Former NHS, Ole Miss star dies at 81

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 4, 2016

OXFORD — Ole Miss has lost another football legend, with the passing of Jennings Paige Cothren Sr., 81, who died Sept. 1, 2016 at North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo after a brief illness.

Visitation will be from 1-3 p.m. today at First Baptist Church in Houston.

The funeral will follow at 3 p.m., and burial will be at French Camp Cemetery in French Camp.

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Born on July 12, 1935, Cothren attended Crosby High School and then Natchez High School. He earned All-Southern, All-Big Eight and All-State honors during his senior year at Natchez in 1952 and was also team captain of both Crosby and Natchez. Cothren was one of the stars in the 1953 High School All-America Game in Memphis, scoring the first and third touchdowns for the victorious East team.

“I remember very vividly when Paige moved to Natchez from Crosby,” former Natchez teammate Sen. Bob Dearing said. “He was a fullback on the football team, and a really good one — he was a great blocker and an excellent ball carrier.”

Cothren is survived by wife, Daisy Yarbrough of Houston,; daughter, Fran Cothren Woody of Knoxville, Tenn.; son, Jay Cothren and wife Julie of Collierville, Tenn; stepsons, Phil Yarbrough and wife Felicia of Jackson and Scott Yarbrough and wife Mary of Nashville, Tenn; nine grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren; sister Wanda Cothren Orr and her husband, Donald, of Vaiden; and his devoted aunt, Wanda Poole of Oxford.

“As a person, he had one of the best personalities you could imagine,” Dearing said. “He was an instant hit with all of his classmates. He was just an all-around great guy. He’s going to be greatly missed.”

As a fullback, kicker, cornerback and linebacker, Cothren was one of the most versatile players in Ole Miss football history, earning first-team All-America honors in 1956 and a second-team All-America selection in 1955.  He was named first-team All-Southeastern Conference in 1955 and 1956, while also being named to the All-South team in 1955.

Cothren is a member of the famous “Pooles of Ole Miss” family tree, which produced over 50 University of Mississippi athletics letters. Three of his uncles — brothers Buster, Ray and Barney Poole – are all members of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, and Barney is in the College Football Hall of Fame.  “Poole Drive” on the Ole Miss campus is named in honor of the family.

Cothren, who was inducted into the Ole Miss Athletics Hall of Fame in 1988, helped lead coach John Vaught’s 1954 and 1955 teams to back-to-back SEC championships.

During his three varsity seasons (1954-56), Ole Miss posted a 26-6 overall record, including a loss to Navy in the Sugar Bowl and a victory over TCU in the Cotton Bowl.

He was the leading Ole Miss rusher in both bowl games.  In the 14-13 Cotton Bowl win against TCU, Cothren gained 79 yards rushing on 12 carries, including a three-yard touchdown.  He also had a key 13-yard reception on fourth down from quarterback Eagle Day on the game-winning drive and then provided the winning margin with his PAT kick.

Named to receive the Jacobs Trophy in 1955, symbolizing the best blocker in the SEC, Cothren led the SEC in scoring in 1955 with 74 points and also won the NCAA kick-scoring championship in 1955 with 38 points.

Cothren was named the Associated Press National  “Back of the Week” after the Rebels defeated Arkansas, 17-7, in 1955, while also being a part of the United Press International “Backfield of the Week” honor in that same game.

Following his 1956 senior season, Cothren ranked second in Ole Miss career rushing with 1,390 yards on 272 carries, as he averaged 5.1 yards per carry and had 12 career TDs.

He was credited with scoring 151 points during his three varsity seasons, including 12 touchdowns, 12 field goals and 43 extra points. His 79 career points by kicking ranked first in Ole Miss history at the time as he connected on 43 extra points and 12 field goals.  Cothren’s 20 extra points in 1955 ranked first in school history for a single season at the time and his 38 points by kicking in 1955 also ranked first all-time at Ole Miss following his final collegiate season of 1956.

While also playing cornerback and linebacker on defense during the two-way era, Cothren contributed to an Ole Miss squad that led the nation in total defense in 1954 as the Rebels allowed only 172.3 yards per game.  He also had eight pass interceptions and three kickoff returns during his playing days with Vaught’s Rebels.