In celebration of Florida A&M's first home game of the 2014 season, an alumnus recognized the legacy of the university's late coach Alonzo S. “Jake” Gaither. Cornelius Jones recently bought and refurbished Gaither's home in Tallahassee.
Gaither’s accolades line the walls of the home. Photographs with local and national officials frame the plaque he received as an inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975.
“Jake Gaither is important, not only just in Tallahassee but nationwide. There was a time we could only go to black schools and Florida A&M was the cream of the crop. Jake Gaither set the foundation for a lot of blacks to attend division one schools,” said Jones, who restores houses professionally.
Gaither had been head coach of the Rattlers' football team for 25 years after being instated in 1945. He led the university to more than 200 wins before he retired in 1969. The university named a gymnasium in Gaither's honor.
A FAMU professor, LaTanya White, said she hopes the restoration of Gaither's home could inspire feelings of pride among students and graduates.
“Hopefully this can become one of those places people think about when they think of the old Rattler spirit,” White said at a recent ceremony. “When you walk into this house, you really still feel his spirit and his energy. Its great to have a place like this.” said White
While 36 of Gaither’s players became All Americans, more than 40 went on to play in the National Football League. The Gaither home hosted many guests from infamous coaches such as Paul “ Bear” Bryant to the Dallas Cowboy Legend, Bob Hayes and even neighborhood kids like Timothy Lewis who shared fond memories as Coach Gaither’s next-door neighbor.
“I grew up next door to him…. When we were teenagers I can remember Bob Hayes and all of the football players would come over and that always impressed us,” said Lewis.
Among the frequent visitors to the Gaither home was the former dean of FAMU’s College of Arts and Sciences, Aubrey Perry, who visited to celebrate the university's football wins.
“Many of my memories here involve my having come here after a number of the football games and celebrating and having such a wonderful time,” Perry said. “This brings back quite as few pleasant memories.”
Jones said he hopes to work with the University to ensure that the heritage and memory of the Jake Gaither is shared by Rattler Alumni, present and future Rattlers.
“I want to keep the legacy of Coach Gaither and allow the students at Florida A&M to understand how important the school is,” said Jones.