Born: Sept. 5, 1946 Beaumont, Texas
Jerry LeVias attended Hebert High School in Beaumont, Texas, where he played quarterback. Though he was small (5'9" and 177 pounds), he possessed great speed. Out of high school, he was probably closer to 5'7" and only 140 pounds.
LeVias was the first black athlete to receive an athletic scholarship in the Southwestern Conference, attending Southern Methodist University. At the time, the SWC was made up of all the larger Texas universities and the University of Arkansas. While at SMU, LeVias made athletic and academic All-America teams and contributed to the Mustangs' first conference title in 18 years. LeVias wore the number 23 (for Psalm 23), which he also wore during his professional career, at his grandmother's insistence.
In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, LeVias called his years at SMU "living hell" due to the abuse he received from opposition players and, to some extent, his own contemporaries and stated that he would read the Serenity Prayer every morning before leaving for the day to get by. At that time, he was one of the few black students at SMU, and the city of Dallas itself was still not fully integrated. Despite the unconditional support from SMU head coach Hayden Fry, LeVias was still a frequent target and recalled that he once overheard an alumnus telling Fry that he would withdraw his support from the university if Fry continued playing LeVias.
His records as a receiver still stand: 15 passes caught in one game (1968); 80 passes caught in one season (1968); 155 career catches; 1,131 yards receiving (1968); 2,275 career yards receiving; and a tied record for touchdown receptions in one game (3) and a season record of TD receptions (8). He was chosen All-SWC in 1966, 1967, and 1968 and was an All-American as a senior.
Initially considered too small for the NFL, LeVias became Rookie of the Year as a wide receiver for the Houston Oilers in 1969. He caught 41 passes for 529 yards and five touchdowns in 1970, returned 25 punts for 213 yards and an 8.5 average, and set the AFL record for punt and kickoff returns with 73. He caught an 86-yard touchdown pass that year for the AFL's longest and had a 63 yarder in 1970. LeVias was responsible for almost half the Oilers' yardage in 1970. The physicality of the pro game wore on LeVias, who famously remarked, "As the season progresses, I get lighter, faster, and more afraid."
LeVias was traded to San Diego in 1971, leading the team with 30 catches for 536 yards, a 17.9 average, and three touchdowns in 1973. The pro game eventually became unappealing to LeVias, who had already prepared for life after football, working for the Conoco oil company and having a partnership in a Houston men's clothing store even while playing. He played for the Chargers through the 1974 season.
He was one of 16 pro footballers given the keys to the city of Beaumont. He was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1995 and into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003. In 2008, HBO produced a documentary, Breaking the Huddle: The Integration of College Football which highlighted Coach Hayden Fry and the racism and challenged Jerry LeVias faced as the first black player in the Southwest Conference. He continues to work with the Houston Texans as a Texans Ambassador.
Mel and Miller Farr, also professional football players and Hall of Fame inductees, are his cousins. Jerry LeVias was inducted into the Museum of the Gulf Coast-Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.