He's not great at anything, but he's good at everything," says Georgia Coach Vince Dooley of new Bulldog Quarterback John Lastinger, who replaces three-year starter Buck Belue. Of course, Belue suffered the same faint praise. But Belue, who wasn't picked in the NFL draft, went out and signed a contract to play rightfield in the Montreal Expos' farm system. Lastinger, a junior, grew up with Belue in Valdosta, Ga. and has been his backup at every level since Pee Wee. "I guess I don't have an ego or something," says Lastinger, who's thrown all of 18 passes in the past two years.
If Lastinger—or hotshot freshman passer Jamie Harris of Danville, Va.—doesn't fall flat on his face mask, Georgia will at least match its 10-2 record of 1981. The only other significant loss from an offense that averaged 32 points and 446.5 yards per game last season was Flanker Lindsay Scott, who was drafted by the Saints; he'll be replaced by either sophomore Jimmy Harrell, senior Charles Junior or Gil Rhodes, who caught 60 passes for a juco, Golden West of Huntington Beach, Calif., last fall. After opening games against Clemson and Brigham Young the Bulldogs face nothing harder than SEC competition—not including Alabama—against which their four-year record is 21-1-1.
The reason Georgia seems so likely to do well even while breaking in a quarterback is The Tailback, even though The Tailback will sit out those first two games because of a broken thumb. To the relief of Pete Rozelle's lawyers, the covetous USFL and Dooley—especially Dooley—The Tailback, a fellow by the name of Herschel Walker, didn't rush into the NFL as an undergraduate. Says Georgia Offensive Coordinator George Haffner, "I think we were all concerned...." For "concerned" read panicked, suicidal. "You never know when a kid's going to want to go down in history."
It might be a little late to be concerned about that. Walker is already in the history books. His 1,616 yards rushing in 1980 broke Tony Dorsett's NCAA record for freshmen (1,586, set at Pittsburgh in 1973), and his 1,891 last fall surpassed the sophomore mark of 1,505 set by Jerome Persell of Western Michigan in 1976. The junior-class record, in case you want to start counting from Herschel's first carry, is 1,875, set by USC's Ricky Bell in 1975.
Walker's blockers will be led by British-born Center Wayne Radloff and 6'5", 270-pound Tackle Jimmy Harper. Harper has fully recovered from a freak winter accident: His arm went through a door pane and was cut so severely it required about 300 stitches. "It's a big arm," says Haffner.
The Georgia defense allowed only 8.9 points and 72.5 yards rushing per game last season, and eight of its starters are back. Only at noseguard is there concern, at least about orneriness, because of the loss of Eddie (Meat Cleaver) Weaver; his replacement, Kevin Jackson, has the face of Beaver Cleaver. Among the veterans are Linebackers Tommy Thurston, last year's leading tackier, and Nate Taylor, a former walk-on whom Dooley calls "the biggest surprise of my career." Taylor is only 5'11" and 190, with 5.2 nonspeed in the 40, yet he was Georgia's No. 2 tackier in 1981.
Also returning are Defensive End Freddie Gilbert, a quick junior, and Jimmy (The Inflicter) Payne, a menacing pass rusher (12 sacks in 1981) who's caused eight fumbles in the last two years. "I try never to do the same thing twice," he says. "While they wonder what I'm doing, I can get a great big lick in."
Payne has delivered several of his body slams to Clemson Quarterback Homer Jordan, his "best buddy" while the two were growing up together in Athens, Ga. Payne lived just 10 minutes from Georgia's San-ford Stadium, where his father, James Sr., still works as a grounds-keeper. "Saturday mornings I'd be up 6, 6:30 to help him carry ice up to the concession stands," Jimmy says. "Then I'd go find myself a seat and settle in for the game." Jimmy is thus a genuine authority on Bulldog football. "Defense goin' to be hell, that's how I see it," he says.
Kicking goin' to be ditto with Punter Jim Broadway (41.1-yard average in 1981) and Placekicker Kevin Butler, whose 19 field goals last fall tied the NCAA record for freshmen. Butler also serves up booming kickoffs: Georgia's opponents returned only 20 of 70 last year, none for more than 28 yards.
To accommodate ABC-TV, the Bulldogs moved their game with Clemson ahead from Sept. 18 to Sept. 6, a Monday night, making it the opener for both teams. Previously it had been the Tigers' opener but Georgia's second game, after Brigham Young.
"It gives us a fighting chance," says Dooley, pleased that the Tigers won't come into the game more fully rested and prepared than his team. However, because Georgia's BYU game is still scheduled for Sept. 11, the Bulldogs now must play two Top 20 teams within 4½ days. "We could end up 0-2," says Dooley. "We're rolling the dice."