WASHINGTON, PA (Feb. 4, 2021)—During February 2021, Washington & Jefferson College is celebrating Black History Month by recognizing some of our accomplished Black alumni and the current students who are carrying on their legacy today. Each Friday, we’ll share a new feature showcasing how vital Black contributions are to the success of our institution.
Then: A Gridiron Legend
W&J is not only known for its academic excellence, but for a winning tradition among its athletic teams. Among the storied athletes featured in W&J’s Athletic Hall of Fame is “Deacon” Dan Towler ’50, a former Presidents Football running back. At W&J, Towler set the precedent for athletic achievement as a two-time All-America running back for the Presidents who led the nation in scoring (133 points) in 1948. He was a member of the “Four Gazelles” backfield, known for tallying high scores for W&J football in the late ‘40s.
A yearbook account of Towler’s performance in a match against Bethany College captures the spirit of his many contributions to the team.
“The powerful drives of Dan Towler were felt time and again by the opponents and they retaliated by taking to the air,” the recap reads before going on to celebrate the 32-25 victory the Presidents enjoyed during that game.
Towler’s accomplishments continued beyond W&J. After graduating cum laude from the College in 1950, he was a 25th-round selection in the NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams. In six seasons (1950-55), he rushed for 3,493 yards, scored 43 touchdowns and posted an average gain of 5.2 yards per carry.
He was selected to four Pro Bowls (1951-54) and was an All-Pro honoree in 1952. Towler helped the Rams win the the NFL Championship in 1951, the same year he was chosen as Pro Bowl MVP.
Now: A New Kind of Player
Junior Okikola “Kiki” Agbale has been making a name for himself as a forward on the Presidents’ Men’s Basketball roster since his freshmen season when he began competition as a team starter. Like Towler who came before him, the Pittsburgh native is routinely a key scorer for the Presidents during competition play.
“For me, it’s about being relentless. You don’t let up,” Kiki said about his playing style. “I’m always being hard on myself and telling myself I can do better, and never being okay with just being okay. That’s the only way I see myself getting better.”
But Kiki isn’t just about shooting hoops. He’s also set his sights on student advocacy as the Social Media Chair for the W&J Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), an organization that provides insight to the College on the campus student-athlete experience and offers input on rules, regulations and policies that impact the lives of student-athletes on the campuses of NCAA members.
“I feel like there’s a stereotype against student athletes, and others might just think we get a ‘free pass’ in class, so it’s important for me to show people that for us it’s more than just working hard at practice and at games; we’re working at class, too,” he said.
The SAAC profiles also have given Kiki a space to celebrate minoritized populations or others who may be overlooked traditionally in athletics. Earlier this week, he engaged with accounts across the nation in celebrating Women in Sports Day.
As a Black man, Kiki has experience with being the minority in many spaces, including some at W&J, but he’s game to use his voice to help expand inclusivity for all—on and off campus.
“I see us growing [at W&J]. I want us to grow. I want us to have more events as we become more diverse on campus and have people know who the BSU is as a prominent voice on campus,” he said. “I want to emphasize that being the minority is difficult, but it doesn’t weigh you down. I would love to have more black people on campus, and the community that we have now is welcoming.”
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.