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Friendship dues

Memorial scholarship keeps Nunley’s legacy alive

Fifty years is a long time. Memories fade, friendships change. But a tragedy in April 1974 remains vivid for the teammates and family of Aggie football player Jerry Dan Nunley, prompting an impassioned campaign to remember a life taken too soon.

Nunley grew up in Carlsbad, New Mexico, as one of 15 children. His brother Van Nunley says their father had a good job in the potash industry, although with that many kids, money was tight.

“We had plenty of food and lots of love, but we were pretty poor,” Van Nunley says.

Jerry Dan Nunley’s NMSU football scholarship was a big deal for the family. At Carlsbad Senior High School, Jerry Dan Nunley played defensive lineman his junior year and offensive tackle his senior year. Teammate Lee Elms ’75 recalls that Carlsbad football was nothing like “Friday Night Lights,” the book about a high school football team in Odessa, Texas, that was later turned into a movie and TV show.

“The last thing you wanted to do after practice was go out because the coaches worked your tail off,” Elms says. “Everyone was pretty serious about playing football.”

In the end, years of high school ball and grueling NMSU freshmen football practices finally took a toll on Jerry Dan Nunley’s knees, which eventually gave out on him. Despite being unable to play football, Nunley remained with the team, supporting the players enthusiastically as an equipment manager.

One spring evening in 1974, a party on the Rio Grande was in full swing. Van Nunley got a call from his brother inviting him to join the fun when he got off work, but when he got to the river, Jerry Dan Nunley was nowhere to be found. Van Nunley initially thought he had gone off somewhere or maybe taken off with some other friends.

The next day, Van Nunley feared something more drastic had happened when Jerry Dan Nunley never showed up for a planned Flatt and Scruggs concert outing. A search party of family and friends soon began combing the riverbank looking for Jerry Dan Nunley. Their worst fears were soon realized when a local fisherman discovered his body. Jerry Dan Nunley sadly was the victim of an accidental drowning.

After the family returned to Carlsbad, Van Nunley remembers the outpouring of care from the community.

“I don’t remember how many of the team came over, but probably about 30, sleeping on the floor, wherever we could find a place for them. It took us a long time to get over it,” Van Nunley says.

In 2022, a show about unsolved mysteries spurred Jerry Dan Nunley’s teammate and Van Nunley’s close friend Allan Dunlap ’74 to turn tragedy into hope. He set up a scholarship at NMSU in Jerry Dan Nunley’s honor, then started calling his teammates. Everybody told him, “I’m in.”

One call was to Mike Hester ’78, who recalls Jerry Dan Nunley’s ever-present smile.

“This scholarship exemplifies who Jerry Dan was…Jerry Dan’s presence has long been missed by all who knew him,” Hester says.

Another call was to Grant Foster ’74, who says they’ve been blessed to give back in Jerry Dan Nunley’s name.

“I have lifelong relationships because of this university,” he says. “Whenever I donate, I call it ‘friendship dues.’”

Jerry Dan Nunley’s life and legacy now live on in the Jerry Dan Nunley Memorial Endowed Scholarship, which supports a full-time student-athlete in good standing, with preference for an offensive lineman or equipment manager. To honor Jerry Dan Nunley or a beloved Aggie of your own, visit

Aggie football player Jerry Dan Nunley



The Jerry Dan Nunley Memorial Endowed Scholarship supports a full-time student-athlete in good standing, with preference for an offensive lineman or equipment manager.