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June 14, 2011

Bulldog Freshman Phenoms

HERSCHEL WALKER - the most impactful true freshman ever to play football at Georgia? 
One would think so...
I was discussing with a friend the other day how much impact Isaiah Crowell could truly have in the upcoming football season. The conversation soon turned to Bulldog freshmen first-year or redshirt that had made an impression over the years. The discussion started to grow rather lengthy, so we dropped the talk of redshirts.

Based on our chat, I decided to rank my opinion of the top 10 Bulldog true freshmen of all time.

Keep in mind, prior to World War II, few freshmen played football for Georgia's varsity and from after the Korean War through 1971, freshmen were ineligible to play. Once this eligibility was restored in 1972 through 1988 the final 17 seasons of the Coach Vince Dooley regime – just one non-specialist true freshman (cornerback Tony Flack in 1982) ever started a season-opening game while only a handful saw considerable playing time.

My selections and their rankings are not only based on how distinguished or outstanding each player was in their very first season at UGA, but also the significance of the true freshman playing over what would have been his replacement or the "average" player.

As my friend pointed out, notice what position or two most of these phenomenal true freshmen played. Citing player development from high school straight into the potential of seeing significant playing time as a Bulldog, the friend – a player during the Coach Donnan era – indicated he certainly wasn't surprised that most of Georgia's most impactful true freshmen played on the offensive side of the ball, primarily at running back.

Looks like Isaiah may already have a little something going for him before the 2011 season has even started.

By the third game of his true freshman season, Godfrey had supplanted senior Torrey Evans as the Bulldogs' starting Will linebacker...Finished the year with a team-leading 114 tackles, 4 for loss, and 3 pass breakups...Besides Nate Taylor (see Special Mention), is the only freshman to lead Georgia in tackles for a season...Named the SEC's defensive Freshman of the Year for 1992 and along with Butler, Cook, Herschel, McWhorter, Green, and St. John (see below), is one of only a handful of Bulldogs recognized as first-team all-conference as true freshman.

9) PLACEKICKERS (1970s-1980s)
The only Bulldog true freshman considered a starter the first six seasons (1972-1977) of freshmen being eligible was placekicker Allan Leavitt in 1973.  Leavitt, Georgia's first scholarship kicker and the team's initial starting soccer-style kicker, would also be the first of four consecutive Bulldog kickers to be the team's primary placekicker as a true freshman...Leavitt was followed by Rex Robinson (1977), Kevin Butler (1981), and Steve Crumley (1985)...In their freshman seasons combined, the four converted nearly 97 percent of their PATs, made an average of 12.3 field goals per season, and connected on seven field goals of 50+ yards during a time when similar kicking results were hard to come by in college football.

While running behind a constantly banged up and ever-changing offensive line, tailback Hearst led the Bulldogs with 717 rushing yards for the season while averaging 4.4 yards per carry...Had three 100-yard rushing performances in his first seven games and would eventually be named the SEC's offensive Freshman of the Year over such frosh stars as RB Errict Rhett of Florida and Auburn's QB Stan White...Georgia's dismal 4-7 season would have likely been on the order of 2-9 without the services of newcomer Hearst.
The Black Blur

Nicknamed "The Black Blur," linebacker Sylvester Boler hardly played the first half of his freshman season because of two injuries but once he entered the Tennessee game in early November, as one writer stated, he became "THE defense"...Hit Tennessee quarterback Conredge Holloway so hard, Boler "literally tore [Holloway's] head off"...Recorded 18 tackles in win over Auburn and later was named the Peach Bowl's most outstanding defensive player primarily because of bone-crushing tackles that forced two fumbles...After a 3-3-1 start, Georgia went 4-1 down the stretch with Boler in lineup...Assistant coach indicated 4-1 record might have been 0-5 without Boler and declares that the freshman, after just five games of play, was perhaps already the greatest linebacker in Bulldog history.

