‘He was before his time:’ Remembering Shocker legend Prince McJunkins


Archive Photo / The Sunflower

Prince McJunkins prepares to pass during a game against Tulsa on Oct. 24, 1981.

Former Wichita State football legend Prince McJunkins died in a Tulsa hospital on Tuesday after contracting COVID-19. McJunkins was 60 years old.

To many, the news of McJunkins came as a surprise to those who knew him best, including former teammate Jay Hull. 

“We only knew for a half-day that it was going to happen,” Hull said. “Sunday and Monday he was talking to one of his good friends and former teammates Curtis Winton about playing golf. He suddenly got blood clots on his lungs and that changed everything. It was shocking, the guy was in great shape, really lean and fit and boy he loved his golf, that’s for sure.”

Willie Jeffries, who was the head coach during McJunkins’ career said he was in shock after hearing the news. 

“I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I had to go sit in a chair for the next 30 minutes and just gather myself. It was a hard blow.”

When WSU was recruiting McJunkins out of high school, Jeffries recalled getting a phone call from a couple assistant coaches during a recruiting trip in Oklahoma. The coaches said ‘I think we found our quarterback’.

“He was just a pure athlete,” Jeffries said. “We were looking for a guy who could take a hit from the defense if he had to and also jump right back up. He had all the attributes of an option quarterback. He could’ve been a running back, that’s how you find your option quarterbacks.”

McJunkins helped bring WSU its last winning season in 1982, leading them to an 8-3 record. McJunkins also became the first NCAA player to throw for more than 4,000 yards and rush for more than 2,000 yards in a college career. 

During McJunkins’ senior season in 1982, he threw for 1,220 yards and ran for 599 yards while combining for 21 touchdowns. WSU’s ‘freze offense’ played a large part of McJunkins’ success throughout his career.

“We could hand it off to the fullback or Prince could take it around the end and carry it himself, or kind of like the wishbone, he could pitch it to his tailback,” Hull said. “That’s also where we passed from. Even when we passed it looked like the same play and what it became known as was the ‘freeze offense’ because it froze linebackers.

Tom Shine, the director of news and public relations at KMUW covered the final years of the program for the Wichita Eagle and remembers a renewed excitement around the program with McJunkins at quarterback. 

“You thought every time he had the ball in his hands, he was going to score,” Shine said. “Obviously, he didn’t but you felt he had the ability to score every time he had the ball. There was just certain energy in the stadium that hadn’t been there for some time. It was a little more of hope that they might actually be pretty good.”

With the success under McJunkins, it brought hope to the WSU fanbase that football would be able to stick around. 

“I think a lot of people thought they would turn the corner a little bit,” Shine said. “They had beaten both of the state schools in that timeframe. They were considered to maybe turn the corner, maybe they’d be good, maybe the program could get back on its feet again. It didn’t obviously pan out but there were some moments where they were really good, competitive.”

In recent years, football has started to embrace the style of play from dual-threat quarterbacks similar to McJunkins. Quarterbacks such as the Baltimore Ravens Lamar Jackson, Arizona Cardinals’ Kyler Murray and the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson have all utilized their athleticism to become effective in the NFL. 

Jeffries said that he thinks that McJunkins’ style of play was better suited for the present day.

“He was before his time because if you notice in the NFL, those are the type quarterbacks they are recruiting,” Jeffries said. “They’re getting away from the pure drop back quarterback because when the receivers are covered, they take a sack. They’re going more to the guys like Prince McJunkins. He was 30 years too early because now, he would be signing a high round contract.”

Jeffries said that despite McJunkins’ success on the field, he hopes that Prince will be remembered for what type of person he was.

“I always told him ability is a gift and character is a choice,” he said. “He had made the choice to have character. He’ll be remembered first of all for the type of person he is. He was just a great individual, high morals, he never did the things a lot of athletes do now. He was a pure athlete and I think that will be his legacy.”