What he did: Georgia Tech has a long history of great football players, but the school’s only three-time, first-team All-American since it began playing in 1892 was a 5-foot-10, 171-pound defensive back who came to The Flats as a skinny running back.
Randy Rhino rewrote the record books for Tech as a safety, cornerback and kick returner, following his father Chappell, who was a letterman in football and All-SEC baseball player for the Yellow Jackets, and later watching his son, Kelley, break some of his own records.
Rhino grew up in Charlotte, N.C., changing high schools before his senior year in 1970 in what would a year later be a ground-breaking Supreme Court ruling that called for “the busing of black students from Charlotte to suburban schools in Mecklenburg, as well as the busing of white suburban students to city schools.’’ At Olympic High School, he led the team to the state championship, but was being recruited only by North Carolina before Tech came in late and signed him away from the Tar Heels.
Also a very good baseball player, he was the oldest of four boys who would play college sports, including Danny, who would join him in the Tech defensive backfield a few years later. His two other younger brothers were Tim, who played football at South Carolina, and Dave, who played baseball at Florida State.
While freshmen couldn’t play then, Rhino was a running back on the Baby Jackets squad until midway through the season he was moved to defense by position coach Dick Bestwick, who later became the head coach at Virginia as well as working in the athletic department at the University of Georgia.
It was a brilliant move, as Rhino intercepted eight passes as a sophomore in 1972 and led the nation in punt returns, averaging 17.6 yards on 25 returns, including taking one for 96 yards for a touchdown against South Carolina, still a school record. He also had 72 tackles and was named first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America.
As a sophomore and intercepted six passes, returned 17 kickoffs for a 25-yard average with 66 tackles and three fumble recoveries. He was named a consensus first-team All-American and it was then that Tech took Rhino to Lion Country Safari for those popular photos standing beside “Sally’’ the rhino.
As a senior in 1974, he was named to the Playboy magazine preseason All-America team. He didn’t intercept a pass, but had 65 tackles, returned 11 punts and 19 kickoffs and again was named a first-team All-American.
Rhino also played baseball at Tech, hitting a career .368 and leading the team in stolen bases for three straight years.
He was taken in the 14th round of the 1975 NFL Draft by New Orleans, but didn’t make the team. He then played for one season with the Charlotte Hornets in the World Football League before going to Canada and playing five seasons for the Montreal Alouettes. He was one of the better defensive backs in the CFL and a member of the 1977 Grey Cup championship team. He played one season for the Ottawa Rough Riders before retiring and beginning his career as a chiropractor.
He was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002 and also is in the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame, the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame.
Where he lives: Now 62, Rhino and his wife, Missy, of 40 years reside in Vinings. He has two boys, Randy Jr., and Kelley, who was a star returner at Tech. They have five grandchildren.
What he does now: Since 2003, Rhino has worked at Tech as the athletic department’s chiropractor. Also, while raising his two boys, Rhino spent many years as a youth baseball coach at Northside Youth Organization.
On deciding to play at Tech: “I was going to North Carolina, but Tech came in late and with my father having gone there, I went on a visit to Atlanta. I knew after I sat down with Bobby Dodd, and he told me I was going to be the school’s next Brent Cunningham (small but very effective running back for Tech in 1969 and ’70), that was all I needed to hear.’’
On playing for coach Bud Carson: “I think Jimmy Robinson (5-8, 170) and myself were the first two to commit. I was able to confirm in later years that after we committed, Bud came into his coaches meeting and told them that if they signed one more blankety-blank little guy, he was going to have their jobs.’’
On his most memorable game on The Flats: “I would say the second one I played in when I returned a punt for 96 yards against South Carolina. But my last one came in Athens in the rain and we beat Georgia by like 30 points (34-14) so that has to be in there, too.’’
On being a three-time All-American: “Well, it wouldn’t happen today because the great players leave after three years. I am sure Calvin Johnson would have been one if he wouldn’t have left.’’
On playing for Pepper Rodgers his senior season: “It’s tough when a new coach comes in and suddenly guys you have played with all along are being replaced by freshmen. But when I got into the College Hall of Fame, the first person that called me was Pepper. I have tremendous respect for him.’’
On playing in Canada: “When I was drafted by the Saints and went to camp and played corner, I realized just how good the players were in the NFL. I really enjoyed the CFL. It wasn’t the NFL as far as the top quality of player, but it was very competitive.’’
On coming to Tech and working: “I had gone into private practice and my old position coach Dave Braine, who was the AD at Tech, and I got together for lunch. I happened to mention I was burned out on managed care, and he asked me if I would be the team chiropractor. It has been the greatest job in the world.’’
On how Tech has changed since he played there: “I will just say we pulled out an old program the other day from 1973, and it showed the prices for the concessions and a pack of five cigars sold for 75 cents.’’
On his three brothers also playing college sports: “Everybody played everything, but don’t forget about my sister, Vicky. It wasn’t the thing for girls to play sports back then, but now she is a heck of a tennis player and the best athlete of all of us.’’
On watching his son Kelley break most of his punt return records: “Now that was really cool.’’
On his other son going to the University of Georgia: “I will tell you this (laughing), I charged all of his tuition on a credit card so there were no traces of any canceled checks to the University of Georgia.’’
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