Rob Munson had one of the best careers for a high school running back in West-Central Illinois, and he went on to be part of the best football team in Quincy University history.
Munson rushed for 1,696 yards as a junior at Hamilton High School, then topped that with 1,933 yards and 34 rushing touchdowns as a senior. He led the Cardinals to two victories in the Class 2A playoffs in 1991 before a 22-14 loss to Hardin Calhoun in the semifinals. He finished with 4,719 yards, and his 74 career touchdowns ranks among the top 15 in state history.
He went on to play three years at QU, finishing with 2,092 yards and a school-record 39 touchdowns. He was part of the Hawks' undefeated team in 1993, which will be inducted into the Quincy University Hall of Fame this fall. Munson also will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as an individual.
He has worked for the past 20 years in Quincy at Gates Air, where he's a production supervisor. He also is an assistant football coach at West Hancock. Munson, 44, and his wife, Angie, have two children -- Ellie, who graduated in the spring from Hamilton, and Isaac, a sophomore. They live south of Hamilton.
So what was it like to learn that you are going to be inducted into Quincy University's Hall of Fame?
I wasn't sure what everything was all about, but being involved with the football program, it was neat to hear. I hadn't talked to Bill (Terlisner, an assistant coach during Munson's playing days) in a long time, so hearing from him was good. Getting the news was a pleasant surprise. I never really thought about that. I've never been much of a glory seeker. I like to remember the old days, but I'm not caught up in them, either. I'm just pleased that I was considered.
Did you always want to play football as you grew up?
When I was young, we had flag football. We went over to Keokuk (Iowa) from the third grade on. I really didn't play tackle until I was a freshman. My older brother, Rick, had some success in the mid 1980s, and that got me interested in football. We grew up in Elvaston, a town of about 250 people, but there were enough young kids my brother's age that they got together to play four-on-four or five-on-five. My mom and dad got me a set of cheap pads, and I was getting the snot beat out of me. I've never been an overly feisty kid, but I just liked the contact from a very young age. My brother's friends didn't think twice about it. I was just another player to have on that field. It was fun. That turned me on to liking football. When I got to play as a freshman, that was my cup of tea.
Most kids your size tend to play on the line at a small school. Did you always play running back?
I was always a running back and a linebacker. I wouldn't say I was a speed burner, but I had a little bit of speed and athleticism. Thank God for (head coach) Jim Repplinger and (assistant coach) Dave Dion. They tried me at fullback. I was 5-foot-11, 210 pounds when I came out of the eighth grade. That's a good-sized kid. I had won the state shot put championship, and I was a naturally strong kid. I just kind of had the genes. They saw something in me. You'd have thought I would be a guard or a tackle, but they saw something, and it worked out. I wanted to play running back. When you play backyard games, that's what every kid wants to do. Some kids sacrifice themselves, and I would have been willing to do it, but I'm thankful they didn't make me.
Do you have a favorite memory from your high school days?
I don't remember anything specific that stands out. Some games were memorable. The one that sticks out that was the most exciting was the homecoming game my junior year. We played Unity, and it went double overtime. We were fighting for the conference title, and I got to score the touchdown in both overtimes to get the victory. Making the playoffs is what you kind of live for. We made it to the quarterfinals when I was a senior, and that was really fun. It was something that was driving you, something you got to partake in. I feel bad for kids who don't get the opportunity to be part of the playoffs. It's a great experience.
How has the game changed since you played?
Schools and teams have changed so much. I miss the high school rivalries like Hamilton versus Warsaw and Hamilton versus Carthage. Now we're teamed up with Warsaw (at West Hancock). I liked those rivalries. You could jab each other on the field, and you had interaction with them off the field. My whole experience was very positive. I lost my father (Dick) when I got out of the eighth grade, during that summer. Repplinger and Dion really helped guide me as a person as a father figure. Dad passed away from a heart attack. He was 44 or 45. He had torn his Achilles (tendon), and we didn't know if it was related to heart disease or a blood clot that worked out of his leg.
How did your coaches help you after your father died?
You lose your father like that, and you become really attached to your mother (Bonnie). That's what happened with me. Not only was she there for my support, but I was trying to support her, too. It was difficult. I look back on it now, but as a kid, I don't have as many fond memories of my father because I grew up with my mom. I was still developing at the time. It's tough, but that's the hand that got dealt to me. I could have gone down other avenues, but having those coaches, they helped me down the right path and helped me. It was just everyday stuff. On the field, you might slack off a little bit, and they would kick you in the pants. They kept pushing, kept me working harder. I had both of them in classes as well, and it was the same concept. No nonsense. I could talk with them and joke around with them, but I got done what needed to be done. It was a respect thing. I wasn't the best student by any stretch, but they helped push me along. They knew there were opportunities for me.
Did you expect to play in college after you graduated from Hamilton?
