Sports Columns

September 7, 2013

Loran Smith: Gamecocks brought best out of Jones

Professionally, William E. Jones, who played rover for the University of Georgia football team from 1984 to 1988, has gone green. That’s understandable. As the executive director of Augusta National Golf Club, the green at the Masters dominates his life at the office — but in truth every fiber in his body is red and black.

Jones remembers seeing his first game between the hedges when he was 5. He was consumed by Georgia and the traditions with which the school has been long identified, from the chapel bell to Tanyard Creek to the Arch to the hedges of Sanford Stadium.

Today, with his eminent success with one of the most storied sports institutions on the planet, Jones has had an exposure to the world that few of his classmates will ever experience. However, the ultimate thrill for him is that he can say — with deep and abiding emotion — that playing between the hedges and lettering four years for the Bulldogs continues to warm his heart each passing year. He also holds that it was a high honor to have played for Vince Dooley.

Jones grew to be tall, which when combined with his enduring passion for football made it natural that he would give the game a try. Growing up in McDonough, 30 miles south of Atlanta, his parents enrolled him at Woodward Academy, the highly regarded private school near the Atlanta airport.

He always had a keen desire to play football, and he became the beneficiary of a special opportunity at Woodward, playing for Graham Hixon, one of the most highly regarded coaches in Georgia high school history.

Jones did more than excel in football, though. His leadership skills were evident early on when he captained the football team twice and the basketball teams three times, and he was the consummate all-around student. He was vice president of the student body and won the school’s president’s award his senior year for “Best All-Around Student.” With this precocious young man, you could say, “Where there’s a Will, there’s a way.”

Interestingly, Jones usually played some of his best games against South Carolina, never with any clairvoyance that he might wind up living in Augusta and participating in the Border Bash, a locally promoted event with golf, parties and the underscoring of the rivalry between the two state universities whose geography is divided by the Savannah River.

During Jones’ senior season of 1987, the Bulldogs topped South Carolina in a 13-6 nail-biter. The visitors kicked two field goals but never crossed the goal line.

Richard Tardits, the Frenchman who owes his Georgia football experience to an Augusta connection — Biarritz native Edouard Servy, a doctor who settled in Augusta — had one of his finest days as a Bulldog. He made seven tackles, caused two interceptions, forced three bad passes, caused a fumble, and twice sacked Gamecocks quarterback Todd Ellis for a loss of 17 yards total. Late in the game with everything still in doubt, he tipped a Todd Ellis pass, which Jones intercepted to seal the victory.

Never in this ancient series had the Georgia defense risen to the occasion with greater achievement.

Jones modestly gives credit to his height — 6 feet, 3 inches — for his success on the play.

“Myles Smith, John Brantley and I went for the ball, and my height enabled me to get to it,” he said with a laugh.

It was the case of a Frenchman (Tardits), an Englishman (Smith), a Floridian (Brantley) and a dyed-in-the-wood Bulldog (Jones) saving the day for Georgia.

Earlier in the game, Jones came up with a sparkling play that may have been more important than the interception. The Gamecocks began a drive early in the fourth quarter on their 34-yard line and had driven to the Bulldogs’ 2, but Jones stripped the ball away from the back as he was stopped at the line of scrimmage. The Bulldogs recovered and eventually gained field position as the defense won the day.

In that Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jones was credited with eight tackles and several assists, a high moment for someone who was motivated by love of the game and alma mater.

Few Georgia football lettermen have appreciated their scholarship and time between the hedges more than Jones.

Someday, his epitaph should read, “He was a damn good Dawg.”

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.

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