Chuck Hunsinger was recognized nationwide as an NFL running back, but to people in Harrisburg, he was simply known as the auto shop teacher.
“I worked with Chuck for about 20 years and he never talked about his playing experiences,” said Harrisburg athletic director Jay Thompson. “You run into a lot of guys who’ve been successful and they want to big league everybody.
“Truthfully, I’m not even sure the kids here even knew he was a professional football player. They just knew he was a great guy.”
It almost seems ironic that Harrisburg’s football stadium is named after the teacher who never wanted to talk football.
But since 2003, the venue has stood as a testament to the career Hunsinger rarely mentioned.
After three straight winning seasons at Harrisburg and his service during World War II in the Marines Corps, he starred as a running back at University of Florida.
A pair of Alabama sportswriters turned his Gator heroics into legend, writing a song about him with the lyrics “Hunsinger is a humdinger.” The “Humdinger” song was sung by the University of Florida student body.
He was drafted by the Bears with the third pick of the first round in 1950. In three seasons, he gained 834 yards on the ground and caught 23 passes for 249 yards. He finished his career with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, where he competed in two Grey Cup Championships.
But Hunsinger’s biggest impact came away from the gridiron. After his football career ended, he taught auto mechanics at his high school alma mater for 35 years.
“That man gave me some skills, so I could go on and make a living for my family,” former student Bruce Allen said as his voice choked back tears. “I always thank him for that.”
Allen didn’t go to college, but took the skills he learned in Hunsinger’s class to work in the coal mines as a welder and later manage his own welding shop.
Hunsinger’s spectrum of influence covered a wide arc.
“He was incredibly respected by the roughest, toughest boys in school,” Thompson said. “He helped a lot of kids in this community develop a skill that created success for them later in life.”
Even though he had the résumé of a professional, Hunsinger lived much like everyone else in the southeastern Illinois community.
The former running back lived on a farm and he loved to hunt with his bird dogs and fish.
“He was one of us,” Thompson said. “He really epitomized the work ethic and the down-home nature of people in this community.”
Hunsinger, who died of cancer in 1998, coached football for four seasons at Harrisburg. He didn’t have the same success on the sidelines as he did on the field, winning only five of 38 games.
But the former running back’s niche was the classroom.
“He kept a real strict classroom,” Allen said. “When he was talking, people paid attention. Nobody ever hated him, but they always respected him.”
While the stadium bears Hunsinger’s name, the field is named after Harry Taylor, who was a well-respected superintendent and the first football coach at the school.
His first season was in 1902 when he led the Bulldogs to a 4-0-2 record. He compiled a 21-2-2 mark in his four recorded seasons as Harrisburg’s coach.