I did a lot of summer camps. I went to Western Illinois' camp for two or three years, and I went to Illinois' camp. I don't regret anything by going to those camps, but I was naive to think it would do something for you (for college). I put up a good number of yards. Some of that stuff is high in the state ranking, but ultimately, you have to get some exposure and make a name for yourself. I probably had unrealistic expectations. I don't think I was really ever that good. Could I have competed at the Division I level? I don't think I would have been a standout. I always thought of myself as fairly athletic. I had a little speed for as big as I was, but you're talking elite athletes. You hope you can get to that range.
So how did you wind up at Quincy University?
Coach Kevin Gundy recruited me. I was talking to a coach at Western Illinois, who said he would keep an eye on me. He wanted to redshirt me and offered a small scholarship. I was hoping for a full ride, being naive like I was, but I kept Western as an option. Gundy was very interested in me. Culver-Stockton was very interested. Truman came over and talked to me. To be honest, Kevin showed that he really wanted me. He thought I could add to the team. He gave me a good sales pitch, and the financial package was the best. I really liked Kevin as a person and as a coach. He sold me. My freshman year, he brought in 70 some freshmen. There were a lot of good players from all over the country -- William Wims from Florida, Shane Widmer from Shelbina (Mo.), Tony Amato. We had some pretty good talent, and they didn't have a lot of kids coming back. Then we got (wide receiver) Nobie Gooden. I'm not sure what happened with the basketball stuff, but Ron Taylor talked him into coming out, and he was a big contributor. It was interesting, The first year, we had a fairly young group. I think we went 4-5.
Did you have any idea QU would be as good as it was in 1993?
You could tell we had some talent. Kijan Edwards was another talented running back. We had a deep backfield. We had three or four real solid running backs. There were times you could say, "Yeah, this group looks like they could be pretty good." It happened a little sooner than I thought. The next year, we went 9-0, and the following year, we went 8-1 and lost to Coe (Iowa) College, which had the leading rusher in the nation from the previous year. Our defense kept him in check. We could have gone 18-0, and that's not too bad.
What was it like playing for Ron Taylor since Gundy left the team after your freshman season?
I don't know what happened. Gundy brought me in, and he brought Ron Taylor at that time he recruited me. The next year, Ron was our head coach. For me, it wasn't much different. He was the offensive coordinator at the time. From a personality and communication perspective, I don't want to say disrespect, but I had more respect for Gundy than Taylor. I could talk to Gundy as a young college kid, and I didn't ever quite feel that way with Taylor. He did help guide me, but it wasn't quite the same relationship. I was finding that I didn't have anything that was sticking out to me to give me a reason to study. I wasn't into the education. I'll be honest. I went to college to play football. I was kind of a momma's boy. She liked to watch me play. It got to the point where my relationship with Coach Taylor and what I was getting from my schooling wasn't meeting up with the debt that I was mounting, so I went off and did a technical program and got into the electronics.
Do you regret not playing your senior season?
I'm happy with my decision, but I do have regrets. If I could have studied my electronics stuff at QU, I would have gone back for my fourth year. As a matter of fact, when I got into my other program, I got in touch with Taylor a year or two later to be an assistant coach. He was really trying to get me to come back and play. I had trimmed down and looked more like a football player. When I first got to QU, you know the "freshman 15"? Well, I got the "freshman 30." I was around 235, 240 pounds, I did beef up a little bit, and I got closer to 250 as a junior. Some people would say I let myself go, and I got up to 260, 270 pounds, but I had trimmed down by the time I talked to Coach Taylor. It didn't work out, but it gave me a feeling that I wanted to get involved with football again, so I got involved with the high school.
Do you like coaching?
I've been involved at some level for 11 years. I was on the paid staff for a few years, and then some things happened at work, and I wasn't able to be there as much. I'm happy to help when I can, but I can't be there religiously. I wanted them to find someone to fill that void, and I just would do what I could do. The last few years with Coach (Travis) Cook, I've been a volunteer. I helped as much as I can during the week. Sometimes I can only make the last half hour or hour, and sometimes I can't make it at all. I do what I can.
Do you like coaching with your son on the team?
He played last year, his first year. He did very well. He has really developed into a strong young man. He's 6-foot-1, 195 pounds. He's not going to be quite as heavy as I was, but he's been working out at Tri-State Strength and Performance in Keokuk for the last year. He's developing into a strong young man. He's a fullback, and he's got some speed. I hope he enjoys it as much as I did. So far, he's really enjoyed it. I don't want to pressure him to play football because I did. I don't want him to do it half-hearted. Football is one of those sports that you get out of it what you put into it. You work out, you have more confidence. It's all the things football teaches you. Hard work pays off. You can face adversity and accomplish your goals. You have to have a team around you.
Does your son and the others on the team know of your career?
He's heard stories. (Assistant coach Jim) Unruh might say that kind of stuff. He'll make comments about what coaches did when they were playing against his teams in high school. I don't like to talk about it a huge amount. It's not like it's something we discuss around the dinner table, but if he asks, if I can help, I will do that. I'm not a person who likes to dwell on the past. I'm proud, but that's all history. If somebody wants to talk about it, they can. I just tried to make myself a better player to help my team be successful. That has rolled into my professional role. I kind of feel like I've been successful in my career as an electronic technician and beyond. It has paid off for me.