By Annie Rhoades
Paul Dongieux (BSCHE 73), president of Kadant GranTek, applied his chemical engineering degree from Ole Miss toward a long and successful career, but some of his most cherished memories are from his days of playing Ole Miss football with Archie Manning (BPA 71) and under the direction of Coach John Vaught.
“I went to Ole Miss on an athletic scholarship and arrived in 1968,” said Dongieux. “I played as a linebacker from 1969-71 and was fortunate to obviously be there at the same time Archie Manning was.”
A native of Jackson, Dongieux played football under the direction of famed Coach Jack Carlisle. After graduating from Murrah High School in 1968, he began weighing different options for college.
“That was a difficult decision for me, where to go to college,” said Dongieux. “Notre Dame had a lot of pull for me, and I actually signed a scholarship to play football there, but I didn’t go. Ole Miss had more people in the pros than anyone else, and a great number of my friends were there. It was a wonderful environment.”
Having excelled academically throughout high school, Dongieux knew receiving a good education was just as important as fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing college football.
“My roommate in college, Bobby Berry (BSCHE 73), and I both signed scholarships at Ole Miss together,” said Dongieux. “His dad was an engineer and we were both good students. When we had to go in and register for school I looked at him and asked what we were going to major in. He said, ‘What about chemical engineering?’ and I said, ‘That sounds fine to me.’ That’s how it started.”
Finding a balance between playing football for Coach Vaught during the exciting years of the Archie Manning era and the academic rigors of an engineering major proved to be tough at times. There were no excuses for missing practice.
“When you’re an athlete you’re expected to be at practice and do whatever you’re supposed to do,” said Dongieux. “To come to Coach the week we’re getting ready to play LSU and say I can’t be at practice this week because I’ve got an engineering lab – that’s not going to work. It was really a tribute to the guys over at the engineering school. They helped you work out a way to make up those labs.”
Dongieux is quick to credit then Dean of the School of Engineering and Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering Karl Brenkert as well as Chemical Engineering Professor Emeritus and Associate Dean Emeritus Frank Anderson for having a big influence on his education.
“They were both phenomenal men and very supportive,” said Dongieux. “It was difficult, and they really helped us get through the curriculum.”
While life as a student athlete was often times challenging, Dongieux fondly recalls the excitement and support of the Ole Miss family during those days where winning streaks were rampant.
“It was just really a lot of fun,” said Dongieux. “There was so much energy. Archie was a great player, but he was surrounded by a lot of great players both on offense and defense. Coach Vaught was an icon so to speak, and so the bar was set high, and everybody was expected to perform to that expectation. It was a great time.”
Football was a top priority, particularly to Coach Vaught, who along with Assistant Coaches Roland Dale (BSHPE 49, MEd 51), Junie Hovious (BSC 42) and Eddie Crawford (BSHPE 57, MEd 58), greatly impacted Dongieux’s life.
“The great thing about Coach Vaught was that he carried himself with a great deal of class and dignity, and he expected everybody else to do the same,” said Dongieux. “When he came and said something to you – that was a big day. One of the times I can remember seeing him was when we played Chattanooga my sophomore year. Somehow I had intercepted a pass, and I should have just waltzed into the endzone. But I started looking at this quarterback who was supposed to run me down, who I should have just run over, and I was trying to juke him. While I was doing that they caught me from behind. Coach Vaught never let me live that down.”
A member of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, Dongieux made friends both on and off the field. However, his fondest memories consist of the big wins the Rebels enjoyed.
“My sophomore year we beat Tennessee 38-0 in Jackson,” said Dongieux. “In my opinion we had the best football team I ever played on. We actually beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl that year. On my 21st birthday during my senior year we beat LSU in Jackson at Memorial Stadium. That was a great victory and really put us on the map. Those memories are the best.”
After completing his senior year, Dongieux left Ole Miss in 1972 to play for the New Orleans Saints. However, a foot injury left him unable to complete training camp and he returned to Ole Miss in the fall to finish his degree in chemical engineering.
“After I received my degree I went out and tried to rejuvenate my football career with the Denver Broncos in 1974, but my foot just never came around,” said Dongieux. “That was the end of my football years.”
Dongieux went on to have a successful career beginning as a sales representative and district manager with Drew Chemical in 1975 and eventually becoming president of his own chemical distributorship, Kadant GranTek, in 1989.
While he has enjoyed a fulfilling career, Dongieux cites being inducted into the 2012 M-Club Hall of Fame as one of his most prestigious honors.
“That was wonderful and such a nice honor,” said Dongieux. “The great thing about being inducted 40 years after you played is that nobody can remember if you were any good or not, so they just assume you were. I had great teammates that were just as good as I was. On the teams I played on there wasn’t anybody that was going to let you think you were too good – I promise you that.”