52: Willie McClendon, Tailback #36 (1976 – 1978)
The McClendon name is one that has become synonymous with Georgia football over the years. Bryan McClendon was a great receiver for the Dawgs during the mid-2000’s, famous for catching the game winning touchdown from DJ Shockley in the 2005 Georgia Tech game and blocking a punt in Georgia’s SEC Championship victory over LSU. After a brief NFL career, Bryan returned to Athens where he now serves as running backs coach under Mark Richt. But the McClendon name first became famous in Athens nearly 30 years earlier, when Bryan’s father, Willie, carried the ball for Coach Vince Dooley.
In 1976, Willie McClendon joined a backfield that included star Kevin McLee and quarterback Ray Goff. As the Dawgs rolled to an SEC Championship, McClendon finished fourth on the team in rushing with 211 yards on just 40 carries and 5 touchdowns. This included a two score performance in the 45-0 trouncing of Vanderbilt. During his junior season, he became Georgia’s second leading rusher behind McLee, rushing for over 700 yards and 4 touchdowns. The ’77 season was highlighted by his performance against Florida, where he ran for 162 yards on only 10 carries. He scored three touchdowns in the game, including a 74 yarder.
As a senior in 1978, McClendon would enjoy the finest season any senior running back has ever had at the University of Georgia. Finally getting a chance to start, McClendon became a true workhorse for the Dawgs carrying the ball a then record 287 times (later broken by Herschel Walker). He would have the 8th best rushing yardage season in school history, totaling 1,312 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. Highlights included an 81 yard touchdown run against South Carolina and two score, 144 yard performance in the Georgia upset of LSU in Baton Rouge. Following the season, he was named to the first team All-SEC squad.
Despite being the starter for only one season, Willie McClendon is 9th all-time in rushing yards at Georgia with 2,228 yards. He scored 22 career touchdowns and his rushing average of 119 yards per game in 1978 is fifth best in school history. He especially shined in the games against Florida, where he rushed for 276 yards and three scores in two wins (three total games). He was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 1979 NFL draft, where he played 4 seasons.