One of the major reasons for Georgia's tremendous improvement from its 5-6 season in 1977 to the 9-1-1 regular season of 1978 was the fact the Wonderdogs, thanks in large part to the arrival of true freshman Scott, had suddenly become somewhat of a passing threat...Scott's 484 receiving yards that season were more than twice as many as any other teammate while his 36 catches were more than three times...Scott's 26.5-yard kickoff-return average was, at the time, the second-best ever in the SEC of those with at least 20 returns...His 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown at LSU was the Dogs' biggest play in a 24-17 upset over the 11th-ranked Tigers...Named a first-team Freshman All-American by Football News.  

It's difficult to think of Carter without acknowledging a regressing Bulldog career and what might have been, but as the Bulldogs' starting freshman quarterback in '98, his play was simply spectacular...Near perfect in an upset at No. 6 LSU, completing first 15 passes and finishing 27 of 34...For season, passed for 2,484 yards, 12 TDs, and only 9 interceptions, while completing better than 60 percent of passes...Rushed for 284 yards, including 114 vs. Kentucky one of just two 100-yard rushing performances by a Georgia quarterback over the last 35 seasons...Capped year a season during which Carter turned 21 years old by leading a furious comeback victory over Virginia in the Peach Bowl...Named by the Knoxville News Sentinel and Associated Press as SEC Freshman of the Year.

4) JOHNNY COOK (1943)
Granted, because of World War II, Georgia's 1943 team was made up primarily of newcomers, so obviously it wouldn't be as difficult for a true freshman to make significant impact; however, what tailback Cook accomplished in his first season at Georgia was absolutely remarkable...At 17 years old (and 5-foot-8 and 152 pounds), led the nation in passing with 1,007 yards on 73 completions, including 8 TDs, and second on team with 361 rushing yards...Scored 13 touchdowns: 10 rushing, 2 on punt returns, 1 via kickoff return...Bulldogs' primary punter and punt returner, averaging nearly 20 yards per punt return...In first game at UGA, a win over Presbyterian in season opener, intercepted four passes on defense – a single-game SEC record which still stands nearly 70 years later.

3) ERIC ZEIER (1991)
For the first five games of his freshman year, Zeier came off the bench in relief of the experienced Greg Talley; however, as soon as Talley struggled to move the Bulldog offense early on against 6th-ranked Clemson, Zeier came on, defeated the Tigers, and would hardly leave the field for the next 3½ seasons...Passed for just under 2,000 yards while throwing only 4 interceptions in 286 pass attempts...Interception ratio of 1-to-71.5 attempts was an SEC record until broken by David Greene in 2004...Recognized as the SEC's Freshman of the Year and a freshman All-American by Football News...Primarily responsible for Georgia's prompt 9-win turnaround after back-to-back non-winning seasons by the Bulldogs...With senior Talley or junior Preston Jones taking the majority of the snaps instead, '91 team likely struggles to achieve a winning record.   

It all began on a sweltering night in Knoxville when a true freshman from Wrightsville ran over Tennessee's Bill Bates...1,616 rushing yards, nearly 6 yards per carry, seven rushes of 48 yards or more, and 15 touchdowns later, Herschel had arguably become the greatest Bulldog football player ever in just a single season...Finished third in Heisman Trophy voting despite 205-yard, three-touchdown effort against Georgia Tech not considered...If Tech game is recognized, Herschel very well becomes the only freshman to ever win Heisman...Almost single-handedly defeats Notre Dame in Sugar Bowl for national title, gaining 150 yards on 36 carries and 2 touchdowns (rest of team nets minus-23 yards in 29 plays)...Herschel had perhaps the greatest freshman season in the history of college football, however, it's a close second in my book regarding the impact it made on a Georgia team. 

1) BOB McWHORTER (1910)
I've said for some time that Herschel is the most outstanding UGA football player of all time, Charley Trippi the best all-around, but it was halfback Bob McWhorter who, in my opinion, was the program's most valuable...and McWhorter's best season was his first at Georgia in 1910.  Prior to McWhorter's arrival, the Red and Black had won just 47 of 109 combined games from 1892-1909...Nearly by himself, but with a lot of influence from head coach Alex Cunningham, McWhorter transformed Georgia football from a substandard program into one of the most respected in the South...He scored 20 touchdowns, including a single-game school-record seven against the Gordon Institute, for a Georgia team that achieved a 6-2-1 record (and losers of just six of 34 games from 1910-1913)...Without freshman McWhorter, Georgia, like the season before in 1909, probably wins just one or two games. 

