When he walked into Centerville as a freshman on the Indian Hills football team, Tony Galbreath knew he was about to join a very talented backfield with sophomore Rick Upchurch already in place.
Who would have known that the two would become a hall-of-fame backfield tandem for the Falcons?
Galbreath will join his former teammate, and good friend, in the Indian Hills Athletic Hall-of-Fame this weekend. Going in with Upchurch, who was one of the first players to take the Galbreath under his wing back in 1972, means the world to the former Super Bowl champion.
“It means everything to me. We were real good buddies,” Galbreath said. “When I first came to Centerville, he was there and he showed me the ropes.
“I learned a lot from him. It was an honor to be mentioned in the same name with him.”
Together, Galbreath and Upchurch paved the way to success for a young Indian Hills football program. It wasn’t just success on the field that Galbreath was learning, but how to be a successful student off it.
“I had to go through junior college because I didn’t assert myself in high school like I should have,” Galbreath said. “I had chosen the University of Missouri and they recommended to me that I try Indian Hills.
“They were just getting started. I felt I had a chance to be a part of something new.”
Going to Centerville to start his college playing career was equally as appealing to Galbreath. The Fulton, Mo. resident found himself not too far away from home in southern Iowa.
“I’m a mom and dad boy. I always came home and I always liked being around my family,” Galbreath said. “There was a guy who had a car and would truck me back and forth. It was the closest school to my home and I had a chance to play.”
Finding his place on the football field wasn’t a problem for Galbreath, who had a quiet confidence in himself when he arrived at IHCC. Galbreath also knew that the opportunity to play football could be lost forever if he couldn’t make things work in Centerville.
“My dad wanted me to get a job,” Galbreath said. “He thought I ate too much and I needed to work, but I always had a football in my hand.
“He told to try and make it work, but if it didn’t I had to come home and get a job.”
By the time he was done at Indian Hills, Galbreath was on his way to a job in the National Football League. The Missouri native showed incredible athletic gifts on the field, providing IHCC’s football team with a power back to counter the speedier Upchurch while also putting his gift as a two-sport athlete to good use — as Galbreath also played basketball at Indian Hills during his freshman season, scoring 17 points a game.
“My true love was basketball, but I was built for football,” Galbreath said. “I could jump, but those guys on the court were tall.”
That time on the court, however, would only enhance Galbreath’s abilities on the gridiron.
“Those skills in basketball were great for your feet,” Galbreath said. “Being able to run pass patterns were a credit to my time out on the court. I was hardly ever out of shape. I played a lot of basketball when I wasn’t on the football field.”
After averaging 5.7 yards rushing and 16.4 yards receiving as a freshman while sharing duties at running back with Upchurch, Galbreath took off as a sophomore at IHCC. Taking over as the Falcons’ top backfield threat, Galbreath led the NJCAA in rushing in his sophomore campaign, averaging 134.2 yards per game with 17 touchdowns.
“I felt like the team was going to need someone like Rick to be as successful when he left,” Galbreath said. “You had to have someone that could fill in those spots. I tried to not only fill in my own way, but fill in where Rick left off.”
There was also a skill that Galbreath learned from Upchurch that would prove to be a calling card professionally for the former Falcon. While watching Upchurch as a freshman, Galbreath learned the value of being an equally adept pass-catcher.
“When both Rick and I were on the field, he could go out and be a receiver and you wouldn’t know, as a defense, who to watch out for,” Galbreath said. “I learned a lot about those facets of how to be a better player just from watching Rick.”
After leaving IHCC, Galbreath went on to have an All-Big 8 Conference career at the University of Missouri in 1974 and captained the Tigers the following year. Galbreath was then taken by the New Orleans Saints in the second round of the 1976 NFL Draft, where he would be teamed up with first-round draft pick Chuck Muncie to become part of the Saints’ “Thunder and Lightning” backfield.
“I think at IHCC, Rick and I were the original ‘thunder and lightning’ duo,” Galbreath joked.
Galbreath also took his skills honed at IHCC as a pass-catching running back to a new level in the NFL, becoming one of the best during his time in the league. Over five years with the Saints, Galbreath was both the second leading rusher in the franchise by the time he left while also having top-10 seasons of pass catching among running backs, finishing second in that category in 1978.
Galbreath went on to play three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, playing primarily as a pass-catching back and blocker, before heading to the New York Giants in 1984. Galbreath would finish his career as the second-leading receiver on the team’s Super Bowl XXI championship team in 1986 before retiring after the following season as the most prolific pass-catching running back in NFL history.
Saturday night will be the third hall-of-fame for Galbreath, who has already been inducted into the University of Missouri and New Orleans Saints Hall-of-Fames in previous years. None of those opportunities, however, would have come about without finding Indian Hills four decades ago.
“Indian Hills was the step for me,” Galbreath said. “I kind of needed training wheels on my bicycle. I learned a lot of great things on and off the field.
“Coming from a small town like I did, it’s rare that you have the chance to be on the stage at a professional level like I did. There are a lot of people that didn’t take advantage of that, but without Centerville, I wouldn’t have had the chances I had.”