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February 25, 2013

Northern Exposure

By the early 1970s, northerners, like David Schwak (No. 26), and the program's first
African-Americans, including Clarence Pope (No. 51) and Horace King (right),
had joined southern boys, like Butch Wood (No. 35) from Cordele.
When Wally Butts was the head football coach at Georgia, he recruited heavily from outside the South, including signing many players from the Midwest.  In fact, it was a rarity that a skilled player of Butts' was originally from the South.  Of arguably the head coach's top five backs or ends during his 22-season tenure Frank Sinkwich, George Poschner, Charley Trippi, John Rauch, and Zeke Bratkowski all five were from either Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Illinois.  On the Bulldogs' 1948 SEC championship squad, only one of the team's starting 11 was a Georgia boy and just three were from the South.
Fifteen years and two head coaches later, Georgia had completely closed its midwestern connection.  For the first seven years of the Vince Dooley era, you could count on one hand how many incoming freshmen hailed from outside the South, including just a single newcomer that I found that would go on to earn a letter.
It's unclear exactly why Georgia seemingly shied away from recruiting northern players during this period.  Perhaps it was for the same reasons why there were just three players from the North on the Bulldogs' 2012 roster: simply, why recruit outside the Southeast when there's plenty of talent nearby, while most players from the North want to stay, well, up North?  However, a Bulldog from the late-60s recently indicated to me that during his time, the average football player from the Midwest or North had developed the stigma of being "slow with little stamina, and by the start of the fourth quarter, he'd be worn out."
What is clear is that for its incoming class of 1971, Georgia made a conscious effort to instantly sign players from outside the South when FIVE such recruits became Bulldogs.  Interestingly, this was the same year Georgia signed its first African-American players.  Therefore, in 1970, similarly to preceding years, the Bulldogs signed an all-white, all-southern class of 32, but then followed it the next season with a class where nearly one-third of the players (10 of 35) were either black or from outside the South. 

Just imagine when these 10 players joined the 1971 Georgia team, where of the approximately 95 individuals on the varsity roster, ALL of them were of the white race and nearly ALL of them were from the southeastern states of Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, and Virginia (one was from Oklahoma).
I've posted here a number of times in regards to the historical, but difficult, arrival of the Bulldogs' first five black players.  The following are the five other "outsiders" that arrived with them Georgia football's five non-southern signees of 1971: 
DAVE CHRISTIANSON, Flanker (Villa Park, Illinois)
DAVID SCHWAK, Split End (Reinerton, Pennsylvania)
DAVID WOLFE, Offensive Guard (Stamford, Connecticut)
RICHARD WRIGHT, Center (Northridge, California)
TOM ZIMMERLINK, Defensive End (Allison, Pennsylvania)
Schwak came to UGA considered one of the greatest high school athletes ever from the state of Pennsylvania.  He was eventually moved from receiver to defensive back, where he started for the Bulldogs in 1974 and 1975.  Leading Florida 17-16 in 1974, his breakup of a two-point conversion pass was the game-clinching play in defeating the Gators.  As a senior, he was the permanent captain of the defensive unit nicknamed the "Junkyard Dogs."

On Georgia's freshman Bullpups team of 1971, Christianson gained about four times as many receiving yards as the team's second-leading receiver.  Of Georgia's 24 varsity starters in 1972, he was one of only three sophomores, and was one of the Bulldogs' leading receivers.  Wolfe lettered for one season before he would go on to be one of the most feared and revered in his profession.  Zimmerlink also lettered one year as a Bulldog, while Californian Wright solely played for the freshman squad.

A white, southern player from the '71 team recently told me that he kind of "felt sorry" for these five non-southern freshmen upon their arrival.  "Don't get me wrong, they didn't have it as bad as the new black players," he said, "but they were definitely also treated as outsiders by the team."

Apparently, for the first few seasons Georgia's varsity included non-southern and African-American players, the team as a whole had a difficult time adjusting.  The southern player insinuated that he truly felt the team suddenly and unfortunately had "lost some continuity" and "played less as a team."  He pointed out that the Bulldogs from 1972 through 1974 had the worst three-season stretch by Georgia during the Vince Dooley era (winners of just 57% of their games).  However, the two seasons immediately following (1975 and 1976), when the team had drastically been transformed to where one out of approximately seven players were non-southern or black, was, at the time, the most successful two-year run by Georgia since the late-1940s.

Finally, an early-70s signee from the North told me a story of an incident outside of McWhorter Hall, where he was approached by an upperclassman donned in KKK attire during a freshman initiation ceremony.  The newcomer was asked if he knew where the Mason-Dixon Line was located.  After responding with a “no,” he was informed, “it’s where the northerners go to eat and the southerners go to sh--."

Even when it was more than 40 years ago, it's difficult to comprehend there was a time when players of our favorite football program were judged by not only the color of their skin, but simply where they originated from.  Their arrival to UGA in the early 1970s wasn't nearly as historical as that of the first five black Bulldogs – not even close.  But, for some of these non-southern "outsiders," their detachment from the rest of the team was almost as significant, and their contribution to a program in near-complete transformation should be acknowledged.      

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