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Flynt, 59, making comeback with Sul Ross State University

8/23/2007 - College Football

ALPINE, Texas -- Mike Flynt was drinking beer and swapping
stories with some old football buddies a few months ago when he
brought up the biggest regret of his life: getting kicked off the
college team before his senior year.

So, one of his pals said, why not do something about it?

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

Finding out he was, Flynt returned to Sul Ross State this month,
37 years after he left and six years before he goes on Medicare.
His comeback peaked Wednesday with the coach saying he's made the
Division III team's roster. He could be in action as soon as Sept.
1.

Flynt is giving new meaning to being a college senior. After
all, he's a grandfather and a card-carrying member of AARP. He's
eight years older than his coach and has two kids older than any of
his teammates.

"I think it was Carl Yastrzemski who used to say, 'How old
would you be if you didn't know how old you were?' 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'm just going to
find out if I can perform and make a contribution to the team."

A longtime strength and conditioning coach at Nebraska, Oregon
and Texas A&M, he's spent the last several years selling the
Powerbase training system he invented. Clients include school
systems and the military. His colorful life story includes being
the son of a Battle of the Bulge survivor and having dabbled in
gold mines and oil wells -- successfully.

Flynt's life was supposed to be slowing down this fall. With his
youngest child starting at the University of Tennessee, he and
Eileen, his wife of 35 years, are planning to take advantage of
being empty-nesters for the first time.

Instead, they've moved to this remote patch of West Texas so
Flynt can mend an old wound and, he hopes, inspire others.

He became emotional discussing his goal of "helping a bunch of
young men to make up for those guys that I let down." Then he
laughed about the reality that fellow Baby Boomers are getting the
most out of his comeback.

"People are kind of in awe. They keep comparing me to
themselves and where they are physically," he said. "If I can
help anyone out by what I'm doing, then it's all worth it."

Flynt's position is still being determined, but he used to play
linebacker. Wherever he lines up, he'll likely become the oldest
player in college football history. Neither the NCAA or NAIA keeps
such a statistic, but research hasn't turned up anyone older than
their mid-40s. And even those are rare, for obvious reasons.

"I told him he's an idiot," said Jerry Larned, who coached
Flynt at Sul Ross in 1969 and counseled him at the start of his
comeback. "I said, 'Gosh, dang, Mike, you're not 20 years old any
more. You're liable to cripple yourself.' He understands all of
that. But he has 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, he was on the first state championship team at Odessa
Permian, the high school featured in "Friday Night Lights." He
was offered a partial scholarship at Arkansas when the Razorbacks
were among the top teams in the land, but instead went to Ranger
Junior College.

He wound up at Sul Ross in 1969. An NAIA school then, the Lobos
were in the Lone Star Conference with East Texas State, which at
the time had future NFL stars Harvey Martin and Dwight White, and
Texas A&I, which was starting a two-year run as national champs.
The highlight of Flynt's two years at Sul Ross was sticking A&I
with its only loss in '69.

Flynt was going into his senior year in 1971 when he got into a
fight that was far from his first. School officials decided they'd
had enough and threw him out of school. He earned his degree from
Sul Ross by taking his remaining classes elsewhere.

"I actually grieved for more years than I can remember the loss
of that senior year," said Flynt, who'd been a team captain and
the leading tackler as a junior. "What really got me was I felt
that was my football team and I had let them down. ... I don't know
if I ever got over it, but I finally learned to live with it."

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

During several days of reminiscing, Flynt's pain became fresh as
ever, 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 feel like I can still play."

"You might as well give it a shot," Wilson told him. "The
worst thing that can happen is you get your head knocked off and
come home."

When Flynt returned home to Franklin, Tenn., 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've sold their suburban
Nashville home and are now living in Alpine, a town of about 6,000
residents near the Big Bend National Park, a three-hour drive from
the nearest major airport.

"I told her, for me to know that I can do it and not do it
would be worse than losing out the first time," he said.

A devout Christian, Flynt sees many religious 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 benefit from."

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

He'll be out of eligibility then.