Of all the great Elder football teams, the 1954 Panthers' team is the only team in school history to go unbeaten and untied throughout an entire season, but they didn't win a state championship because there were no state playoffs then. The state champion was decided by the writers who voted in the Associated Press poll, which was skewed toward northern Ohio teams such as Massillon, which was ranked No. 1 at the end of the season, followed by Alliance, Canton McKinley, Mansfield Senior and Cleveland Cathedral Latin. Elder finished 10th.
Coached by Virgil Scardina, Elder finished 10-0, outscored its opponents, 319-65, and set school records for rushing yardage (2,721 yards) and rushing touchdowns (39). The Panthers were led by quarterback 1980 LaRosa's Hall of Famer Dick Selcer, who went on to play at Notre Dame and later fashioned a coaching career that saw him become the head coach at Xavier University. He later worked as the linebackers coach for four NFL teams, including the Bengals. Elder used the Split-T offense, which Selcer ran to near perfection.
The Panthers weren't a physically imposing team. After center 2014 LaRosa's Hall of Famer Danny James, who checked in at 245 pounds, there was no one else over 200. What they lacked in size they made up for in quickness, especially from halfback Paul Kelly, who led the team with 12 touchdowns and 75 points. The Elder defense posted three shutouts, intercepted 14 passes and recovered 17 fumbles. Selcer, James and tackle Dick Royer all received all-state recognition. Selcer and Royer went on to play at Notre Dame, James played at Ohio State and later for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears in the NFL.
End Joe Schaffer was a three-year starter at defensive tackle for Tennessee and played briefly for the Buffalo Bills. Kelly, deemed too small to play college football, played baseball at Ohio State. The late Tom Ballaban, a coaching legend in his own right, once called the 1954 Elder team, "the greatest high school team I've ever seen developed in Cincinnati."
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