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Five former NFL standouts to be inducted into Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame

By Jamie Vaught
Special to KyForward

Five former NFL standouts have been selected to the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame, it was announced at a press conference in Lexington Friday.

The five new inductees for the hall of fame’s 2017 class are as follows:

— William Gay (Pittsburgh Steelers, Arizona Cardinals)

— Ernie Green (Cleveland Browns)

— Virgil Livers (Chicago Bears)

— Bruce Kozerski (Cincinnati Bengals)

— Todd Perry (Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins)

Also announced is the legendary 1964 NFL champion Cleveland Browns team, which will receive the 11th annual Blanton Collier Award for Integrity. The national-level award, named after ex-UK and Cleveland Browns head coach, recognizes individuals whohave shown outstanding integrity both on and off the field.

Ironically, the 1964 Browns, which included legendary running back Jim Brown, quarterback Frank Ryan and wide receiver Paul Warfield, among others, were coached by mild-mannered Collier and the last squad to capture an NFL title in Cleveland.

The 2017 inductees and the 1964 Browns will be honored during weekend festivities in June. The celebration will begin with a ring ceremony on Thursday, June 22 at the Keeneland Sales Pavilion, and a golf outing fundraiser and an induction ceremony at the Lexington Opera House on Friday, June 23.

“Kentucky is the only state in the country with a pro football hall of fame,” said Dr. Steve R. Parker, chair of the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame, Inc. board of directors. “We’re in a unique position to recognize great accomplishments in football but also have as our main objective to offer financial assistance to (local) organizations that enrich the lives of children.”

It is noted the proceeds from the 2017 Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony and golf outing will support the Salvation Army Boys & Camp and the Girls Club of the Bluegrass. And the Salvation Army is very thankful for the support.

“We, at The Salvation Army Boys Camp; Girls Club, are excited about the opportunity to join with the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame to enhance our ability to impact youth in our community,” said Scott VanFossen, who is the executive director of the Salvation Army Boys Camp; Girls Club of the Bluegrass. “The Kentucky Pro football Hall of Fame consists of highly motivated, highly successful individuals who have a passion for investing in kids, just like we do.

“We believe this opportunity will allow us to increase and improve the numerous activities we make available to our club members every day and allow our club members to meet and be inspired by some of their heroes. We thank the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame for this opportunity and look forward to all that we might accomplish together for the youth of Lexington.”

As for the Blanton Collier Award, Dr. Kay Collier McLaughlin and her family are thrilled the Browns have been chosen for the annual honor. After careful considerations, the Blanton Collier Sportsmanship Group annually selects the Collier award winner.

“The 1964 Cleveland Browns team was a family,” recalled Collier McLaughlin. “My dad, coach Blanton Collier, gave this team a sense of family and the families of the players and coaches were always around. It was a family affair.My dad also expected each player and coach to have good character on and off the field and the players met that expectation.

“The Collier family is delighted that one of the nation’s finest and the recipient of the 2017 Blanton Collier Award for Integrity On and Off the Field was a world champion and gave the city of Cleveland something to cheer about and rally around during that time. We are proud to honor this team, and these players and coaches.”

It was also announced the Blanton Collier Sportsmanship Group has entered a partnership with the Lexington Police Department for a project involving nerf footballs to be distributed to the local community.

In addition, the first annual Mid-South Conference All Commonwealth Character Team awards, sponsored by Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame, will also be given at the June ceremony. This award will be given to a college football player from each of the seven Mid-South Conference schools in Kentucky who exhibits integrity on and off the field. The seven Kentucky schools from the 23-team Mid-South Conference, whose members are scattered among several states, are Georgetown, Pikeville, Union, Cumberlands, Kentucky Christian, Lindsey Wilson and Campbellsville.

Mid-South Conference commissioner Eric Ward added, “We are excited to partner with the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Blanton Collier Sportsmanship Group to acknowledge and honor our football players who show great character and are model representatives for our conference.”

Sponsorship packages for the 2017 Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony and golf outing are now available through the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame by calling at (859) 276- 3488. In May, the tickets for the ceremony will be available online at www.kyprofootballhof.org.

Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Blanton Collier Sportsmanship Group are both based in Lexington.

Here’s a quick look at the five new Kentucky Pro HOF inductees:

William Gay is a cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers who has just finished his 10th NFL season after losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game. During his pro career, Gay has never missed a single game during the NFL regular-season, and his playing streak of 160 consecutive games is the longest active streak for a defensive back. He was also chosen the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2014 for his efforts on and off the field. A fifth-round pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, the Florida native starred at the University of Louisville.

Ernie Green is a two-time Pro Bowl selection who played mostly as a running back and fullback for the Cleveland Browns during the 1960s, including the NFL title campaign in 1964. In his seven-year NFL career, he gained 3,204 rushing yards and caught 195 passes for 2,036 yards. Green currently owns a business in the automotive industry in the suburban Dayton, Ohio.

Virgil Livers is a Kentucky native who was a cornerback for the Chicago Bears during the late 1970s. He also was a defensive back for the Chicago Blitz of the now-defunct United States Football League during the early 1980s. Livers, who was a star at Western Kentucky University, is currently an assistant principal at Bowling Green High School.

Bruce Kozerski is a Pennsylvania native who played for the Cincinnati Bengals for 12 years as an offensive lineman, including the Super Bowl after 1988 season. A 2011 winner of the Paul Brown Excellence in Coaching Award (given annually by the Bengals to an outstanding high school football coach locally), Kozerski is the head football coach and a math teacher at Holy Cross High School in Covington.

Todd Perry is a former NFL offensive lineman who played eight years with the Chicago Bears and three with the Miami Dolphins. Perry was a member of an offensive line who blocked for NFL rushing star Ricky Williams in 2002 while at Miami. A graduate of North Hardin High School in Elizabethtown, Perry attended UK and became a Wildcat football standout for then-coach Bill Curry. At Kentucky, he was an All-SEC performer. Perry also spent some time coaching under Curry at Georgia State several years ago.

Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com Magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.

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