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HBCU and AFL Legend Al Denson

The Game Before the Money Podcast spoke with Al Denson about growing up with “Bullet” Bob Hayes and playing for legendary Florida A&M coach Jake Gaither — in Episode 52 of the football history podcast. 

A Legendary Career

Al Denson and Otis Taylor tied for the AFL lead in touchdown receptions in 1967. Denson was also named to the AFL all-star game and the all-AFL team by the Associated Press, UPI, and the Sporting News.

He was inducted into the Florida A&M Hall of Fame in 1981 as part of a class that included his Bronco teammate, Hewritt Dixon, and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Andre Dawson.

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Growing Up With “Bullet” Bob Hayes

Al Denson grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. He attended New Stanton High School and was a well-rounded athlete. “Basically, in high school, I competed in all the sports, basketball, baseball, track, football.”

High schools in Jacksonville were segregated at the time. Denson attended New Stanton High School, a school that often competed against Matthew Gilbert High, another Black high school located in Jacksonville. Gilbert’s star athlete was future Olympian and Hall of Fame wide receiver Bob Hayes.

“He was from Gilbert, and I was from Stanton. We played each other four years in high school. He’s from Jacksonville, Florida, too. We ran track against each other, played baseball against each other, football against each other, basketball against each other.”

Now, I know some of you are probably wondering the same thing I was since they grew up competing against each other. I asked Al if he ever raced against “Bullet” Bob Hayes. “Yes. Raced against him in the 100-yard dash and 220-yard dash. I won the 220.”

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So Al Denson did indeed beat the man who was known as the world’s fastest human, Bob Hayes, at the 220. That speaks to how great of an athlete Al Denson was in his prime. Denson chose to attend Florida A&M University and suit up for the Rattlers.

Playing at Florida A&M

“Well, I chose Florida A&M because I had a scholarship offer from Florida A&M. At that particular time, Florida A&M was the number one school in the state of Florida to attend for Afro-American boys.

A big reason that Florida A&M was the top HBCU school in Florida and one of the top schools in the entire country was head coach Jake Gaither. (You can learn more about Coach Gaither in the Jake Gaither episode of the Game Before the Money Podcast.) Denson told us what it was like to play for the legendary coach.

“He just was a great individual, and he had coached great people, and he was more so like a father and a blessing to you. He taught you the right way to be and taught you what was going to happen if you go to the pros. The one thing he taught us was that we knew that we had to be the best.”

Hear More on The Game Before the Money Podcast:

Looking for a great NFL history book? Check out The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL available at — Amazon.com – Barnes and Noble – University of Nebraska Press

Like sports history? Listen to The Game Before the Money Podcast! Most episodes include stories from legendary football stars.

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