By George Von Benko
Tory Epps accomplished a lot in a short time; the former Uniontown High School star left us far too soon when he passed away at the age of 38 in 2005.
Epps was a force on the football field. He also tried wrestling and played basketball for the Red Raiders, but football was his sport. He played on Uniontown grid teams that posted records of 3-7 in 1982, 8-2 in 1983 and 4-6 in 1984.
In his senior year, Epps played basketball for the Raiders on a squad that finished 6-6 in Section 2 and 10-10 overall. He tallied 147 points that year for Coach Lash Nesser.
Epps earned some football accolades as a senior. He played offensive guard and linebacker for the Red Raiders and was first team All County, first team All Big Ten Conference, Big Ten Conference defensive MVP and Conference Player of the Year.
He embarked on a college football career at Memphis State and was part of teams that posted records of 1-10 in 1986, 5-5-1 in 1987, 6-5 in 1988 and 2-9 in 1989.
The highlight had to be the stunning 13-10 upset of Alabama in 1987.
Epps had vivid memories of that game in a 1988 article by Scripps Howard News Service.
“It was a picture-perfect day to play football, to play Alabama,’’ Epps said. ``The sky was clear and blue, and we were pretty hyped up about the game.”
Alabama had beaten Memphis State 37-0 in 1986. Former Alabama center Roger Shultz remembered going head to head with Epps.
“I don’t like to admit it, but he pretty much manhandled me,’’ Shultz said. “I just remember being very frustrated. I couldn’t get my hands on him. He was all over the field, and it didn’t seem like I could block him anywhere.”
Epps had a big day against one of the flagship programs in college football. He had 10 tackles that day and tipped a Jeff Dunn pass that Memphis State defensive tackle Greg Ross intercepted to kill a fourth-quarter Alabama drive. For his effort, Epps earned “Player of the Week” recognition.
“I can’t say I manhandled him,’’ Epps said in 1988 article. “It’s hard to do that to anybody playing at this level. I think he was young at that time. It was just a situation where I felt I had to go out and play well for the team to win. Maybe I had more incentive on that day.
“It is still the most important victory I’ve ever been associated with. It was the first win over Alabama that Memphis State had ever had, our first major upset. It showed that our program was on the right track, that we were just as good as any other major college team in the country.”
Epps continued to put up solid numbers for the Tigers and was primed for a big senior year in 1989. The 6-1, 270-pounder was being touted as a possible All-American after earning All-Metro, All-South Independent and Associated Press All-America honors as a junior, but his senior season was cut short.
Epps left Memphis State’s game with Mississippi State on Oct. 21, 1989 in Starkville, Miss., with pain in his left hand. He was driven to Memphis and admitted to Baptist Memorial Hospital. The diagnosis: Two blood clots in his left forearm.
That ended his college career, and an expected chance at a pro career seemed in doubt. But he was told by doctors he would be able to resume his career.
He played in the Blue-Gray Classic, a college all-star game. ‘’I was a little bit rusty,’’ he said at the time, ‘’but I got into the rhythm. I was definitely out of shape, but everything else was fine.”
Epps expected to be selected anywhere from the fourth to the sixth round of the NFL draft. But having a health problem whose cause was never fully explained created doubts. The Atlanta Falcons drafted Epps in the eighth round.
Atlanta was the right place at the right time. With starting nose tackle Tony Casillas away from camp because of a contract dispute, Epps had a prime opportunity. He beat out second-year player Tony Bowick and was starting early in the exhibition season.
“I got real comfortable very quickly,” said Epps.
Epps made the all-rookie team that season, but the next season he sprained his ankle in the preseason and lost his starting job to then-rookie Moe Gardner. All the while he was taking precautions about blood clots. He fought off the ‘’slight likelihood’’ of further clotting problems with ‘’a little prayer every night, and an aspirin.’’
The 1993 season was a strange odyssey for Epps. When the season began, Epps was a backup with the Atlanta Falcons, the team he had been with since they chose him in the 1990 draft. He wasn’t playing much, and management had talked with his agent about allowing him to work out a trade, but the Falcons never got around to giving Epps permission to do so. Deion Sanders signed. The Falcons decided to cut Epps to make room for him. Six days later Epps was signed by the San Diego Chargers. But he lasted only nine days before being cut again. He wound up with the Chicago Bears.
Epps made the Bears who released William “The Refrigerator” Perry.
“William Perry probably will never be replaced,” Epps said. “I was a big fan of his. I hate to be considered someone’s replacement. I just happen to be in this situation when William had left.”
Epps played two seasons in Chicago before completing his NFL career with the New Orleans Saints in 1995. He played for the Tampa Bay Storm in the Arena Football League until 2002.
On June 1, 2005 Epps died at Uniontown Hospital from a a blood clot. He had just turned 38 on