Clint Castleberry

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Lieutenant Clint Dillard Castleberry, Jr. (October 10, 1923 - November 1944) played football for Georgia Tech in 1942. Born in Atlanta, he was one of the first freshmen to play football for Georgia Tech. Castleberry captured the hearts of the nation as he led the Yellow Jackets to an almost perfect football season. He is regarded as one of the best football players in Georgia Tech history.



Contents

High School

Clint Castleberry attended Boys High School in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was a straight A student. Standing only 5'9" and weighing 155 pounds, Castleberry was a remarkable athlete, regardless of his size. In high school, Castleberry was all-state in football, basketball and baseball. In fact, he never lost a football game while playing for Boys High School. While playing for Boys High School, Castleberry gained an average of 171 yards per game. He set a state record by scoring 102 points during a single high school season. Castleberry led Boys High School football team to the state championships during the 1941 season [1]. Several college scouts watched Castleberry, but many, including Notre Dame and Navy, discarded him due to his small size. Castleberry eventually decided to attend Georgia Tech.

Football at Georgia Tech: "The Most Dangerous Runner in America"

William Alexander, coach of the Georgia Tech football team since 1920, had a rough time with his team in the late 1930s. In the 1941 season, the Yellow Jackets ended with a 3-6 season record, including a tough loss to Georgia at home with a score of 21-0. With the beginning of World War II, Georgia Tech lost many of its players to the draft, prompting Coach Alexander to allow freshmen to play varsity ball for the first time in Tech's history. Thus, Clint Castleberry, a Phi Delta Theta pledge, joined the team. [2]

In the course of the 11-game 1942 season, Castleberry quickly won the hearts of Georgia Tech students and, ultimately, America. Because of the times, documentation of the 1942 season is very limited; it consists largely of only newspaper articles and a few telegraphs. Many stories of Castleberry's football plays are mainly told in story. For instance, in the season's first game against Auburn University, Castleberry, initially lined up with the punt, supposedly ran down the field faster than the ball, allowing him to catch the ball before tackling the opposing Auburn player. This marked the beginning of a string of miraculous plays led by Clint Castleberry. Castleberry executed another amazing play against Navy: he intercepted a pass and ran a remarkable 95 yards to score a touchdown. On one account, Fred Russell of the Nashville Banner wrote, "I know of only one way to stop Castleberry, and that's to repeal the freshman eligibility rule" [2]. Sports announcers and writers ultimately dubbed Castleberry "the most dangerous runner in America."

1943 Cotton Bowl advertisement

1942 was the redeeming season that Coach Alexander needed. Georgia Tech won its first nine games. By the end of the season, Alexander's fleeting health (which caused him to put assistant coach Bobby Dodd in charge) and the accumulation of many injured players put an end to Tech's momentum. (Castleberry, who injured himself in the game against the University of Alabama, eventually had knee surgery in January following the season.) Tech lost its final two games of the season, including a rough 34-0 loss against the University of Georgia, Tech's main rival. After the Georgia-Georgia Tech game, the Yellow Jackets continued on to the Cotton Bowl. On New Year's Day in 1943, Georgia Tech lost by one touchdown against the University of Texas in Texas. This loss dropped Tech's three week hold on second place to fifth place in the nation. [2]


The 1941 season, led by Castleberry included the following games:

  • Georgia Tech vs. Auburn: 15-0, Georgia Tech
  • Georgia Tech vs. Duke: 26-7, Georgia Tech
  • Georgia Tech vs. Kentucky: 47-7, Georgia Tech
  • Georgia Tech vs. Alabama: 7-0, Georgia Tech
  • Georgia Tech vs. Florida 20-7, Georgia Tech
  • Georgia Tech vs. Georgia: 34-0, Georgia
  • Georgia Tech vs. Texas: 14-7, Texas

Awards and Records

Castleberry was the first underclassman to be on the All-SEC team. Also, he was voted All-Rookie honors by the Associated Press three times. Ironically, he received this award for his performances in games against Notre Dame and Navy, two schools who turned him down in high school. Most importantly, though, Castleberry received third place in the New York Athletic Club vote for the Heisman Trophy, becoming the closest freshman to winning the Heisman Trophy. Since then, only Adrian Peterson has received more votes, earning second place as a freshman. Both Michael Vick and Herschel Walker earned third place as freshmen.[citation needed]

World War II

Castleberry co-piloted a B-26 Marauder

In February of 1943, Clint Castleberry, along with 17 fellow Georgia Tech football players, were drafted to the Army Air Corps. Castleberry quickly married Shirley Poole in September 1943 and left for training, leaving Georgia Tech after only one season. As an Air Cadet Castleberry was stationed in Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee. At one point, he became co-pilot of a B-26G Marauder bomber. Throughout his service, reporters frequently interviewed him about his view on the war and his hopes for football. In an interview on October 9, 1943, Castleberry said that he wanted to return to Georgia Tech and football after the war was over. However, he never did. [1]



Death

On November 7, 1944 at 7:20 A.M., Castleberry boarded a flight in Liberia headed to Senegal. The plane never landed, and two days later, Castleberry's father was notified that Castleberry and three others were reported missing. After a two week search combining the efforts of the U.S. Air Corp, Royal Air Force, and Royal Navy, Lieutenant Clint Castleberry was deemed killed in action. Castleberry left his pregnant wife, Shirley, behind. [2]

Legacy

Hearing the news of Casleberry's death, Georgia Tech students went into mourning. They raised $4,079,100 and purchased a war bond in his honor. In an auction, the jersey that Castleberry wore in the Georgia-Georgia Tech game sold for $20,000. Georgia Tech owes the resurgence of football support to Clint Casleberry. Whereas many universities retire countless jersey numbers, Castleberry's jersey number, 19, is the only football jersey to be retired in Georgia Tech history. At Castleberry's funeral, Coach Bobby Dodd said that Castleberry was the "greatest player in Tech history... he was a great boy: gentle and brave, manly, yet sweet." [2]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Durham, Wes. "67 Years Ago Today, A Legend Was Born." Georgia Tech Official Athletic Site. 26 Sept. 2009. Web. 21 Nov. 2010. <http://ramblinwreck.cstv.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/092609aaa.html>.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Student Publications Board, 1997. Web. 21 Nov. 2010. <http://technique.library.gatech.edu/issues/fall1997/oct24/campuslife5.html>.
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