  • Fred Gibson (2001)- Leads Georgia in receiving (772 yards) and kickoff returns (14-375), while averaging more than 23 yards every time he touches the ball
  • Charles Grant (1999)- During a season where he earns SEC first-team All-Freshman, Grant records 5 tackles and 3 sacks vs. Kentucky at defensive end, while rushing 3 times for 44 yards and 2 TDs as a running back. 
  • A.J. Green (2008)- In leading SEC in receiving, excellent compliment to Mohamed Massaquoi (and with similar numbers), catching 56 passes for nearly 1,000 yards and 8 touchdowns
  • Jimmy Payne (1978)- Makes 45 tackles and 8 sacks for the year as a BACKUP at defensive guard
  • John Rauch (1945)- In a new offense for Bulldogs – the "T" formation – freshman Rauch becomes Georgia's first pure passing quarterback...Does a little of everything: passes for 566 yards and 5 TDs, rushes for a touchdown, averages 43.7 yards per kickoff return, punts 14 times, catches two passes, and intercepts a pass on defense.   
  • Herb St. John (1944)- Immediately starts at left guard position for Georgia and eventually is the only Bulldog in '44 to earn first-team All-SEC honors  
  • Matthew Stafford (2006)- Although freshman numbers were far from flashy, Stafford proved he was undoubtedly talented...Guides Bulldogs to three victories in final three games, all against ranked teams...With Joe T. III or Joe Cox playing instead, Georgia maybe wins one of three. 
  • Trinton Sturdivant (2007)- Becomes first Bulldog true freshman since 1989 to start a season opener at the all-important left tackle position...Named to several first-team Freshman All-American teams
  • Hines Ward (1994)- Quarterback turned scatback starts over senior Terrell Davis beginning with third game of season...Has two 100-yard rushing performances in first five games as a Bulldog, including 137 yards on 22 carries vs. Alabama

the Ty Ty Termite
SPECIAL MENTION: Nate Taylor (1979)
Before he was known as the "Ty Ty Termite" and prior to the arrival of his son Tony – an excellent Bulldog linebacker in his own right – Nate Taylor was a 5-foot-10, 198-pound walk-on linebacker from Tift County who wanted to be a Bulldog all his life.  Taylor was only recruited by two small colleges in Alabama and offered a scholarship by Vanderbilt.  However, and get this, when Taylor arrived in Nashville to look at the campus upon the school's request, he was told by the Commodores they no longer had a scholarship for him. 

Taylor made the '79 Bulldogs team and, as one would expect, didn't play the first two games of the season.  When injuries sidelined two linebackers in the third game against South Carolina, Taylor was thrust into action in the second quarter.  In a little over two quarters of play, Taylor made 18 tackles and caused two fumbles against the Gamecocks.  A few days later, Taylor was awarded a scholarship by Coach Dooley in the middle of a practice and became a Bulldog starting linebacker.

The once-irrelevant Taylor ended his freshman season as the team's leader in tackles with 120, including 80 solo tackles...not bad for someone excluded from Georgia's 1979 media guide; not even listed in the Football Walk-ons section amongst 39 other names.


Deanna said...

Quincy started out so well. I'll never understand how a young man with such talent gets WORSE as his career progresses. Maybe he was already struggling with substance abuse issues in college.

Thomas said...

Does anyone know whatever happened to Boler - dropped out of school & disappeared!

Patrick Garbin said...

Hi, Deanna. Rumor had it, QC did indeed have those issues while at UGA.

It makes one wonder if other notable Dawgs (Odell Thurman, Tim Worley, Lindsay Scott, Bernard Williams), who had promising professional careers until drugs/alcohol got in the way, struggled with substance abuse while still at Georgia.

I know Worley was introduced while at UGA...

Thanks for posting.

Patrick Garbin said...

A couple years after leaving Georgia in 1975-1976, Boler was cut by a team in the Canadian league (Ottawa, I believe). Not sure if he ever even made the team... That's the last I know of Boler.