Merton Hanks shows off his famous “pigeon dance” at the NFL pep rally with Matt Stover, Wade Smith and Detron Smith. Photo by Danny Fulgencio.

Last week, the NFL announced 122 nominees to their 2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame class, including one player familiar to Wildcat fans – Merton Hanks. Hanks graduated from Lake Highlands High, and he’s returned to speak at Wildcat pep rallies and inspire players.

The NFL Hall of Fame Class of 2020 will be special, inducted as part of the NFL’s Centennial Season this year. To celebrate, the NFL will select install more honorees than usual – 5 modern era finalists (Hanks’ category), 10 seniors (a player who has been retired for more than 25 seasons), 3 contributors (other than a player or coach) and 2 coaches. Twenty-five modern era semifinalists will be named in November, and 15 finalists will be chosen in January. Enshrinement Week is Aug. 6-9, and 20 total honorees will be inducted in 2020.

Hanks is a 4-time Pro Bowler and 4-time All-Pro player named Defensive Back of the Year in 1995. His San Francisco 49ers won the Super Bowl in 1995 against San Diego. He’s now a commissioner for Conference USA.

In 2015, while Hanks was working for the NFL, he presented LHHS with 3 golden trophies – one for each Wildcat alum who played in the Super Bowl. All three – Hanks, Matt Stover and Detron Smith – were there to enjoy the school’s honor and speak to students at a special pep rally.

“When the team wins, everybody wins,” Hanks told football players gathered in the locker room. “Everybody looks a little better than they really are, and everybody gets hardware (pointing at his Super Bowl ring). I was on one of the greatest collections of football talent ever assembled. We had either a Hall of Fame player, an All Pro player or a Pro Bowl player on both sides of the ball, and in some cases, two deep. And we were losing. We weren’t taking care of each other, we weren’t lifting each other up. Finally, we bought in to what the coach was saying. It’s his job to make you better.”

“Put your best effort out there,” Hanks told the boys, “because you’ve got folks like us watching folks like you. We fully expect you to live up to your potential, and we’re here to honor you.”

His words were clearly powerful. The 0-3 Wildcats clobbered Berkner that night 59-28.

Merton Hanks (center, in blazer) in the LHHS locker room with Detron Smith, Wade Smith, Matt Stover, Derrick Cullors, Rodd Newhouse, Reggie Newhouse and Coach Lonnie Jordan.