Sep 1, 2013
By Jon Cooper
It’s been more than 30 years since a member of Billy Williamson’s 1962 graduating class has been inducted into the Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame.
That’s a long time — long enough for Williamson to have moved on from realistically thinking about gaining admission into the exclusive club into which 10 of his teammates are already enshrined.
But there is no statute of limitations on greatness and worthiness to be inducted into the Hall and on Oct. 18, Williamson, the captain of the 1961 Yellow Jacket football team, a two-time All-SEC halfback, an all-conference shortstop and, after college an Army Ranger, will be rewarded for his as he’ll take his place in the Hall.
“I really didn’t think about it because I never thought it would happen,” said Williamson, 75, who will be presented by his last teammate to be inducted, former tailback Taz Anderson. “After 31 years, and 10 other teammates that are in and some of the great ones — Maxie Baughan, Billy Shaw, who is the only Georgia Tech guy in Canton, Ohio, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — it was a shock and something I didn’t expect, not at this age and not after 31 years.”
His worthiness to be in the Hall of Fame should come as no shock.
Williamson is a throwback to a time when players routinely played both sides of the ball, including special teams — that was after their freshman year, as freshmen were ineligible. It was something he and his brother, Wally, who would become a much-decorated star at Georgia, learned in high school at Gables under Coach Nick Kotys and which Billy brought to The Flats for coaching legend Bobby Dodd.
From 1959 through ’61, he was as reliable a ball-carrier at halfback as Coach Dodd had. He led the team in all-purpose yards, punt return and kickoff return yards in both 1960 and ’61, while also leading the team in interceptions in 1959 and receiving in ’61. A two-time All-American (second team in ’60, third team in ’61), his 12.3 yards per punt return average ranks ninth all-time in school history, while his 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on Nov. 5, 1960 against Tennessee is tied for 11th-longest in Tech history — it had been in the top 10 until Jamal Golden’s two KOR TDs last season bumped him down.
Williamson saved the best for his senior year. The team’s captain, he helped the team to a 7-4 record, a decisive 22-7 win over UGA, a Gator Bowl berth and a final No. 13 ranking.
His play led Dodd to refer to him as one of the two best backs he ever coached.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Williamson. “I knew I had a good career but to be compared with Paul Rotenberry, Coach Dodd had never made that statement before.”
Williamson called playing at Georgia Tech and for Coach Dodd was a privilege, but one that the Hall of Fame coach always kept in perspective in relation to academics.
“Coach Dodd is a special person in my memory. Not because of football, but the things that he taught you,” he said. “He taught you to really enjoy football without manhandling you.
“Coach Dodd always said, ‘You can stay here as long as you want but you will graduate.’ We had guys that I played with, it took them seven years on full scholarship,” he added. “Coach Dodd promised parents, ‘Your son WILL get an education here unless you quit. You can stay here as long as you graduate.'”
Williamson not only excelled in the classroom and on the gridiron, but also on the diamond, playing baseball, which he called “his first love.” A shortstop for the Yellow Jackets, under Roy Mundorff, he was named All-SEC in 1961, after leading the team in triples, home runs, runs scored, runs batted in and tied for stolen bases. He tied for the lead in steals with the legendary, Roger Kaiser, to whom Williamson referred as “Big Rog.”
Pro baseball had the inside track on Williamson coming out of high school, where he teamed with legendary Baltimore Orioles slugger “Boog” Powell. The New York Giants approached Williamson and, he believes, they were poised to select him within the top 12-to-15 picks. But his father insisted on his son getting an education vs. starting professionally at Double-A. The senior Williamson’s choice turned his son’s focus to football. That decision came down to a choice between Georgia Tech and the Naval Academy.
Tech offered a first-rate education and the opportunity to play for Coach Dodd. The Navy insisted he go to Columbia Military Academy, a prep school, to raise his grades. And while he would have been teammates with 1963 Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach, Williamson chose Tech and Dodd.
That decision felt right, as Williamson felt right at home.
“It was like one big happy family,” he recalled. “At Georgia Tech everybody knew everybody. The football guys rooted for the baseball guys, the baseball guys rooted for the basketball guys. All the football players, at the old coliseum, would be right behind the bench, rooting on Roger [Kaiser] and all the other guys we had, like a big family. We used to get so rowdy Coach Dodd had to call us in one time and wanted us to quiet down a little.”
Williamson received ROTC training while at Tech, and upon graduation, joined the Army, where he attended Ranger School and Jump School. He served as a Ranger, then, once his two year commitment expired got his first coaching job, serving as Freshman Coach for Dodd.
He would expand his coaching resume to include stints as an assistant at East Tennessee State then Colorado, before coming back home in 1968 — 10 years after he first arrived in Atlanta — serving as coach of the defense for Bud Carson from 1968-71.
When Carson and his staff were replaced following the ’71 season, Williamson went into business for himself, establishing Wall Systems, a successful company that built several high-rises, including Post Chastain in the metro-Atlanta area, where he stayed until his retirement in 2003.
He still lives in Atlanta with Sandra, his wife of 49 years, and stays active, as an avid golfer. He expects a nice turnout for the Hall of Fame banquet, including Sandra, his son, his daughter and her three children, Wally, and his sister.
Williamson also is looking forward to catching up with many of his Georgia Tech family who also will be in attendance.
“We have like 10 or 15 tables reserved. We’re such a close bunch. The bond is so tight in that group,” he said. “Coach Dodd said on at least three or four occasions, ‘Billy, your group is the best I’ve ever had.’ These are the groups that are going to show up for my induction and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Billy Williamson will be inducted along with six other former student-athletes on Friday, Oct. 18, at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. Tickets for the induction dinner are $50 and can be purchased through the Alexander-Tharpe Fund at 404-894-6124. The inductees will also be honored during Tech’s football game against Syracuse on Saturday, Oct. 19, at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
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