4 Questions with former Valdosta, UGA quarterback Buck Belue

Credit: Photo by Chris McShane (provided by Buck Belue)

Credit: Photo by Chris McShane (provided by Buck Belue)

Today’s interviewee is Buck Belue, sports talk show host for 680 The Fan, quarterback for Georgia’s 1980 national championship team, four-year starting quarterback at Valdosta, inaugural selectee into the new Georgia High School Football Hall of Fame and author of a new book, “Inside The Hedges,” a look at Georgia’s 1980 season and his athletic career. To order a book or get a copy at a book signing, click here. The interview below follows the Four Questions format, plus three bonus questions with Belue’s thoughts on making the Hall of Fame (induction is Oct. 22), his most memorable high school game and how coach Wright Bazemore made him a quarterback.

Buck Belue, former Valdosta, UGA quarterback

1. You’ve been to about 10 cities to sign your book, and you’ve got several more scheduled. What do most people want to talk to you about at these book signings? “One of the motivations for doing the book was to talk about Valdosta High School and the football program through the years, and I’ve had so many people, whether they’re Bulldog fans or not, ask questions about how Valdosta won all those games. The first part of the book is my journey through Valdosta and the secrets to all the winning.

“As a young boy there growing up in Valdosta, we all dreamed of the day we would get to high school and wear that Wildcat uniform and win a state title. We spent so many Friday nights at Cleveland Field, or Bazemore-Hyder Stadium as they call it now, watching them win big. That was the dream of every young athlete in Valdosta, and that dream didn’t go much further than that. It was just playing for the Wildcats. It was so much fun going being part of that atmosphere.” [Belue said the second motivation for writing the book was “bragging on teammates and players at Georgia and Valdosta that didn’t get the credit they deserved. Way too much credit is given to Herschel (Walker) and Lindsay (Scott) and Buck. There were a lot of guys who had a huge impact to the success of those teams.”]

2. At Valdosta, you were heavily influenced by the legendary head coaches – Wright Bazemore (1941-42, 1946-71) and Nick Hyder (1973-95). Bazemore watched you play in youth ball and suggested to the coaches that they move you to quarterback. Hyder became head coach your freshman year. How would you contrast and compare those iconic coaches? “They were very different. With Coach Bazemore, I just looked at him as an innovator offensively. Everybody was running the Wing-T, and he ran the pro set, throwing the ball. He was just so far ahead of his time. But it was more than that. He was going to youth league programs, scouting the local talent. He had everybody running the same offense so that by time you got to middle school and high school, you didn’t have to learn any of it. They were running the same sets and plays. You just looked at Bazemore like Lombardi at the time. You’d see him around town and stop and go ‘wow.’ You’d be in awe.

“With Coach Hyder, you just couldn’t imagine anyone working harder than him to be successful. He was totally unselfish, too. He came in from West Rome with the idea of running the wishbone like he was doing in Rome, and I was coming over for spring football as an eighth grader, and it wasn’t a couple of months later we were back for preseason practice, and he was totally shifted to the Bazemore offense, as we called it. Most coaches are going to take their schemes to the grave, but he learned the new offense and made the change for the team. And I have so many great memories of him taking time to help coach me up. He and his wife had an apartment next to the school, and I would go over to watch film with him. We were in an extra bedroom, and his wife came in a couple of times and told him dinner was ready. She finally came in and dumped it on his lap. That’s when I figured it was time to go.”

3. You also talk about the other coaches at Valdosta, especially Joe Wilson, who later became Lowndes’ head coach and led the Vikings to a 1980 state title, and Jack Rudolph, Valdosta’s longtime defensive mastermind [and father of Georgia Tech and NFL player Coleman Rudolph]. What did those coaches mean to you? “I’m just so thankful my quarterback coach was Joe Wilson. It doesn’t get better than that. I had Jack Rudolph coaching the defense. In practice, it was always the 1s against the 1s. Between plays, we would stand there and listen to Coach Rudolph break down the responsibilities of each defensive player for the play we just ran. I would soak up all this knowledge. Coach Wilson would be saying we can throw to this running back because we’ve got this linebacker on him. I was wise beyond my years because of them. When I got to Georgia, I felt I was way ahead of the curve. I knew coverage, I knew techniques, things that it seemed like these other quarterbacks didn’t understand at the time. I was blessed with this great coaching.” [Belue passed for a state-record 5,214 yards and won two region titles in his four Valdosta seasons. He fell short of a state title when Clarke Central beat Valdosta 16-14 in the 1977 Class 3A championship. Valdosta missed a two-point try in the third quarter and a 31-yard field goal with 1:23 left.]

