Twig Branch in hall

Published 7:25 pm Thursday, May 7, 2009

Special to the Item

POPLARVILLE — Former Pearl River Community College football great Frank “Twig” Branch of Picayune was inducted into the Mississippi Community and Junior College Sports Hall of Fame during ceremonies Tuesday night in Jackson.

Branch, 78 and a Picayune resident, was one of 15 inductees into the class.

“It was the most exciting thrill for me,” said Branch. “Like a dream come true to receive that honor. To have it happen to you while you are alive, that makes it even better.”

He was the first quarterback under legendary Coach Dobie Holden at Pearl River. He played at 125 pounds and led the 1949 team to a state championship. The 1948 team was 6-4.

The 1949 Wildcats lost their first game of the year and then reeled off 10 straight victories including a 21-20 win over Lamar, Texas in the Memorial Bowl. The Wildcats finished fourth in the nation that year. Branch was chosen Mississippi Junior College Player of the Year and selected all-state quarterback.

Branch, a member of the PRCC Sports Hall of Fame, was awarded a football scholarship to Mississippi State University in 1950 where he was the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs for two years.

He was accorded national attention as the smallest major college player in the nation at 125 pounds. Three times he was chosen “Player of the Week” in the Southeastern Conference after leading his team to victories over Tennessee, LSU, and Georgia.

He directed the Bulldogs to back-to-back 5-5 seasons.

Branch, from Pascagoula, was tabbed with the nickname “Twig” at State and he still carries that title today.

As the story goes, Branch’s locker was next to MSU fullback Joe Fortunato, who later played linebacker for the Chicago Bears.

“We had to weigh in each day after practice,” Branch recalled. “My locker was next to Fortunato’s. One day after practice Fortunato looked at me and demanded, ‘What’s your name’? I looked up at that big monster and said, ‘Branch. Sir’.

“He looked back and me and said, ‘Hell. You ain’t nothing but a twig’.”

In high school in Pascagoula, Branch played for Coach Holden, but was never a starter.

He declined to play JuCo football at Gulf Coast in Perkinston because the coach, Red Campbell, ran the single-wing offense. Branch was too small to play the tailback position.

Branch wanted to play at Pearl River, Perk’s arch-rival, which ran the T-formation. Since Branch resided in Perk’s signing territory, he had to get a waiver from Campbell in order to be eligible to play at Pearl River, now coached by Holden.

“Campbell agreed that I was too small to play the single-wing, so he signed the waiver,” said Branch. “If he hadn’t released me I probably wouldn’t have played football again. I think I was the last one Red ever released.”

Branch made All-Conference and All-America at Pearl River and quarterbacked the team to a 22-7 victory over Perk and many of his former high school teammates his sophomore year. He was inducted into the MSU Sports Hall of Fame in 1981. He spent three years in active duty in the U.S. Navy and 23 years in the Reserves. He coached at Bogalusa (La.) High for two years and six years at Picayune. He later went into private business and worked for Moore Business Forms for 20 years and financial services for six years.

Branch is the sixth PRCC athlete to be inducted into the MACJC Sports Hall of Fame since its inception in 2007. The others include Tommy Walters, Jerrel Wilson, Willie Heidelberg, Antrice McGill Walker and Coach Thomas D. “Dobie” Holden.