After 3 years as Head Football Coach at East Texas State College, J.V. Sikes had won a share of two conference titles and had two winning seasons, but after a disastrous 1956 season where the Lions went 2-8, he decided that the attention needed to be on revamping the offense. Sikes was a running coach, but he needed the help of someone who could create and cause a robust passing game to mesh with his T-Formation, and not to replace it. He found his man who was the head coach 40 miles to the north in Paris, who had just graduated from ET with his Master’s degree.
Ernest Hawkins landed at Paris Junior College to launch a Football program and had done so successfully, but it was his days out in West Texas as the Quarterback for the Texas Tech Red Raiders that gave him an insight into passing the ball. The plan was to enhance the offense and not necessarily to change it. Sikes hired Hawkins as Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator, and so began an illustrious career.
While still running the Power T, Hawkins worked with the coaches and players to develop passing plays that would keep the defense guessing as to how the Lions would attack. The results proved to be immediate and amazing.
The season opened with a trip to Southeastern Louisiana, and the new offense showed it’s grit with a 25-7 win over the Bayou Boys. The Lions then took a trip out west to Howard Payne and made quick work of the Yellowjackets by a 31-12 score. The first home game of the season saw a setback as the Lions were downed by a tough Lamar team 7-6, but unlike previous seasons, the offense took it as a setback and not a season killer. The next week taking on McMurry in a game played in Stamford, Texas, the Lions dropped the Indians 19-6. It was the first time in tenure of J.V. Sikes that he would start the season out with a winning record.
The Lone Star Conference of 1957 was a strong group top to bottom, but the Lions had the fortune of playing the toughest teams in Commerce. The Lions camped out in Commerce and beat Sam Houston State 21-13, Texas A&I 42-12, and Stephen F. Austin 19-12 all in successive weeks. The toughest stretch of the conference was over, as the Lions took down Southwest Texas State 32-13 and then followed it up to close the season with a 32-7 rout of Sul Ross State.
With a 9-1 record overall and an outright Lone Star Conference title, Sikes got a call from The Orlando Athletic Association to invite them to The Tangerine Bowl. The Bowl was no longer the biggest bowl for small colleges, but it was considered a top tier bowl for the smaller schools in both the NAIA and the NCAA. Their opponent was an NCAA Independent Southern Mississippi.
On a cold and rainy Orlando day, The Lions took the field against the Eagles. On their second drive from scrimmage, the Lions put together a dandy drive as Garry Berry put in a 3 yard run to open the scoring. Southern Miss responded with a touchdown drive of their own to go into the half tied at 7 per squad. In the middle of the third, an ET snap sailed over the head of the punter and the Eagles recovered for a 9-7 lead. With just over 7 minutes to go, ET’s Neal Hinson knocked through a 31 yard field goal to take the lead and then the tough defense of the Lions held the Eagles and the Lions were the only team from Texas to win a bowl game in the 1957 season. Norman Roberts of ET was named MVP for the game and For Sikes it was sweet vindication that he could not only win a title outright, but that he could have the success that his predecessor had as well.
Norman Roberts, Kenneth Season, and Sam McCord all nabbed All-American honors and were the first NAIA All-Americans for The Lions. They were all joined on the LSC First Team by Gary Berry and Neil Hinson. Larry Bell and James Miller were named to the Second Team, and Halfback Bobby Ewell was named LSC Honorable Mention.