Louis Murillo

Since the age of 12, Louis Murillo has been a fan and worked for UT athletics. Now at 83, Murillo vividly recalls his personal relationship to players and coaches such as Darrell Royal and Mack Brown. Murillo can be found at any home baseball game at his favorite spot by the dugout.  

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

Eighty-three-year-old Louis Murillo said he would never sell his home — not even for a million dollars. That’s because almost everything inside Murillo’s small, East Austin home is a remnant of a long, fruitful relationship with UT Athletics.

Every piece of clothing in view has a hint of the signature burnt orange on it. Portraits of star running back Earl Campbell and legendary football coach Darrell Royal populate the walls. In one photo, Murillo is smiling with Royal. In another, he has one arm around singer George Strait and the other around Willie Nelson. The final photo he shows depicts a smiling Gov. Rick Perry alongside Murillo.

“I’ve never voted for him, but he’s a nice man,” Murillo said.

Murillo has been attending UT games since 1953. In that time, he’s gone from an enthusiastic fan to Royal’s personal driver. Among his relics from the days is a letter written by former football coach Mack Brown. 

“You’re a good man and we all appreciate you,” the letter said. “We’ll see you at practice soon.”

Murillo is currently employed as, and was initially offered a job as, a ticket “gopher” on the stadium grounds because he was a friendly face that was always around.

“The coaches would say, ‘Hey Louis — go for this,’ or, ‘Hey Louis, go for that,’ so they just called me a gopher,” Murillo said.

But, long before it was his job, Murillo lived and breathed Texas sports.

Murillo was born in Austin in 1931. After fourth grade, he dropped out of school to begin working when he was 12. The Thompson family, who owned a 7-Eleven in the East side of Austin, offered Murillo a job selling groceries. 

“They were great people,” Murillo said. “I owe them a lot.” 

When the Thompsons sent Murillo to the UT stadium grounds to sell sodas, he heard stories of the great UT quarterback Bobby Layne, whose accomplishments of the late ’40s and early ’50s drew the attention of millions, including Murillo.

In 1950, Murillo took a break from the Longhorns when he was drafted into the U.S. Army and deployed in Korea as a mechanic. 

Sitting at his kitchen table, Murillo emptied a leather pouch into his hands, and several Army medals fell out onto his hands. He vividly remembers the moment he was told he was going home after 16 1/2 grueling months on the front lines.

“As a grown man, I cried,” Murillo said. “I did not want to go back [to Korea].” 

When Murillo returned from Korea, he returned to his job at 7-Eleven. He began going to the football games as a spectator, not just to sell sodas. Over the years he became a familiar face at the stadium, and he built a rapport with the coaching staff. Al Lundstedt, the athletics department business manager, offered Murillo a job running tickets from the coaches to the ticket booths. Murillo soon became close friends with many Texas coaches, especially Royal. When Royal stopped coaching in 1976 but remained Texas’ athletic director, Murillo became his personal driver and friend. He goes so far as to call himself Royal’s “illegitimate son.”

“Ah, coach — we were so close,” Murillo said. “I think that, next to his wife, I was his closest friend. We’d always go everywhere. We’d go golfing together. We’d go eat Mexican food together. We’d go everywhere. Two birds of a feather got to stick together.”

Now, Murillo guards the dugouts at UT baseball games and guards the tunnel at the football games. He’s always standing close to the action, talking with the players and coaches, putting in his 2 cents and remaining the same friendly face that showed up at Texas games 61 years ago. 

Murillo suffered a stroke the day before Christmas that left the left side of his body paralyzed, but that didn’t stop him from being at the season opener against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. He attributed his speedy recovery to an active youth, when he boxed against future Olympians such as Lefty Barrera.

“I’m 83 years old,” Murillo said. “If you take good care of yourself, you’ll be fine. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t chase bad women, I chase good women. I’m just fine.”

These days, Murillo can be found at any Texas home game by the dugout, talking with the players and cheering on the team that has meant so much to him over the years. And, just like with his precious home in East Austin, he doesn’t think he’s going anywhere any time soon.  

Lineman first to break color barrier at Texas

Julius Whittier made an impromptu visit to Texas football practice Wednesday afternoon. If the players didn’t know who the man was as he walked onto the field in blue jeans and a black sweater, they certainly knew who he was by the end of the day.

Per the request of head coach Mack Brown, Whittier addressed the mass of kneeling players after practice. He spoke in the subjects such as hitting the books, holding the goal of a college degree to utmost esteem and finding something they love to study. The players might have thought they were being lectured by an old college professor if not for the introduction given by Bill Little, the longtime overseer of Texas Media Relations.

