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Mike Flynt was swapping stories with some old football buddies in the summer of 2007 when he brought up the greatest regret in his life – getting kicked off the college football team at the beginning of his senior year.


So, one of his buddies asked him, “Why don’t you do something about it?”


Most 59-year-olds would have just laughed. Flynt's only concern was if he was eligible.


Finding out he was, Flynt returned to Sul Ross State University 37 years after he left as a player on the 1970 Sul Ross football team.


Flynt has given a new meaning to being a college senior. After all, he's a grandfather and a card-carrying member of AARP. At the time he went back to play, he was eight years older than his coach and two of his kids were older than any of his teammates.


"I think it was Satchel Page who used to say, 'How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?'  I'd be in my late 20s or early 30s, because that's how I feel," said Flynt, who has made a living out of physical fitness. "That's been my approach to this whole thing. I feel that good. I just wanted to be able to perform and make a contribution to the team."


A longtime strength and conditioning coach at The University of Nebraska, The University of Oregon, and Texas A&M, Flynt is one of the five original founders and a lifetime member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, which now has over 60,000 members worldwide.   


Flynt's life was supposed to have been slowing down. With his youngest daughter starting her freshman year at the University of Tennessee, he and Eileen, his wife of 35 years, were planning to take advantage of being empty nesters for the first time.


Instead, they moved to a beautiful college town in West Texas, Alpine, so Flynt could mend an old wound, and along the way he became an inspiration to many others. Flynt said, “Men would recognize me from all the publicity the event received and walk up to me and offer to shake hands, and they would ask me if I was Mike.  When I said I was, we would shake hands and they would tell me their age…I had to ask them their name.  And then they would tell me what they had started to do physically again since I had gone back to play.  Every one of those chance encounters was such a blessing to me.”



Mike not only made the team, but he played the last half of the season on a regular basis at linebacker and on special teams.  At age 59, Flynt became the oldest linebacker of a college football team in NCAA history.


"I told him I thought he was crazy," said Jerry Larned, who coached Flynt at Sul Ross in 1969 and counseled him at the start of his comeback. "I said, Mike, you're not 20 years old anymore. You're liable to cripple yourself.  He understood all of that. But he had a burning desire to play. ... He is in great physical condition. He still runs a 5-flat 40 and bench presses I-don't-know-what. He's a specimen for 59 years old."


Back in the day, Flynt was quite a player. In 1965, Flynt was an All-District cornerback on the first state championship team at Odessa Permian, the high school featured in Friday Night Lights.  Flynt received multiple scholarship offers, but he wound up at Sul Ross, an NAIA school back then that played in the Lone Star Conference. At that time East Texas State, which had future NFL Hall of Famers  Harvey Martin and Dwight White, and also powerhouse Texas A&I, which was starting a two-year run as national champs, were also in the Lone Star Conference.  


Flynt was going into his senior year in 1971 when he got into a fight, which was not his first rodeo.  School officials decided they'd had enough and expelled him from school during two-a-days practices before classes had even started. Flynt earned his degree from Sul Ross by taking his remaining classes elsewhere.


"I actually grieved the loss of that senior year for more years than I can remember," said Flynt, who'd been an all-conference linebacker, team captain and leader on that team. "What really got me was I felt like that was my football team and I had let them down. ... I never got over it; I just finally learned to manage it.”


Then came word of a reunion of former Sul Ross students from the 1960s and '70s. Randy Wilson, who has been friends with Flynt since they met as college roommates in 1969, talked several of his former teammates into using that event as an excuse to get back together.


During a weekend of reminiscing, Flynt's regret was renewed, especially when one of the guys said their '71 season went down the drain without Flynt.  That's when he told them of his remorse. And, he added, "What really gets me is that I still feel like I can play."


Stan Williamson, another old linebacker, asked Flynt, “Why don’t you?”  Flynt looked at him and said, “There is no way I can have eligibility after all these years.”  Stan added, “Hey, if that is the greatest regret you have in life, if you think you can run with those guys and take the hits, then you need to check it out.  Sul Ross is Division 3 now and there’s a whole new set of rules.”


When Flynt returned home to Franklin, Tennessee, his wife wasn't as fired up by the idea. "I feel like I'm married to Peter Pan!" she said. It took time to accept that, instead of joining their daughter at Tennessee's home opener, she would be watching her husband hit kids one-third his age.


Eventually she came around. They sold their home in Franklin, Tennessee and moved to Alpine, a town of about 6,000 residents near the Big Bend National Park, a three-hour drive from the nearest major airport.


A devout Christian, Flynt sees many spiritual undertones to his story. He also believes it touts the benefits of strength training.


"People have asked me, 'Mike, what is the fountain of youth?' Well, it's strength training that builds muscle, increases bone density and burns calories," he said. "It's the one thing you can do in your 90s and receive benefits from."


Just to be clear, Flynt won't be playing football in his 90s.


He'll be out of eligibility then.

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