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June 8, 2012

Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Dr. Randy Rhino is no stranger to Halls of Fame.

Georgia Tech football’s only three-time first-team All-American already belongs to the College Football Hall of Fame (Class of 2002), the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame (Class of 1989) and the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame (Class of 1981). Tonight the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame opens its doors to him.

Rhino will be inducted as part of the 2012 class, that also includes Atlanta-area basketball pioneer Jackie Bradford, longtime area broadcaster Bill Hartman, Columbia High School basketball coaching legend and five-time state champion Dr. Phil McCrary and Olympic gold-medalist and five-time world record-holder Mel Pender. The ceremony begins at 7 p.m. at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center.

“It just means you’re very old and getting toward the end when they start putting you in the Hall of Fame,” said Rhino, with a laugh. “But every one has been a very, very high honor, and I’m very humbled by all of them, from Georgia Tech to the College Football Hall of Fame. When you see the other names and stuff, that’s pretty humbling.”

He will join Mark Price (Class of ’11), Bobby Cremins (Class of ’06) and Bobby Dodd (Class of ’05), as Yellow Jackets already in the ASHOF.

“To say the least, I’m very surprised and certainly very honored when you look at the list of guys who are already in it,” he said. “Mark Price went in last year and some great names from Georgia Tech history are already in it. I feel very honored that I’ll be included in that group.”

Being inducted in special groups is not new for Rhino, as his 2002 class into the College Football Hall of Fame included Dan Marino, Reggie White, Ronnie Lott, and Kellen Winslow as well as college coaching greats Carm Cozza and Earle Bruce.

Being unique also is not uncharted waters. He is in a unique group — a group of one, actually — as from 1972 through 74 he was named a first-team All-American as a defensive back/punt returner for the Yellow Jackets. He was consensus selection in 1973. No other Georgia Tech player has ever matched that achievement. Rhino’s not sure there will ever be another.

“I say that’s something that will probably never be equaled and not because there aren’t any great football players, but because now what happens to a kid if he’s an All-American sophomore and junior year, what does he do? He comes out,” he said. “So, you take a guy like Calvin Johnson. Calvin would have been a three-time All-American but he was ready to move on to the next step. Back in the ’70s, you didn’t do that.”

Rhino also did something else at Tech that is something of a vanishing art — he was a first-rate baseball player in addition to starring in football. He left Georgia Tech with a career .368 batting average, hitting a team-high .366 in 1973, and leading the team in triples and stolen bases all three years.

Randy followed in the footsteps of his father Chappell (Class of ’53), who also played baseball and football (under Dodd) and was inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 1974 for his baseball exploits. His brother, Danny, also played football for Tech from 1974 though ’76.

Although he played the same sports as his dad, Randy took a divergent path, carving his niche in football. He left with 749 career punt-return yards, a full 71 ahead of career record holder Jimmy Brown. He is still second all-time, as his son, Kelley shattered his the career mark rushing for 1,135 career yards, almost 30 years after Randy left Georgia Tech.

“During the time that he was getting close, to say the least, his mother was pulling for him. I had my feelings hurt a little bit she was pulling for him so much,” he recalled, with a laugh. “But it was probably one of my greatest thrills seeing him break my records.”

Rhino, whose 14 career interceptions also still rank second all-time in school history, has one accomplishment no one could touch was his nation-leading 17.6 yards per punt return average in 1972.

“I kid people, that year, Johnny Rodgers won the Heisman Trophy and he was a great punt-returner but he didn’t lead the nation in punt returns. I did,” he said. “The 96-yarder against South Carolina (still a school-record), certainly helps your average. So that was a great thrill. That year we had a good football team. That was our Liberty Bowl year.”

After leaving Tech to play professionally for five years, primarily in Canada, he worked his way through Life Chiropractic College and established a practice in 1983. In 2002, he became Georgia Tech Athletics’ official chiropractor, a position he still holds and relishes.

“It has to be the most fun job being able to hang out with student-athletes, and talk to them and listen to them,” he said. “Student-athletes haven’t changed since I was one. They still complain about the same thing — how tough the school is and how busy their schedules are. I keep telling them, ‘You get through this as a student-athlete at a school like Georgia Tech and you graduate from this school you can do anything that you want in the general public.’ I have a tremendous respect for our student-athletes and what they go through here.

“It’s just a great thrill for me to hang with them, to tell you the truth,” he said. “It’s keeping me young.”

Sounds like he’s found perfect antidote for all these Halls of Fame he keeps getting inducted into.

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