4. You mentioned that you saw many of the players that were on the Georgia High School Football Hall of Fame ballot or were voted in. Who are some of the great players you saw from your era or before? “Seeing Andy Johnson in 1969 was one of my first recollections of high school football [at the 1969 Class 3A championship game between Athens and Valdosta at Cleveland Field]. My dad and I waited on Athens High to come out of the locker room, and we’re standing by the fence, and my dad is saying, ‘Look, here’s Andy Johnson. You need to watch him tonight,’ and he put on one of the most memorable performances I can remember seeing. [Johnson scored on a 68-yard run on the final play of the first half, then threw a 28-yard TD pass and a two-point conversion in the final seconds for a 26-26 tie.]

“Then, Valdosta was really laying down the hammer in 1971 [winning a national championship in Coach Bazemore’s final season]. I was friends with Coach Wilson’s son, Jody, so I got some behind-the-scenes access to practice and going to the games and seeing the locker room. I remember Stanley Bounds. He was the quarterback, and he went to Ole Miss. That turned on a light for me. You do well at Valdosta High, and you get a shot to play some college ball. Stan Rome was awesome, too. [Rome, a 6-foot-4 tight end, set a national record for receiving yards in a season. He will be inducted with Belue in October.]

“I’ve also got some memories of Coach Hyder trying to turn the program around, and he took me to some playoff games to watch Michael Jolly [the quarterback on Central-Macon’s 1975 Class 3A championship team]. He was the best in the business. I was always a fan of the top players and programs and curious about the way they did it, what scheme they were running. I admired these athletes. Like those Thomasville players [during 1973 and 1974 state championship seasons]. They put it on us my freshman year. They were up 40-0 with 30 seconds left and still giving the ball to William Andrews. I talked with Coach [Jim] Hughes about that later. He sort of chuckled and said there was a lot of built-up frustration over those years of losing to Valdosta, ‘Don’t take it personally’ is what I believe he said.”

Bonus questions:

5. How did Bazemore make a quarterback out of you? “The first time I played quarterback was in the eighth grade. The quarterback thing happened late for me, and it was Wright Bazemore that told the middle school coach to move me to quarterback, so I owe much of my football success to Coach Bazemore for having the insight to get me over to that position. We were playing old youth league football at 9, 10, 11 years old, and we’re playing at about 8 in the morning, and if you look back in the stands, you’d usually see Coach Bazemore watching the games. My thought was that they played in Albany last night and probably got in bed at 3 a.m., and he’s up scouting out the talent in town. We had weight limits, and if you weighed a certain amount, you couldn’t play in the backfield, and I was a bigger kid then. The coach – it was John Lastinger’s dad, as a matter of fact – they installed this tight end-around pass, and I ended up leading the league in passing.” [John Lastinger followed Belue as the starting quarterback at Valdosta and at Georgia.]

6. What was the most memorable high school game that you played? “It was the last one. The dream was to wear that Valdosta uniform and do like every other graduate that came through, and that was win a state championship, and we played Clarke Central in Athens and lost 16-14. We missed a chip-shot field goal that would’ve won the state championship for all of us. We got the ball with about three or four minutes left inside our own 10 and drove down to the 1-yard line with like two seconds left. Billy Henderson [Clarke Central’s coach] called three straight timeouts and iced the kicker. It turned out it was a bad snap from the center and threw off the timing. That was just heart-breaking. That still sort of haunts me even today.”

7. What are your thoughts on making the Georgia High School Football Hall of Fame? “I just think of all the people that helped me get there, as I mentioned, Coach Bazemore, Coach Hyder, Coach Wilson, Coach Rudolph. They just had a huge impact in my career along with all those teammates I played with at Valdosta, many of them deserving of those kinds of honors. I’m just humbled really by it all, just thankful that I was working alongside those coaches and teammates, without whom I wouldn’t be able to enjoy something like this. It’s a good feeling knowing you represent Valdosta. I grew up admiring most of those guys on the list we were voting on. I just take it as a huge honor.”

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