Without exception, there are and always will be exceptions.
We all (hopefully) learn this at some time or another, and my most recent lesson came via the expansive readership of the New York Times.
I wrote a piece for the paper’s college sports blog about how college football is the only major American team sport in which there hasn’t been a freshman/rookie to win that sport’s most prestigious individual award. In college football’s case, it’s the Heisman.
In pro sports, there has been a lot more opportunities for first-year player to win such honors because rookies have played on the same teams as veterans since the major leagues’ inceptions. In the college ranks, I knew freshmen played on their own teams, apart from upperclassmen, until 1972. I assumed that was the year the NCAA first allowed freshmen to play with upperclassman, and so naturally I assumed there could not have been a freshmen Heisman finalist before that year.
I was wrong, as “Todd D” from Tampa Bay, Florida pointed out in my blog post’s comments.
Turns out that during World War II, Georgia Tech freshmen played because there was the shortage of able-bodied men who’d left to fight overseas. And in 1942, a scatback named Clint Castleberry injected life into a Yellow Jackets program which had had only two winning seasons since 1930:
Standing only five-foot-nine, a hundred and fifty-five pounds, Castleberry did not allow his diminutive stature to overshadow his talent and immense heart. Upon entering Tech, he had never played in a game in which his team had lost—and the string continued in the fall of 1942. In essence, Castleberry became Seabiscuit in football pads, revitalizing Tech with incredible touchdown runs—that inspired at least one sportswriter to marvel that he “ran like a crazed jackrabbit,” defensive gems, and a Chip Hilton too-good-to-be-true personality.
Before a late-season knee injury, Castleberry led Georgia Tech to a 9-0 record and into the national Top 5. He played only that one season before heading off to war himself, but impressed everyone and finished third in the Heisman voting. There wouldn’t be another freshman Heisman finalist until another Georgian – Herschel Walker – finished third in 1980. According to football historian Bill Chastain, Castleberry is the only Georgia Tech player with his number retired.
If the program decided to enshrine two jerseys, who would be a top candidate? How about a 19-year-old from Decatur who arrived on campus the next season and developed into a two-time All-SEC QB, as well as a star in baseball and football?
Frank Broyles wouldn’t be a bad choice at all.