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February 19, 2010

Even the Great Hoage Wasn't a "Starter"...

...in 1983 when he finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

I received an email yesterday in response to my most recent post on Georgia's defense returning only four starters.  The reader expands on my comments of how examining solely the number of returning starters can be quite misleading:
Look at UGA going into 1988.  Their starter at tailback from the year before was gone but Rodney Hampton was returning after rushing for almost 900 yards in '87 as a freshman backup.  But if you just looked at returning starters on offense instead of returning "experience" (as you put it), you'd never know of Hampton's return and what an asset that was.
Well put.  In 1987, tailback Lars Tate rushed for a tad over 1,000 yards while starting 10 of 11 regular-season games for the Dogs.  Hampton, who started the one other game at tailback, rushed for 890 and provided a valuable relief of the senior Tate.

Georgia's defense for the upcoming season doesn't necessarily return its version of Rodney Hampton—a non-starter from the year before who undeniably had starter-like experience and statistics—but the reader's email did cause me to think of the top Bulldog non-starters of all time, besides Hampton in '87, for a given season. 

Very random, I know... and I'm sure I'm forgetting at least a player or two.

RICHARD TARDITS (backup defensive end in 1987), Starter: Vince Guthrie
Tardits, a rugby player from Biarritz, France, came to UGA in 1985 not knowing the rules of American football.  Nevertheless, he walked-on to the football team and made the squad as a pass-rushing specialist. 

As a junior in 1987, Tardits, nicknamed "the Biarritz Blitz" and "Le Sack," recorded 10 sacks without starting a single game.  Vince Guthrie, who had three sacks in '87, started all 11 games ahead of Tardits.  In Georgia's fourth game of the season, Tardits earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week against South Carolina.  His 17 career sacks his first three seasons was third all time at Georgia and all came without a career start.  Tardits finally became a Bulldog starter in 1988 at outside linebacker, making 12 more sacks for a career total of 29 while earning All-SEC recognition.

JIMMY PAYNE (backup defensive tackle in 1982), Starter: Stan Dooley/Freddie Gilbert
Payne entered his senior season of '82 a two-time All-SEC selection, already the school's career leader in sacks, and one of the most-feared defenders in Bulldog history.  After a spectacular performance in a season-opening victory over Clemson, Payne injured his knee against BYU the following game and was never really the same the rest of the season.  At one point in October, he reinjured his knee while rehabbing it in a swimming pool.  

After recording 28 sacks his first three years, Payne had none in '82 but was second on the team in tackles for loss.  In his absence, teammate Stan Dooley would play defensive end and Freddie Gilbert, who would normally play end, was moved to Payne's tackle position.  Despite playing in just seven games, starting only five, Payne was named first-team All-American by the Walter Camp Football Foundation and first-team All-SEC for a third time.

TIM WORLEY (backup tailback in 1988), Starter: Rodney Hampton
Worley is the only Bulldog in history to have Heisman Trophy flyers distributed on his behalf during a season without having started a single game.  After being redshirted in 1987, Worley began his junior season of '88 as Georgia's backup tailback to Rodney Hampton.  Hampton started the first seven games of the season but it was Worley gaining most of the yardage.  

After he rushed for 860 yards and scored 12 touchdowns in seven games, UGA promptly began Worley's Heisman campaign.  He soon took over as the primary tailback, starting the final four regular-season games, when Hampton went down with a shoulder injury.  A legitimate Heisman candidate until mid-November, Worley finished the year with 1,216 rushing yards and was responsible for 20 touchdowns, including one on a kickoff return and two on halfback passes, despite not starting for the Bulldogs until late October.

FRAN TARKENTON (backup quarterback in 1959), Starter: Charley Britt
Has a college quarterback ever been named consensus first-team all-conference having not started a single game?  Georgia's Fran Tarkenton in 1959 might be the only player ever to accomplish such a distinction. 

In his SEC championship season of '59, Coach Butts used his quarterbacks—1957 and '58 starter and senior Charley Britt and junior Tarkenton—as situations dictated after Britt started each game.  Tarkenton passed for nearly 900 yards (including Orange Bowl victory), completed 60 percent of his passes, and scored 12 touchdowns passing/rushing (Britt: just 331 yards, 44 percent, six TDs), despite Britt starting every game.  In addition, Tarkenton, along with tackle Jimmy Vickers, were the only Bulldogs named both AP and UPI first-team All-SEC.

TERRY HOAGE (backup roverback in 1983), Starter: John Little
As impressive as Tarkenton's non-starter distinction was in 1959, Terry Hoage's in 1983 might even be more remarkable.  Hoage, a consensus first-team All-American as a junior in 1982, was plagued by injuries for most of his senior season.  Suffering through tendonitis, ankle and knee injuries, roverback Hoage played in eight games in 1983, starting just five, including two out of position at safety.  Freshman John Little was Georgia's primary starter at rover that year, starting six games. 

Hoage also went through a two-month stretch, from late October until two days before the Bulldogs' January 2nd meeting with Texas in the Cotton Bowl, where he did not practice at all because of his injuries.  Regardless, Hoage, who has been called by Coach Dooley the best defensive player he ever coached, was considered one of college football's most outstanding players in 1983. 

"Hoage should win the Heisman Trophy," said Billy Harper of the Athens Banner-Herald in 1983.  "He's more valuable to his team than any other player in America.  He's as valuable as Herschel Walker last year."  Hoage didn't win the Heisman in '83 but he did finish fifth; seven voters selected him the winner.  Since Hoage's fifth-place finish, only three other defensive players have finished in the top five for the Heisman, and none of those have been defensive backs.

There you have it... three All-Americans (two who made a run at the Heisman Trophy), an All-SEC quarterback, and a "Biarritz Blitz"—five Bulldogs who had exceptional and memorable campaigns in seasons where they were considered merely backups.

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