Nov. 7, 2009
by Matt Winkeljohn, Managing Editor
OSR Sting EXTRA
ATLANTA – Craig Page wanted to be a Yellow Jacket, thought it was a done deal, and then was told there was no room for him on The Flats. So he went elsewhere.
It was to say the least an inauspicious first step – and not the only one — on a path that led to the former All-America center’s induction last night in the Georgia Tech Athletic Hall of Fame.
When Page graduated from Jupiter (Fla.) High and went to become a rarely-used defensive lineman at Louisville, you could find no odds that he would one day be the literal man in the middle for the Jackets when they snapped a seven-game losing streak to Georgia in 1998, the same year they won an ACC title.
“I wanted to go, and I had a scholarship offer, but it was rescinded,” said Page, who entered the Hall Friday with his battery-mate, former Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton, and four others.”And when coach [George] O’Leary was hired [late in 1994, when his interim status became permanent], that was the main thing that attracted me.”
The path would be choppy again before smoothing out.
Page, who majored in history at Tech, had to sit out the ’95 season as per NCAA transfer rules. He toiled that fall on the scout team defensive line, where he worked frequently against Tech co-captain Michael Cheever.
“I learned so much from him in terms of leverage, footwork, and technique,” Page said. “He was a great center, much better than me, and would probably still be in the NFL if not for a serious back injury.”
Page was disappointed, but not surprised, when sometime between the fall of ’95 and the spring of ’96 O’Leary told him he ought to consider switching to center. The prospect of competing for immediate playing time at a spot where Cheever and his backup had both been seniors, appealed. He made the move.
Well, that worked out quite nicely, not that it should have come as a surprise. Tech centers have long made a mark.
The Jackets have had a center earn all-conference recognition 31 times, dating back to 1916, when Pup Phillips took Southern Conference honors. Ten times Tech has sent up first-team All-America players at the position, Page being most recent in ’98, A.M. “Bum” Day being first in 1918.
Three — Peter Pund (1926-’28), Larry Morris (’51-’54) and Maxie Baughan (’57-’59) are in the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame.
Page was first team All-ACC as a senior, when he also was first-team All-America, an Outland Award finalist and winner of the national Jacobs Blocking Trophy.
He’s the 16th former center to land in Tech’s Hall of Fame.
After building records of 5-6 in ’96 and 6-5 in ’97, the Jackets took off behind the offense of coordinator Ralph Friedgen with Hamilton running the show.
“It was such a joy watching film the day after the game and seeing what Joe had been doing behind me,” Page said. “I was jealous when I left because Joe had one more year, and another center [Noah King] got to work with him.”
Hamilton racked up big numbers in ’98 (and ’99), and Page took great pride in quarterbacking the line front of him. His sense of self was well boosted, for a while.
Despite all the awards, and Tech’s 10-2 record his season year, Page was not drafted. He made the Tennessee Titans’ roster anyway, was in Nashville for about two years, then in Dallas for a brief time, and went to camp with the Atlanta Falcons before his NFL career ended.
“You always wonder if you’re good enough, and you win all the awards and you think you’re going to have a 10-year NFL career,” he said. “But then you see how important the players around you are, and that makes me appreciate Joe and my teammates at Tech that much more. I wasn’t good enough [to last in the NFL].”
So Page returned to Tech, finished his undergraduate degree, and became a graduate assistant on Chan Gailey’s staff. Football might have become his life, but, “I met my future wife [Tammy], and we started talking about a family, and football didn’t mesh,” he said, knowing the hours invested would be many.
Now in medical sales, Page lives in Smyrna with his wife, 2-year-old son Owen, and six-week-old daughter Marissa. He attends nearly every Tech home game, tries to make one road game a year, and thoroughly enjoys tailgating.
He’s loving this weekend, as his parents will be there when he and five other inductees are honored today in Bobby Dodd Stadium. His older brother, who lives in Texas and was something of an idol as Page grew up, is in town, and so are his two sisters, who live in Texas and Florida.
Page will have a hard time surpassing certain memories of his playing days at Tech.
His senior season was wonderful, ending with a 35-28 win over Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl. But if you give him 10 seconds to filter his entire college career down to one singular moment that is burned on his brain, you won’t be surprised at his answer.
Remember that seven-game losing streak to Georgia? Pages does.
“It probably would be beating Georgia [21-19 in Athens] on Brad Chambers’ field goal [in ’98]” he said. “I remember I tried not to look up at the kick. After the game, it was great. Everybody was going to get a piece of the bushes, and I went and got mine. Most guys were just getting like a branch [off the Sanford Stadium hedges].
“And my roommate, [former defensive lineman] Nate Stimson, he was practically de-rooting an entire bush. I’ll never forget that.”