Mike Kays

Mike Kays

Mike Mocha was a teammate of Prince McJunkins from their eighth-grade days at West Junior High, on to Muskogee High School.

One minute he was blocking for McJunkins as his fullback, the next he was catching a pass from him at split end.

Or, sometimes blocking.

“If I was on a pass route, you never knew if he’d run or throw,” Mocha said. “They knew I’d knock my corners down on a sweep or he knew which way I was going to take the cornerback and he knew which way to cut. He could make people miss more than anyone I ever played with.”

That senior year, they made the playoffs and after an overtime win over Tulsa Washington, lost to McLain. 

But McJunkins, who died Tuesday at 60 at Hillcrest Hospital in Tulsa after getting COVID-19, was about to be known nationally for what Mocha and the Roughers knew him for locally.

 McJunkins also became the first NCAA player to throw for more than 4,000 yards and rush for more than 2,000 yards in a college career during his time at Wichita State from 1979 to 1982. He was a two-time Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year as a junior and senior.

In an era of pocket-passing throwers, McJunkins was a pioneer as a black quarterback for what is now the common style of offenses.

“I always tell people today that if Prince was playing in these days and times, he would have been like Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson, a combination of those guys,” Curtis Whitten, a former teammate of McJunkins on the WSU football team from 1980-82, told the Wichita (Kan.) Eagle this week. 

“He could run the ball. He could throw the ball. You name it, he could do it. Every time he stepped on the field, we knew we had a chance.”

Ron Freeman, his head coach at Muskogee, knew what McJunkins was going to Wichita State to do, and it wasn’t going to be a high school quarterback turned athlete at a receiver or defensive back spot.

“He could do so many things with the football,” Freeman said. “He could drop back and throw but he could do so much more with his feet and throw off play-action. He was tough, he was aggressive, there was so many good attributes in him. But the best of the bunch of things he did was how good a kid he was.”

Even then, despite McJunkins’ plaudits coming out of WSU, NFL scouts were skeptical that he could play quarterback at the next level. He instead played for the Ottawa Roughriders in the Canadian Football League.

“It took a long time for people to open their eyes and see what impact these guys could bring to the game,” Jeffries told The Eagle in 2000. “Race was a factor. Most coaches are conservative, too. They go with the formula that has always worked before. That takes time to change.”

McJunkins was inducted into the Muskogee Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011. His son, also named Prince, was the Most Valuable Player on the All-Phoenix team in 2010, missing by a season Wagoner’s first state title in 2011. He went on to Georgia Southern, but finished at Northeastern State. 

McJunkins’ mother, Verna Palmer, died Feb. 2 at Saint Francis — a week before Prince. She also had COVID-19.

His services are pending. Her service will be livestreamed Friday, Feb. 19. A public visitation is the day before, 1-6 p.m. at at Winn Funeral Home. 

“He was a great leader,” Mocha also recalled. “He kept the team together like a pro. He was a cheerleader on the sideline and in the huddle he had the definite presence of a captain.”

That was also a sign of what was to come.

“I always told him ability is a gift and character is a choice,” Jeffries told the Wichita State student paper. “He had made the choice to have character. He’ll be remembered first of all for the type of person he is. He was just a great individual, high morals, he never did the things a lot of athletes do now. He was a pure athlete and I think that will be his legacy.”

 

••••

 

It’s been a hard week for two families in the MHS community. 

Steve Gann died Sunday at 51. He was a backup quarterback on the 1986 Muskogee state championship football team whose family ties to the school extend to his daughters — Paige and Carlee — who were both standouts in softball (later at NSU). Gann was also a big supporter to the program during Keith Coleman’s time as coach here.

“He was around the program a long time because the girls were three years apart. He and his dad, who everyone knew him as ‘Papa Bobby,’ were at every game,” Coleman said. 

“In the summer I’d have him coach first base for us and he had really good softball mind. On the other end of the spectrum he gave us a hand with anything we needed at the facility, electrical stuff, just anything that was needed. He was a happy go-lucky guy. Such a good dude.”

Freeman, who as most know coached the title team, echoed Coleman in talking about Gann.

“Always had a smile on his face and would do anything you asked him to do and a great teammate,” he said.

Gann’s service is 2 p.m. Friday at Timothy Baptist Church.

Freeman and Coleman plan on being there.

“This week has hit me,” Freeman said. “Two players. You don’t expect your players to go before their coach.”

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