By Johnny Moore, GoDuke the Magazine
Sports columnist Caulton Tudor once said that former Blue Devil star Wes Chesson “revolutionized the Atlantic Coast Conference. Few players did more to change offensive tactics in ACC football than Duke receiver Wes Chesson.”
Chesson’s outstanding achievements in high school and college sports and the professional world, both on and off the football field, earned him induction into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in the class of 2018.
“Being from Edenton and having spent the majority of my life in the state of North Carolina, this honor means a great deal to not only me but my family,” said Chesson from his office in Raleigh. “Both of my coaches from high school are in the Hall, along with my teammate and dear friend Leo Hart and my radio partner Bob Harris, so it is very special that I can join them.”
A native of Edenton, N.C., Chesson starred in football, basketball, track and baseball at John A. Holmes High School. He was an All-East honoree in football, basketball and track in both his junior and senior years. Two of his Holmes High School football teams, coached by Hall of Famers Jerry McGee and Marion Kirby, went undefeated and earned state championships in 1964 and 1965.
And in 1966, when all track teams were in only one classification, Chesson’s Holmes squad won the Eastern Championship and finished third in the state. He went on to play in the East-West All-Star Football Game (as, coincidentally, did his son and two of his brothers). In 1980, his high school football jersey was retired.
Chesson is very honored to be joining the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame with his two former high school coaches, one if whom was a huge influence on him attending Duke.
“Up through my junior year of high school I was coached by Jerry McGee, a former Duke football player,” said Chesson. “He was an outstanding football coach. The respect and admiration I had for Coach McGee influenced my decision to come to Duke. He never even suggested that I might come to Duke. He didn’t try to influence me — he didn’t have to. I just saw him as a coach and person and what he meant to me on and off the field, and it had a lot to do with my choosing Duke.”
He arrived on the Duke campus equipped with football skills and knowledge that allowed him to play anywhere on the field. His sophomore season, he started at running back and played quarterback before settling in at wide receiver. In three seasons for the Duke Blue Devils (1968-70), he teamed up with Hall of Fame quarterback Leo Hart to catch 164 passes for 2,399 yards and 10 touchdowns.
His best year was his final one. As a senior in 1970, Chesson established, what at the time were Atlantic Coast Conference single-season records for both pass receptions (74) and receiving yards (1,080) on his way to earning first-team All-ACC and honorable mention All-America. The 74 catches remarkably stood as a Duke single-season record for 42 years. All told, he finished his collegiate career holding 24 school records. Most memorable was the “Shoestring Play,” a 53-yard touchdown run on a trick play in Duke’s 17-13 triumph over rival North Carolina in 1969.
“The one that everybody remembers is the shoestring play,” Chesson explained. “But there were other plays that were more difficult. I tell everybody, the shoestring play is the easiest touchdown I ever scored and the only one anybody ever remembers. There were other moments — going to Ohio State my senior year and playing the number one team in the country. We actually played them pretty tough. And then the next week going to West Virginia. Bobby Bowden was the coach, they were number 12 in the country and undefeated. We beat them. We had a good team my senior year. And so it was more than a moment — my senior year and with the players on that team, it was a fun season.”
Following his senior season, Chesson played in the East-West Shrine Bowl, the Senior Bowl and the Coaches All-American Game. Drafted in the seventh round of the 1971 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons, he was called “the surprise of training camp” and started at wide receiver for the Falcons his entire first season and was voted to the league’s all-rookie team. After starting for three seasons for the Falcons, he was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, where he completed his NFL career.
In 1982, Chesson joined Hall of Famer Bob Harris on the Duke Radio Network as the analyst for Blue Devil football games. He worked alongside the legendary Harris for 36 years before both retired following the 2016 season.
In 2013, Chesson was inducted into the Duke Athletics Hall of Fame, and that same year, he was chosen as the Duke legend for the ACC Football Championship game that was played in Charlotte, with his Blue Devils taking on Florida State.
“One of the reasons this honor means so much is that my family can be a part of this,” he explained. “To be able to share this honor with my wife, children and grandchildren makes it even more special.”
Chesson lives in Raleigh with his wife, Janet. They have two children and five grandchildren. He is president of The Chesson Company, a life insurance brokerage company.
Chesson has often said that one of the best things about going to Duke is all the people you meet and the friendships you make with other students. He also applauds the unique mix of athletics and quality academics at his alma mater.
“I think that combination is what a lot of athletes are looking for,” he said. “They want to come and play quality athletics but they also want to get a good education. And I think football now, with what Coach Cutcliffe has done, has shown good football players who want good academics that they can come to Duke and get a great education but also win on the football field.”
Chesson is joined in the 15-member North Carolina Hall of Fame induction class of 2018 by Donna Andrews, Scott Bankhead, Hal “Skinny” Brown, Chris Cammack, Joey Cheek, Laura DuPont, Mindy Ballou Fitzpatrick, Bill Hayes, Jack Holley, Paul Jones, Mike Martin, Frank “Jakie” May, Joe West and Fred Whitfield.