Feb. 10, 2015
In celebration of Black History Month, RamblinWreck.com will highlight several African-American athletes that left their mark on Georgia Tech athletics. Our first profile feature is Eddie McAshan, who became the first African-American football player to start for the Yellow Jackets as well as the first African-American starting quarterback for a major Southeastern university.
By Chris Yandle
Communications & Public Relations
Twenty-three years after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, Eddie McAshan initiated the integration of Georgia Tech football.
McAshan, the first African-American quarterback to play for the predominately white Gainesville (Fla.) High School football team in the late 1960s, caught the eye of Georgia Tech head coach Bud Carson. That would be the first of many historic moments and records in McAshan’s career.
When McAshan arrived on The Flats in 1969, no African-American had worn the white and gold. He became a trail blazer for future Yellow Jackets players. But, McAshan’s historical trail would have to wait for a year. Back then, freshmen were not allowed to play varsity football per NCAA rules. Freshmen would have to start their college careers on freshman teams so that they could adjust to college sports and academics. The NCAA wouldn’t make freshmen eligible to play until 1972.
As a sophomore in 1970, McAshan would cement his name in college football history when Carson made him the first African-American to start at quarterback for a major Southeastern university. Perhaps more significant, he became first African-American to play and start for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
He made history on Sept. 12, 1970, when – in his first game – he rallied Georgia Tech from a fourth-quarter deficit with two late touchdown drives to defeat South Carolina, 23-20. A month later, McAshan graced the cover of JET magazine.
He led the Jackets to a 9-3 record and a Sun Bowl win as a sophomore in 1970.
He would throw 32 touchdowns in his career, which ranks fifth in Georgia Tech history. He also ranks seventh in school history with 4,080 passing yards. His most notable single-game performance came in 1972 vs. Rice when he threw five touchdowns…but also threw five interceptions in a 36-36 tie in Atlanta. He finished with a 22-13-1 record as a starter.
While at Georgia Tech, he broke 17 records – many of which were later broken by Shawn Jones and Joe Hamilton. McAshan would be the last African-American starting quarterback at Georgia Tech until Shawn Jones in 1989. The next year, Jones led the Yellow Jackets to their fourth national championship.
McAshan was the first African-American student-athlete on scholarship at Georgia Tech. The first African-American walk-on football player at Tech was DB/KR Karl “Pee Wee” Barnes, who lettered in 1971 and 1972. The second scholarship player was Atlanta running back Greg Horne and the third was linebacker Joe Harris, who enjoyed a long NFL career.
McAshan had a brief, injury-riddled professional football career. He was drafted by the New England Patriots in 1973 (17th round, 420th overall pick), but he was cut. He then signed to play with the Jacksonville Sharks of the World Football League.
Once his football career was over, McAshan returned to Georgia Tech and completed his degree in industrial management, graduating from the Institute in 1979. He was inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.
It all started with Eddie McAshan in 1970. It took 17 years after his final snap, but the Shawn Jones (1989-92) would follow, and Donnie Davis (1992-95) would follow Jones. Then, it was Joe Hamilton’s (1996-99) turn. Four years later, it was Reggie Ball (2003-06). Then, Josh Nesbitt (2008-10), Tevin Washington (2010-12), Vad Lee (2013), and now Justin Thomas (2014-).
Before McAshan, no African-American football players adorned Georgia Tech’s record books. But now when you flip through the annals of Tech’s greatest quarterbacks, you can see the trail Eddie created.
Eddie McAshan is currently the Director of Major Gifts and Planned Giving for the Life Foundation, which established Life University that was founded by another Georgia Tech football great, Sid Williams. Dr. Williams was a standout on the Georgia Tech teams of the early 1950s under legendary head coach Bobby Dodd.