In the spring of 1980, Herschel Walker was a black teenager in the mid-Georgia town of Wrightsville (population 2,350). Walker was not just the star of the Johnson Count High School football team. He was the most sought after player in the country.
College recruiters flew into Wrightsville by helicopter, some staying months, wooing Walker. One, from the University of Georgia, lived in a house lent to him by a wealthy white alumnus of Georgia, and it was Georgia, to the regret of hundreds of other colleges, that Herschel Walker chose to attend.
While the Bulldawg nation hoped that the pheonom from Johnson County would sign with the home-state team, his signing was never a foregone conclusion. Clemson and Southern California were also pushing very hard to sign Walker. Unlike the players today, who announce their choices on national television sometimes months (now even years) before National Signing Day, Walker remained uncommitted until Easter. As Easter approached, Coach Dooley had planned to take a trip with his wife to Boston. On the Thursday before, however he decided he could not leave the state until Herschel Signed. Needless to say, Barbara Dooley was furious.
Barbara went on to Boston, while coach stayed in Athens. On Easter Sunday morning, assistant Steve Greer came and told Vince that Herschel was ready to sign. The story goes that Herschel ended up picking Georgia on a coin flip (where is that lucky coin now?!?) They went to Wrightsville but had to wait outside of the Walkers’ house while Herschel inked his commitment letter because they had already used the allotted amount of NCAA visits.
Happy Signing Day to the Bulldog Nation!
Just a few months later, Herschel Walker would carry Georgia to the 1980 National Championship. He is the most important commitment that Georgia has ever received and the madness around him sparked a change in national coverage of the recruitment of high school athletes. As Mark Bradley wrote in the AJC,
Even after Herschel, it didn’t happen overnight. First came specialized publications, then a groundbreaking recruiting talk show on Nashville’s WLAC, and then, ultimately and inevitably, the Internet. Supply keeps rising to meet demand, and today there are fans of all schools who seem to care more about winning — or, to be precise, about being perceived as having won — on a Wednesday in February than on any autumn Saturday.
Maybe this strange business would have gotten huge anyway, but every person I’ve ever asked, and I’ve asked several, has invoked one word to pinpoint that moment when recruiting struck the communal chord that resounds today — Herschel. He signed. He played. He changed the football world.