in my opinion, one of the greatest names in Michigan Football History. His complete name, along with his nickname, is listed as follows: Giovanni Raphael Frank “Count” Villa. Of course, I can’t make this stuff up! That’s how the man was known “back in the day.”

Frank Villa played tackle for the Wolverines from 1893 to 1896. Actually, the “Count” (who weighed about 200 pounds) was also a powerful runner who scored his fair share of touchdowns while playing for the Wolverines. Apparently, he was also an excellent defensive lineman. So, Frank Villa pretty much did it all for Michigan during his playing days.

Frank Villa Michigan Football 1896| bigbluefootballhistory.com

Frank Villa lettered on four very good Michigan teams from 1893 to 1896. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

Of course, Frank Villa also did more than play football during his years in the Tree City. He attended Michigan’s Law School from 1893 to 1896. He graduated in the spring of 1896, but stayed on to play a fourth year of football and do some graduate work in law.

Giovanni Villa was a winner and he helped the Wolverines do the same during his career. Michigan had never won more than seven games in a single season before he arrived. The Wolverines posted a record of 7-3-0 in Villa’s first season. Then, they reeled off the best three seasons in Michigan Football History (9-1-1, 8-1-0 and 9-1-0). So, Giovanni Villa helped the Wolverines compile an excellent record of 33 wins, 6 losses and 1 ties during his time in Ann Arbor.

If you read about the teams he played on, Frank Villa was clearly one of Michigan’s first great tackles. He was one of the first Wolverines to earn All-Western Honors in 1895. According to the Wikipedia article listed below, Villa finished his career as an “interim” captain for the final 3 or 4 games of the 1896 season because Henry Senter resigned due to injury and illness.

Frank Villa went on to a successful career in law and business after he left Ann Arbor. He also served in the Army during World War I. Sadly, Frank Villa died on November 12, 1933 at the age of sixty. Yes, today is a good day to celebrate the life of another famous Michigan Man named Giovanni Raphael Frank “Count” Villa. May Frank Villa continue to rest in eternal peace. Go Blue!


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