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March 31, 2012

"Tight End U"?

There was much, much more to tight end Richard
Appleby than his "Appleby to Washington" pass
to defeat Florida in 1975.
After Thursday's news of more team suspensions, I was tempted to post a rant similar to ones I posted a couple years ago; how it's evident UGA's football program is filled with more than its fair share of greedy players who put "ME" before "team," and the inmates are apparently running the asylum again.  However, for at least the moment, I refuse to revisit the disappointing 2008 to 2010 campaigns, and will post on a much lighter note...

Before the recent disheartening news, there was some discussion last week regarding the battle for the Bulldogs' starting tight end position, while Bill King reminded me how Georgia was dubbed "Tight End U" by Rivals.com just prior to the start of the 2011 season. 

I recall when the Bulldogs were once considered by some as "Tailback U."  There was even a VHS video released appropriately titled "Tailback U. ~ Georgia's Greatest Running Backs."  After Garrison Hearst left following the 1992 season and the Bulldogs were rushing the ball fewer times than any team in I-A football by 1994 (which actually resulted that season), the title was for the most part thrown to the wayside for another label -- "Air Georgia."

For some time now, the Hurricanes of Miami (Fla) have claimed the title of "Tight End U."  Followers of Stanford, Southern California, and Wisconsin have also linked their schools with the same moniker.  However, following a bit of research, I discovered there is certainly some merit behind Rival's claim.

In spring practice of 1968, Georgia moved from a rollout-type offense to more of a pro-style, where the quarterback would primarily drop back into a pocket to pass instead of rolling out.  With this change, the Bulldogs featured a "tight end" position for the first time. 

Georgia's first starting tight end was the great Dennis Hughes, who was hardly used as a blocker, would switch to the split end position in 1969, and graduated as the school's all-time leader in receiving yards.  After Hughes and until the Bulldogs became "Air Georgia" nearly a quarter-century later, a typical Bulldog tight end was basically used as an extra offensive lineman that would get an occasional pass thrown his way.

When Ray Goff and especially Jim Donnan began to open up the passing game during the 1990s, the tight end position became a major part of Georgia's offensive arsenal.  In 1997, Donnan began often using a TWO tight-end offense (in lieu of a second running back) -- a trend which has continued for 15 years throughout the Coach Mark Richt  era.

Speaking of 1997, from that year through 2011, SIX different Georgia tight ends have earned 1st- or 2nd-team All-SEC recognition for a total of NINE times

Beginning with Ulysses Norris in 1979 and including Orson Charles -- one of the top tight end prospects for this year's NFL Draft --  NINE Bulldog tight ends have been drafted

Beginning with Hughes in 1970 to the three Georgia tight ends that were in the NFL in 2011 -- Ben Watson, Leonard Pope, and Randy McMichael -- 14 former Bulldogs have played at least one regular-season game in the league at the tight end position.

Based on their performances at Georgia, both as receivers and blockers, I've attempted to rank my opinion of the top 10 Bulldog tight ends of all time.  Prior to my research, I initially believed Larry Brown and Shannon Mitchell would place 1-2 in my rankings but yet, in the end, both didn't even crack my top five.  This, coupled with the facts mentioned just above, is perhaps testament why Georgia undoubtedly could lay claim to the distinguished title of "Tight End U"...

Randy McMichael following the victory at Tennessee
in 2001.
#1  RANDY McMICHAEL (1999-2001): In 2001, McMichael became only the third Bulldog ever to be recognized as a first-team All-SEC tight end (after Hughes in 1968 and Mitchell in 1993).  Despite Georgia often using a two tight-end offense, McMichael started only 21 games for his career with standouts Jevaris Johnson and later Ben Watson present.  However, his 90 catches rank third all time for a Bulldog tight end (behind Mitchell's 99 and Charles' 94) while, most evident, the man would flat out catch anything thrown his way... Remember McMichael's consecutive catches on the winning drive in Knoxville in 2001?  I'm sure Tennessee does...  

#2  LEONARD POPE (2003-2005): Pope saw significant action in only two seasons (2004 and 2005) before declaring early for the NFL.  Remarkably, in becoming the first two-time first-team All-SEC tight end at Georgia, Pope was first-team all-conference for each of those two seasons.  Pope became the fourth Bulldog tight end to total 1,000+ receiving yards for a career while his 10 career touchdown receptions tied a school record for the position.  

#3  RICHARD APPLEBY (1973-1975): Appleby remains one of just a few players -- and the only tight end -- to ever lead Georgia in annual receiving for three consecutive seasons.  As a sophomore in 1973, Appleby was briefly moved to split end before being moved back to tight end after the Bulldog offense realized how much he was missed as a blocker.  As a senior in 1975, Appleby was discovered to be quite a rusher, carrying six times on end-arounds for nearly an 11-yard average, and for one play against Florida, a gifted passer as well.

#4  ORSON CHARLES (2009-2011): Although not considered much of a blocker, Charles set or tied school career records for the most receiving yards (1,370) and touchdown receptions (10) by a tight end.  In 2011, he became only the third Bulldog tight end in history to earn All-SEC recognition twice for a career and only the second ever to be selected as a first-team All-American.  In addition, less than four weeks from now, Charles will likely become the second-highest selected Georgia tight end in an NFL Draft behind Ben Watson, who was the 32nd pick in the 2004 Draft. 

#5  TROY SADOWSKI (1985-1988): Sadowski was the first Georgia player of only two all time to be considered a four-year starter at tight end.  Known more for his excellent blocking skills, opening holes for the likes of Lars Tate, Tim Worley, Keith Henderson, and Rodney Hampton, Sadowski caught only 42 career passes, including just 14 in 1988 when he was selected by the Walter Camp Foundation as Georgia's initial first-team All-American at the position.  The consensus All-American tight end that season -- Iowa's Marv Cook -- made 55 receptions, or nearly four times as many as Sadowski; that's how highly the blocking of the Bulldog tight end was regarded. 

6) Larry Brown, 1995-1998; 7) Shannon Mitchell, 1990-1993; 8) Norris Brown, 1979-1982; 9) Ben Watson, 2001-2003; 10) Clarence Kay, 1980-1983

Ulysses Norris -- half of the "Two-headed Tight-End
Monster" -- catches a touchdown against Florida in 1976.
** From 1976 to 1978, Ulysses Norris and Mark Hodge made up Georgia's "Two-headed Tight-end Monster."  For three consecutive seasons, the tight-end pair was used interchangeably and primarily as blockers for a potent Bulldog ground game.  As previously mentioned, although Norris would be drafted into the NFL, neither of the two were ever selected All-SEC, although both were deserving and likely took votes away from one another.  For their careers, Norris and Hodge combined for 54 receptions, NINE of which were for touchdowns.

** Aaron White started only 18 games at tight end from 2008 through 2011, making just 34 career receptions for 512 yards.  Yet, along with Pope, Charles, and Norris Brown, White's 10 touchdown receptions are tied for the most all time by a Georgia tight end.


Anonymous said...

What about Ben Watson?

Patrick Garbin said...

Ranked Watson 8th... but could easily be argued to be in the top 3 to 5.

Unknown said...

Clarence Kay 10th??? Do you not recall that should Vince have directed say 3 more throws to him by John Lastinger, we would have won the National Championship in 1982 against Penn State?