DENVER (AP) – John Mosley attended Colorado State intending to be a veterinarian, not a trailblazer.
No, that happened by chance.
On a whim, Mosley decided to walk on to the football team in 1939, making the squad. The school, after extensive research, believes he was the first African-American football player at CSU.
Mosley played four seasons under progressive-thinking coach Harry Hughes, earning all-conference honors as a guard his senior year.
“Those were great times,” said Mosley, who played back when the CSU Rams were known as the Colorado A&M Aggies. “Made a lot of great friends.”
Mosley was set to be inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame on Tuesday night, along with former Denver Broncos Pro Bowl receiver Rod Smith, Montreal Canadiens center Ralph Backstrom, former Colorado State football coach Sonny Lubick, Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony, former Rockies owner Jerry McMorris and high school coach Laurice “Lo” Hunter.
To be included with this company still marvels Mosley.
“It certainly is an All-Star class,” said Mosley, who also trained with the all-black 99th Fighter Squadron at the Tuskegee Institute, the famed Tuskegee Airmen. “That makes it even more impressive. I’m quite humbled and surprised really. I didn’t expect anything like this.”
Mosley had a remarkable prep career at Manual High School in Denver but, like a lot of top black athletes in his day, received no scholarship offers.
Soon after enrolling at the school, he began missing football.
So Mosley decided to see if he could make the squad. He showed up at tryouts out of the blue, all eyes watching his every move.
He felt the stares of animosity and acrimony from players, and ignored it.
First play, Mosley made a bone-jarring tackle on a ball carrier, only to have a player fall on his head – hard. An elbow soon followed to his ear.
“For a couple of seconds, I was out cold,” said Mosley, who refuses to reveal is exact age but is now in his mid-80s. “My friends, who were watching from the stands, were like, ‘Told you that you never should’ve gone out for football.'”
Hughes saw enough to become convinced. He appreciated Mosley’s tenacity, talent and toughness, awarding him a spot on the team.
It was a spot Mosley felt he attained.
“I knew I was good enough to make any team at any place in the country,” he said.
Mosley became the first black player in the Mountain States Conference, a league that at the time consisted of Colorado, Colorado A&M, Denver, BYU, Utah, Utah State and Wyoming.
His determination won some of his teammates over.
“The ones I was interested in,” he said.
In fact, the player who ground his head into the turf on that first day ended up being a buddy.
What’s more, when opponents messed with Mosley on the field, they drew the ire of his teammates.
“If someone played me dirty, my teammates got back at them,” said Mosley, who was quite popular on campus, becoming student body vice president twice. “I also got back at them, through my abilities to block and tackle and hit them hard. After that, everything was on a level playing field.”
Mosley played every position in his career, except for quarterback and end.
His favorite, though, was right guard.
“They didn’t realize I was coming from the opposite direction and I’d hit them from the blindside,” he said. “Had to carry them off the field. We had a lot of fun like that.”
There were times when his race came into play.
Like when the team was in Salt Lake City and Hughes took the squad to a movie night before a game. All the players were seated in the front section, except for Mosley, who was instructed by the theater staff to go up to the balcony.
Hughes became irate when he found out.
“Someone told him (I was in the balcony) and he said, ‘They did what?'” recalled Mosley, who scrapped his plans to be a vet and would end up majoring in physical education. “Coach made an announcement, ‘All you Aggies get out of the theater!’ So, we left.”
That meant the world to Mosley.
“The fact I was even on the team was a tribute to Harry Hughes,” Mosley said of the coach who has the stadium in Fort Collins named after him. “He didn’t care what people thought, didn’t have a problem in having me on the team and utilizing me.”
Once his playing career ended, Mosley applied to an advanced ROTC program, only to be informed he didn’t meet the physical standards.
That despite being a standout college wrestler as well, going undefeated in his career.
“I’m not physically qualified?” he said with exasperation.
Instead, Mosley turned to aviation – working on his pilot’s license by flying around the skies of northern Colorado.
That led him to train with the Tuskegee Airmen, the country’s first black military pilots and ground crew. Mosley was scheduled to head to the Pacific Theater, but World War II ended before he was shipped out.
Upon his return to Denver, he earned his master’s degree in social work while remaining in the reserves. He retired from the Army in 1970 as a lieutenant colonel.
While in the military, Mosley wrote a lengthy paper on how he’d go about desegregating the Army if he had the opportunity.
Soon after, President Harry S. Truman integrated the armed forces.
“I take full credit for the desegregation of the defense department in the U.S.,” Mosley said, laughing. “I’m a realist – the paper probably didn’t get past the wastepaper basket. But at least somebody was hearing my plea.”
Like Hughes, who gave Mosley a chance to play football.
For that, he’s grateful.
“He was a very fine person,” Mosley said. “He didn’t care what other coaches thought about having a black athlete on the team. He wanted to win, he wanted to be fair.”