THOMAS — Last week at Miller's Diner in this small Custer County town in western Oklahoma, a man walked up to the counter and ordered a bowl of soup for “Mr. Roof.”
The woman taking the order glanced over at the soon to be 88-year-old man sitting in the booth and corrected the customer.
“That's not Mr. Roof,” she said. “That's Coach Roof.”
Kenneth Roof hasn't coached a high-school football game in 25 years, but he is still “coach” to everyone who ever lived in Thomas.
In 37 years as an assistant or head football coach at Thomas High School, Roof helped guide the Terriers to seven state championships — including three in a row in 1955, '56 and '57 — and 35 district titles.
Before he was a high-school football coach, Roof was All-American Bob Fenimore's successor in the backfield at Oklahoma State, then known as Oklahoma A&M, in the late '40s.
In 1947, Roof set the school record for yards per carry (7.56) for a single season. It was a record that stood at OSU until it was broken by a running back named Barry Sanders.
Before becoming Fenimore's successor, Roof was an all-state running back at Thomas in 1942, rushing for more than 1,100 yards his senior season.
In observance of the anniversary of The Oklahoman's 100th All-State team, to be announced Sunday, the newspaper is recognizing players from the previous 99 years.
Thomas only lost one football game in the years Roof piloted the Terriers' single wing offense.
“I was quick,” said Roof, who was 5-10 and weighed only 168 pounds his senior season. “That was my strong suit. I could get off. I didn't want to run over people because I couldn't. I wasn't big enough. I tried to dodge them. I ran scared.”
In 1942, Roof became the first Oklahoma high school athlete to win four individual events at the state track meet. Oklahoma high schools were divided into only two classes at the time.
Roof finished first in the long jump, triple jump, pole vault and the discus. But he received no medals because all of the metal at the time was needed for the war effort.
“They gave me some old raggedy ribbons,” Roof said. “I didn't even put them up.”
Years later, one of Roof's former players at Thomas, Donald Friesen, had four gold medals made to recognize the feat and presented them to him. It was just one example of the admiration Roof's players had for him.
“Mr. Roof taught his players to respect every opponent, but fear none,” said Friesen, who played on Thomas' three straight state championship teams in the 1950s, a starter on the '56 and '57 squads.
“His discipline was firm, but administered with dignity, and he was a gentleman in all things.”
Roof would come to practice each day wearing thigh pads because he often would coach his players by scrimmaging against them.