I thought it was important to acknowledge the recent passing of Bruce Webster, a loyal son of Rutgers. He is certainly one of the most accomplished student-athletes to have ever roamed the banks and many people have never heard of him. His story is certainly worth sharing, so here is my attempt to honor his legacy.
Webster was a three-sport letterman in football, basketball, and baseball at Rutgers, but there is more to it than that. While the demands of even playing just one sport these days is very high, only a handful of student athletes across the country, like Rutgers’ own Jawuan Harris, even play two sports nowadays. It was a different time roughly six decades ago, but it’s simply amazing any student athlete of any era could have ever played three sports at the collegiate level. But Webster did more than just become a regular member of his teams.
He came to Rutgers on a football scholarship and started his career as a running back. However for his senior season of 1958, Webster was the starting quarterback for a team that went 8-1 and finished #20th in the final AP poll that year. The 8-1 mark equaled the 1947 team for the best record in program history at that point in time.
While I was unable to find any information on Webster’s baseball career at Rutgers, he did letter for three years with the varsity team.
Basketball was easily his most accomplished sport, both as a player and a coach. As a player for Rutgers, Webster held double-digit scoring averages all three seasons he lettered, including leading the team his junior season with a 14.1 points per game. Upon graduation, Webster was hired as an assistant for the program and was the head coach of the freshman team. Yes, this was a time when all freshman college athletes were ineligible to play varsity, hence why Webster only played three seasons at that level in every sport.
As the freshman coach, Webster guided two of the most famous basketball players in Rutgers history, Bob Lloyd and Jim Valvano. Lloyd holds the program record for career scoring average at 26.6 points per game and Valvano was a great player and later an NCAA Championship winning coach, leading to the court at the Barn where Rutgers used to play being named after him last weekend.
Webster also worked for legendary Rutgers coach Bill Foster in his last season, before leaving to become the head coach at Division II University of Bridgeport. He became a legend of his own at the Connecticut school and became the program's winningest coach with 549 career victories in 34 seasons. The playing court in Hubbell Gymnasium where Bridgeport plays was named after Webster in 2005.
Ironically, Bridgeport’s mascot is the the Purple Knights, making Webster a double Knight. He coached them to 20+ wins in 10 seasons and led them to 12 NCAA Division II tournaments. They made five Elite Eight appearances and advanced to the championship game twice in back to back seasons in 1991 and 1992. After the second appearance in the final, Webster was named NABC National Coach of the Year and was also named a three-time NABC District I Coach of the Year. He also recruited and coached longtime NBA player Manute Bol at Bridgeport.
In addition to his playing and coaching career, Webster served in the ROTC while at Rutgers and was recognized as a Distinguished Military Graduate. He was eventually promoted to 1st Lieutenant and served until 1962.
Webster’s legacy lives on as a member of the following Hall of Fames:
New England Basketball Hall of Fame (2003)
University of Bridgeport Athletics Hall of Fame (2006)
Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame (2007)
In terms of his career as a Scarlet Knight, according to his obituary, Webster remains as the last Rutgers student-athlete to have earned nine letters combined in the three major sports of basketball, baseball, and football. With Rutgers just announcing their newest Hall of Fame class for 2017, let us be the first to nominate Bruce Webster for consideration for the 2018 class. His accomplishments on and off the banks during his distinguished career are truly amazing.
I never saw Webster play and will admit that I knew little of him before learning of his passing. That’s to say I had heard of him, but never understood the depth of his legacy. He played in an era before every college game was broadcast on television or the internet. That doesn’t mean his achievements on the field are any less important and hopefully, Rutgers fans will come to appreciate his significant career. His legacy is one that should be celebrated and he should be remembered as a truly accomplished loyal son of Rutgers. Rest in peace, Bruce Webster.