“We have a very special guest for you guys today,” he said. “This is Julius Whittier, and he was the first African-American to ever letter in football here. This is history.”

When Whittier first came to play football on the 40 Acres from his hometown of San Antonio in 1969, he did so against the advice of his close friends and family.

“Everybody told me not to come play football here,” he said. “They told me that they were racists and they had the Ku Klux Klan and all that. But everything I was told about the University of Texas wasn’t true.”

Forty years ago, freshmen weren’t eligible to play, so Whittier had to watch his older teammates defeat Arkansas for the 1969 national championship game. In 1970, Texas was once again a national champion. This time, Whittier was able to play. As an offensive guard at a time when Texas, under legendary head coach Darrell Royal, ran the famed “three yards and a cloud of dust” wishbone offense, Whittier paved the way for those running behind him.

One of the first to recognize Whittier as he entered the field through the south end zone was longtime fan and friend of Royal, Louis Murillo. He is the man who says Bobby Layne, the star quarterback of the 1944-47 Texas teams, is the best he’s ever seen play, so it would be safe to say that Murillo knows a little something about his Longhorns.

“I’ll tell you what,” Murillo said. “There have been a lot of guys to come through this program since I’ve been here, but none of them played like Julius Whittier. He was so strong and so quick, and I haven’t seen an offensive lineman with that combination of skills since he left.”

But what Whittier will always be remembered and embraced for was what he did to get onto the field, not what he did while on it. Despite being the first black letterman in the team’s history and one of roughly 100 black students at Texas at the time, Whittier said he didn’t face any true racial hostility. As for the effect that he had on the future of the program, he doesn’t feel that he did anything that anybody else couldn’t have done, given the opportunity.

“I’m not a pioneer,” Whittier said. “I wasn’t a hero. I wasn’t being put in a capsule and going out to the moon. I just wanted to play football and Texas wanted me to play for them.”

Sure, the Texas coaches wanted Whittier to play for them; his talent and intangibles were obvious. But not everybody at the University felt the same way. Though integration had been mandated, there were still many who thought that the football field should be a place without color.

“Most whites at UT were not for integration,” Whittier said. “I have to thank Coach Royal for making it possible that I played here. He stuck his neck out for me and he believed that UT should be an opportunity for people of all colors, despite what everybody around him was saying otherwise.”

By the time Whittier graduated from law school and went on to pursue his career as a district attorney, the cultural makeup of the football program had begun to change. Whittier was instrumental in the recruitment of Roosevelt Leaks, who went on to star as running back. Leaks’ success led to the arrival of Earl Campbell, who would win the Heisman Trophy in 1977. Last year, 21 of Texas’ 25 football recruits were African-American. Five years ago, a black quarterback led Texas to the national championship.

Whittier, who currently resides in Dallas, is in town for today’s Arthur Miller Dialogue, a panel discussion on sports, media and race at the LBJ Auditorium.

“There’s going to be a lot of people hoorah-ing the idea blacks should have the opportunities to play in front of thousands of people,” he said. “But I would like to talk about the dangerous head injuries that football is generating today. I talked to a lot of people about that at [Wednesday’s] practice.”

The panel discussion will offer a variety of topics — just the way Whittier likes it. Topics of his conversations at practice ranged from the aforementioned head injuries to the great number of school libraries available to students. He talked about LeBron James with junior kicker Justin Tucker and made sure to ask freshman quarterback Case McCoy how his brother, Colt, was doing with the Cleveland Browns. He greeted a long line of players and coaches after his brief talk with the team. He spent some time with defensive ends coach Oscar Giles, who thanked him for his contributions to the program. Freshman receiver Mike Davis and he spoke not of football but of home, as both hail from the Dallas area.

It was getting dark and all the players and coaches had walked back up to their locker rooms and offices at the Moncrief-Neuhaus athletics center. Practice was over, but Whittier still had one more person to talk to. As he walked to the parking lot, he saw a larger-than-life picture of a smiling Darrell Royal on the side of a Texas equipment truck. Displaying the athleticism that earned him a football scholarship many years ago, Whittier jumped up and gave the picture a tap and let out a big, “What’s up, coach!”

Smiling, he turned away from the truck.

“Man, coach was the best,” he said. “I owe everything to him.”

Royal had coached a lot of football players in his time, but he’ll always have a special place in his heart for Whittier.

“He was an outstanding player and an outstanding person,” Royal said. “I wish I had had about six Julius Whittiers.”