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May 22, 2012

All-Time Side Switchers

In 2012, Malcolm Mitchell will attempt to join a small
group of modern-day Bulldogs to have excelled on
both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Over the weekend, a friend and I were discussing Malcolm Mitchell's side switching to the defensive secondary after prevailing as one of the Bulldogs' top receivers a year ago.  We agreed there had been plenty of examples of one player excelling at multiple positions in UGA football history.  However, what Mitchell is looking to achieve -- one individual standing out on both sides of the ball during a collegiate career -- has seldom been attempted, much less been a successful venture, by a Bulldog player.

Like most schools, two-platoon football, where no individual plays regularly on both a team's offense and defense, was established at Georgia during the early to mid-1960s.  Mitchell would be the fourth Bulldog since the inception, and the first in nearly 40 years, to lead the team in regular-season receiving (his 614 receiving yards were a team high entering the Outback Bowl), yet was switched to a completely different position to start the next season.

In 1972, Bob Burns led Georgia in receiving as a tight end before becoming the team's starting fullback the following season.  A year prior to Burns having done so, split end Lynn Hunnicutt led the Bulldogs in receiving before being moved to tight end in 1972.  And in 1968, Billy Payne  was moved to a defensive end position after leading the 1966 SEC championship team in receiving two years before as tight end.

As was the case with just Payne of the aforementioned three, Mitchell will attempt to become an even bigger rarity as a successful "side switcher": a Bulldog distinguishing himself on one side of the ball one year, before switching sides, and continuing to excel on the opposite side of the ball.

Entering this season (and prior to Malcolm Mitchell most likely joining this list in the very near future), I've ranked my opinion of Georgia's top five most notable side switchers since the Bulldogs began utilizing the two-platoon system: 

#5  MIKE WEAVER: The younger brother of the more renowned Eddie "Meat Cleaver," Mike is the only Bulldog in history to start on one side of the ball one year (offensive guard in 1982), start on the other side the next season (defensive guard in 1983), and return to his original side as a starter a third year (offensive tackle in 1984).  Switching back to the offensive line after totaling 85 tackles as a junior, the collegiate career of "Jumbo" was capped when he was selected in the 1985 NFL Draft. 

#4  BILLY PAYNE: Before bringing the Olympics to Atlanta and becoming chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, Payne was "the best 60-minute player I ever coached," according to head coach Vince Dooley.  As just a sophomore tight end in 1966, he led the Bulldogs in annual receiving and was second on the team as a junior in '67.  Moving to the other side of the ball for his senior campaign, Payne intercepted three passes as a consensus first-team All-SEC defensive end.   

Before he was an All-American safety, Lynn Hughes
(RIGHT, No. 16) was Vince Dooley's first starting
quarterback at Georgia in 1964.
#3  LYNN HUGHES: For Dooley's initial season in 1964, Hughes paired with Preston Ridlehuber as part of Georgia's dual-quarterback system.  That year, the sophomore signal caller led the Bulldogs in passing and was fourth on the team in rushing.  With the emergence of quarterback Kirby Moore, Hughes was moved to the starting safety position in 1965, where he would be recognized as an All-SEC defender for both of his final two seasons.  Also in 1965 and 1966, Hughes saw time at his original position as Georgia's No. 3 quarterback, completing a combined 19 of 29 passes.  For his career, he passed for more than 700 yards, intercepted 10 passes on defense, and scored seven touchdowns (six rushing, one via interception return).

#2  ROBERT EDWARDS: As Georgia's starting right cornerback in 1994, Edwards recorded 64 tackles, four interceptions, and a team-high seven passes broken up.  In the spring of 1995, what began as only an experiment resulted in a team’s solution when Edwards, who was being touted as a preseason all-star cornerback, was moved to Georgia’s scat back position because of injuries to teammates.  In a season-opening win over South Carolina, the junior rushed for 169 yards on 30 carries, caught two passes for 42 yards, and scored a modern-school-record five touchdowns in arguably the greatest offensive debut in Bulldog history.  Despite being limited in several games with injuries from 1995 to 1997, Edwards still ranks fourth all time at UGA in rushing yards per game for a career.

#1  CHAMP BAILEY: Similarly to Hughes, Bailey didn't necessarily "switch" from one side to the other, but played both sides of the ball (actually, played all three, including special teams) at the same time.  Not wanting Champ's extraordinary multi-threat talent go to waste, head coach Jim Donnan had the sophomore in 1997, besides starting at left cornerback for the Bulldogs, returning kickoffs and seeing time at wide receiver.  By 1998, Bailey was considered perhaps the most versatile and exciting player in college football and a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.  In his junior and final season, he tallied 52 tackles, three interceptions, 744 receiving yards, and 310 yards in total kick returns, while averaging a whopping combined total of 87 defensive, offensive, and special-team plays per game. 

HONORABLE MENTION: DICKY CLARK is the last Bulldog to open a season (1974) as the team's starting quarterback before being moved to the defensive side of the ball the very next year. As a starting defensive end in 1976, he recorded 57 tackles and was recognized as first-team All-SEC ... Tight end-turned-defensive tackle-turned-tight end-turned-offensive tackle GUY MCINTYRE had one of the all-time best defensive performances by a true freshman in the Georgia-Florida series (1979) before later earning All-SEC honors as an offensive tackle in both 1982 and 1983 ... Before starting at offensive tackle for three straight seasons (1991-1993), including an All-American campaign as a senior, BERNARD WILLIAMS recorded 36 tackles and blocked four kicks as a freshman defensive lineman in 1990 ... Midway through his sophomore season of 1974, converted offensive tackle MIKE WILSON was moved to defensive tackle, where he ended the year as a starter. However, "Moonpie" returned to his original position as a junior and earned first-team All-American honors in 1976 as a senior.


Anonymous said...

As usual, great post. I remember a couple fullbacks/defensive linemen that were pretty good on both sides: Hiwaatha Berry & C. Grant

J.R. Clark said...

Some of the things that made me shake my head during the Goff era:

Terrell Davis being underutilized at running back, and Robert Edwards playing DB.

Of course, there was also the players throwing the homecoming game against Vanderbilt in 1994.

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