In May, Georgia Coach Vince Dooley spent two weeks vacationing in the People's Republic of China, where there are one billion people who have never heard of Herschel Walker. He toured the countryside, watched Ping-Pong and voraciously read Chinese history. He came back refreshed but wistful about the loss of his incomparable tailback to the USFL. "That one guy was the difference between being good and being great," says Dooley, mentioning no name. "He was the man who brought us championships. We always described him like OT Man River, just rolling on, week after week."
Walker will be back on campus this fall, taking courses toward his criminal justice degree, and what he'll see on Saturdays is his former team just rolling on, week after week. Well, most weeks. While former Flanker Melvin Simmons, part-time Fullback Barry Young and 165-pound Tron Jackson, who moves like a blip in a video game, will attempt to replace Walker, the Bulldogs will have largely the same supporting cast that helped them to a 32-1 regular-season record, three Sugar Bowl appearances and a national title the last three years. Of 22 starters, 12 are seniors. Led by tackles Jimmy Harper, a two-time All-SEC selection, and Guy McIntyre, who may be a better pro prospect, the offensive line is massive and experienced. Returning Placekicker Kevin Butler merely converted 18 of 22 field-goal tries last fall. In the secondary are Roverback Terry Hoage, whose 12 interceptions led the country in 1982, and sophomore Cornerback Tony Flack, the only freshman—Walker included—in Dooley's 19 years at Georgia to start every game. The top linebacker is Tommy Thurson, who led the team in tackles last season with 134. These Dawgs aren't dogs.
The supporting cast that concerns Dooley is the one placed on senior Quarterback John Lastinger's left knee in April after Georgia's spring game. The injury, originally diagnosed as minor cartilage damage, turned out to be a ligament torn away from the bone. Lastinger probably won't see much action in the Bulldogs' Sept. 3 opener against UCLA. His likely replacement will be sophomore Todd Williams, who's barely 5'10" and has thrown only seven passes. "What are Todd's strengths?" says Dooley. He pauses. "Well, that's a good question."
Passing had better be one of them. Dooley plans to throw 20 times per game, up from 14 last season. "We have to be more diversified," he says. "We'll show more motion and shift out of the I at times." Unfortunately, though Tight End Clarence Kay is excellent, the wide receivers are only adequate. Kay led the team in 1982 with just 12 catches.
On defense, the front wall has been rebuilt after the departure of All-America Tackle Jimmy Payne and several others. The lone returner is All-Conference End Freddie (The Destroyer) Gilbert. Mike Weaver, a starting offensive guard last year, will move to noseguard. Weaver is said to be just as tough—if not as hammy—as his older brother, former Bulldog Noseguard Eddie (Meat Cleaver) Weaver, but at 6'2", 275 pounds he's known simply as Jumbo. Which Weaver is actually larger? "Who knows?" says Hoage. "It's like comparing oceans."
Last year no team in the country had a pair of defensive backs comparable to Hoage, who's an All-America, and Safety Jeff Sanchez, who ought to be. Alas, this year Georgia doesn't have the pair either: Sanchez finished second in the nation to Hoage in interceptions with nine, but during spring practice he broke his right arm, and the injury still hasn't healed. He'll probably be redshirted. Charlie Dean, who had been slotted to start at corner-back, will replace Sanchez, and as a precautionary measure Hoage has worked out at safety as well. Hoage, however, is far more valuable at roverback, where he made 101 tackles last season.
Predictably, with Lastinger's injury and the unexpected losses of Walker and Sanchez, Dooley is lamenting that this will be Georgia's "year of adversity." Not a lot of other folks around Athens are expecting tough times, though. Ticket sales and booster donations are at record levels. Bulldog fans are comparing the football team with last season's Georgia basketball squad, which, after losing star Dominique Wilkins to the NBA, pulled together and reached the Final Four. Says Hoage. "We have the talent we've had for several years. We can do it." Adds Lastinger, "Herschel has to start his new life, and we have to start ours."
[Yellow Circle] [Yellow Square] RETURNING STARTER
[Dark Red Circle] [Dark Red Square] RETURNING ALL-AMERICA
[See caption above.]