UIL 100 Years: Craig James, Eric Dickerson and the 1978 rushing crown

Every Tuesday & Friday, we dive into the archives, the record books, the people, events and things that shaped the world of UIL Football in the past 100 years in Texas. 

Just about every year. there seems to be at least one, two or three players that will make their mark on the field as become a legend in their own right. And there is always the spirit of competitiveness that warrants a player to rise to the occasion to one up another. In 1978, the state’s rushing title was one of most competitive races in recent memory with seven players ultimately reaching the 2,000 yard plateau.

Among the seven, two of them received the most attention and those two would go on to play in prolific collegiate and professional careers. The senior seasons of Houston Stratford’s Craig James and Sealy’s Eric Dickerson were among the more prolific races to follow. As the story is later told, the two would follow each other on to the roster of the SMU Mustangs.

James and Dickerson were two worlds and two classifications apart in the high school world but only 50 miles separated the two. Both would be the highlight of their respective teams and would often keep tabs on each other.

Craig James and Eric Dickerson as teammates at SMU | Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

In an interview with ESPN Dallas in 2010, Dickerson and James would elaborate on their tracking of each other during the time. “Most definitely you had the Houston Chronicle and Houston Post, so you pick up the paper and you hear about Stratford and they had this guy Craig James,” Dickerson said. “And it’s funny, when I read, I’m like ‘That’s a white guy!’ So I wanted to know more about him.”

“I followed Eric closely. He ran for 300 yards a week. I was thinking, ‘Man, what the heck is this guy doing?'” James said. “When I finally first met him, I went to the house and said, ‘Hey, is Eric here?’ ‘He’s at the car wash.’ I went over there, saw this tall, skinny guy, big glasses with a ‘fro and said, ‘Are you Eric?’

The Stratford Spartans during the 1978 season would amass for almost 7,000 rushing yards in a wishbone offense en route to the 1978 Class 4A State Championship over the Plano Wildcats. James would only get the ball around 15 or fewer times a game.

With Sealy, Dickerson would run for a total of 2,667 yards en route to the Class 2A State Championship. In the state title game against Abilene Wylie, Dickerson would run for a record 296 yards.

After their time in high school, Dickerson and James combined to rush for 8,192 yards and 70 touchdowns, a mark that remains an NCAA career record for a duo to this day. James would then go on to play for the Washington Federals of the USFL and then the New England Patriots for four seasons. He is widely known for his broadcasting career with ESPN from 1989 to 2011. James was inducted into the Texas HS Football Hall of Fame in 1988.

Dickerson would run for 13,259 total yards in his 11 year NFL career with the Rams, Colts, Raiders and Falcons. He currently holds three NFL rushing records. In 1999, Dickerson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999. He was announced as an inductee into the Texas HS Football Hall of Fame in 2020.