“Touchdown Eddie” Perseveres All the Way to Hall of Fame
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Much like the rest of his career, Eddie George’s voyage to the College Football Hall of Fame has been a story of perseverance.
Eligible since 2005, George has waited six long years to hear his name, despite the fact he is Ohio State’s all-time single-game and single-season rushing holder, not to mention one of the school’s six Heisman Trophy winners.
To those who remember it wrong, George was always destined for greatness, a high school phenom with offers from every school in the country, it was only a matter of time before George etched his name in the history books, and eventually the hall of fame.
It came as no surprise then Monday when George was announced as the first member of 2011 College Football Hall of Fame Class, which will officially be unveiled Tuesday at 11:30 a.m.
Only that’s not the real story of Eddie George, a kid from Philadelphia who overcame the odds to become one of the greatest Buckeye legends of all time.
“A lot of people think he was the No. 1 recruit in the country and that kind of stuff, but that’s not true,” said former Ohio State coach John Cooper, a hall of fame inductee back in 2008.
“Bill Conley recruited him for me and I think we had to beat out Marshall for him. Marshall is the only other school that recruited him as a running back.”
After transferring from Abington Senior High School, George spent a fifth prep season at Fork Union Military Academy, where he rushed for 1,372 yards before enrolling at Ohio State, but it didn’t come easy for him there either, at least not early on.
“I played against Syracuse on a nationally televised game and had three touchdowns that night. I was freshman and they were tossing around ‘Touchdown Eddie,’” George said of his third game with the Buckeyes back in 1992, a 35-12 win over the No. 8-ranked Orangemen.
“Two weeks later against Illinois I fumbled once and it went back 99 yards for a touchdown. Then I fumbled again at the goal line to lose the game, and I didn’t see the field again until my junior year.”
After that debacle against Illinois, a game the Buckeyes lost 18-16, George would carry the ball just 79 times over the course of his first two years in Columbus.
“You can imagine going off of that field after losing a game like that and hearing the fans boo. They didn’t boo much, but they were booing pretty good,” Cooper said.
“I tell people I was born at night, but not last night. Eddie didn’t play much the rest of that year as a true freshman. He played very little as a sophomore because we had some other good running backs, Robert Smith and Raymont Harris.”
It was a dark time for George, who admits he considered giving up.
“I was at a point in my life where I was like ‘I’m ready to leave’ because I wanted to go play somewhere” he said.
“But I realized wherever I went I was going to have to face those same challenges so I decided to stick it out.”
Despite his internal struggles, George kept working hard. He kept his mouth shut and dedicated himself to weight room, learning everything he could from the older running backs like Smith, Harris and Butler By'not'e while waiting for his chance to come.
“I persevered through that and I found myself in terms of the kind of athlete I wanted to become, and really worked hard at that,” George said.
“I studied the craft and everything I did I dedicated to being the best I could be. Once my time did come, I wanted to be in the perfect position to be ready for it.”
With the departure of Raymont Harris after the 1993 season, George finally found himself back in the starting lineup nearly two years after his three-touchdown game against Syracuse. This time, there was no looking back.
George ran for 1,442 yards and 12 touchdowns on 276 carries as a junior. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry as the Buckeyes finished second in the Big Ten with a 22-6 win over Michigan. It was only a precursor, however, for what would come next.
“His senior year, against that same Illinois team, with (Kevin) Hardy and (Simeon Rice), the two outside linebackers who were top 10 draft picks, Eddie gained (314) yards here at the ‘Shoe as a senior,” said Cooper, who regained his faith in No. 27.
“He ran for (over) 1,900 yards and won the Heisman Trophy.”
“Touchdown Eddie” led the nation in scoring with 24 touchdowns as a senior and set a school-record with 1,927 yards en route to winning the sixth Heisman Trophy in Ohio State history. He also captured the Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and Doak Walker Award, along with the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player Award.
He posted 12-consecutive 100 yard rushing games, including a trio of 200-yard games and the school-record 314 yards against Illinois. The Buckeyes went 11-2 in 1995, with an overall record of 38-9-2, and a Big Ten record of 24-6-2 during his four years in Columbus.
He is the second-leading rushing in school history, and his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame is little more than a formality, although well deserved.
“If I had to single out one player who showed dedication, leadership and hard work more by example than anything else,” Cooper said.
“It would probably be No. 27 Eddie George.”
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