Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

April 17, 2014

Flynt proves one is never too old to follow dreams

BLUEFIELD — At age 59 a lot of people are winding down their careers and looking forward to retirement. That is not the case with Mike Flynt.

In 2007 Flynt decided at age 59 to return to college and play football, and he did, fulfilling a dream to complete a journey he began nearly 40 years earlier at a small college in Texas.

“It was probably the single most rewarding thing I’ve ever done and the most difficult thing I’ve ever done physically,” said Flynt, who is in the area presenting his fitness program for nurses at Bluefield Regional Medical Center. “It’s no wonder to me that football is a young man’s game and I knew that, but by the grace of God I was in good enough shape to make the team and make a contribution. It wasn’t an overnight thing.”

Flynt graduated Permian High School in Odessa, Texas in 1966. If that school sounds familiar, it is the one of “Friday Night Lights” fame. His senior season of 1965 the school won the first of its many Texas state championships.  

Next for Flynt was Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas.  Sul, short for Sullivan, Ross was a member of the Lone Star Conference and was the only conference in Texas integrated, before Jerry LeVias at SMU and John Hill Westbrook at Baylor in the Division I Southwest Conference in 1966.

“We had a load of great Black athletes playing in that conference and generally whoever won our conference went on to win the national championship in Division II football,” Flynt commented.

Headed into his senior season of 1971 Flynt was a team captain, the leading tackler from the ‘70 season and an all-conference performer.

“We had an 8-3 season the year before and had everybody back. We were picked to win the conference. I needed six hours to graduate. I came back my senior year for one reason and one reason only, to win the conference championship and play for a national championship,” Flynt said. “I got into a fight during two-a-days that got me kicked of the team and out of school. I lost my senior year.”

Flynt went on about life, but with regrets. He was strength and conditioning coach at Nebraska, Oregon and Texas A&M and one of the original founders of the National Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. However, something was missing. There was a void, a sense of unfinished business.

“It (not playing my senior year) became my biggest regret in life,” Flynt said. “In 2007 I found out that I still had a semester of eligibility left. I was not enrolled in school when I got kicked out and in the switch from Division II to Division III age limit was no longer an issue. At 59 years old I walked on and made the team as a linebacker and became the oldest college linebacker in NCAA history. I got to play my senior year.”

Flynt talked about his first contact with the coach at Sul Ross which was in person because he felt a phone call would not get him where he wanted to be.

“I thought if a 59 year old guy calls me wanting to play football, I’m going to hang that deal up right quick,” Flynt said. “So I went down in person from Franklin, Tenn., back down to Texas and just walked into his office.”

Flynt said his wife Eileen was in denial from the beginning of his journey. Following the visit to Alpine he returned to their home in Tennessee and told her, “Coach is going to give me a chance to make the team. We’re going back to Texas. We’re going back to college.”

Eileen responded to her husband, “I cannot believe at 59 years old that you want to go back and try to play college football. God, I feel like I am married to Peter Pan.”

Mike and Eileen have been married 41 years and have three grown children and five grandkids. He talked about the inner struggle he had for 37 years.

“It had been one of those things that had become the biggest regret in my life. Years earlier I learned nothing was going to change it. I had to quit dwelling on it and move on. I didn’t forget about it, but I learned to manage it. You don’t forget about that stuff,” Flynt said.

“When that opportunity presented itself it was like all those emotions, all that anger and hurt I had just put on the back-burner came back to the surface and I thought, ‘Now I’ve got a chance to rewrite that last year in my athletic career.”’

Flynt spoke of his first game after 37 years and the emotions he felt.

“We won that game in triple overtime and I was on the field when we won that game 45-42. My grandson got to see me play,” Flynt said.

Flynt also recalled homecoming in 2007 where his former teammates were on hand and he was honored for being the oldest linebacker in NCAA history.  While players were bigger and faster when he returned to the game the biggest difference he saw was the knowledge today’s players have regarding the game. In his return he made certain to cherish every moment.

“This time I knew how fast it was going to go by and I didn’t waste one second,” Flynt lamented. “Every wind sprint, every time I got knocked down I just thought, ‘What a blessing. This is just incredible that I am able to do this.’ I didn’t waste any of it.”

A movie is in the making, based on Flynt’s story and his book “The Senior.” Filming will begin this year and there is a possibility that Bruce Willis will portray Flynt.

— Contact Bob Redd at bredd@bdtonline.com, Twitter @bdtredd.

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