11/19/2001 1:00AM

Billy Vessels, won Heisman, dead


Billy Vessels, the former executive director of the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering who won collegiate football's Heisman trophy in 1952, died on Saturday at his home in south Florida after a long illness. Vessels was 70.

Although known better for his record-setting exploits on the football field for the Oklahoma Sooners than for his career in horse racing, Vessels made his mark in Thoroughbred racing beginning in the 1970's, when he was appointed to the Florida Pari-Mutuel Commission and began breeding horses. He served on the commission until 1983 and later became its executive director.

In 1984, Vessels was elected president of the National Association of State Racing Commissions, which would later become the Association of Racing Commissioners International. He was the director of the Florida pari-mutuel division from 1987-89.

"He was always trying to be a peacemaker, between the horses, dogs, and jai alai. He's going to be missed," said Richard Hancock, the executive director of the Florida Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.

In 1950 Vessels helped lead the Sooners to their first national collegiate football title. Later, he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. His football career ended after a brief stints in the NFL and Canadian Football League because of a leg injury.