Terry Hoage's Improbable Journey from Smallish Georgia Recruit to HOF

Tony Barnhart

Editor's Note: Nov. 6 marks the 150th anniversary of the first college football game ever played —Princeton at Rutgers in 1869. This week, four TMG sportswriters, with 150 years of newspaper experience, offer their regional reflections on the the sport they’ve long covered and loved.

It was the Spring of 1980 and the University of Georgia had put the finishing touches on what it believed was one of its best recruiting classes ever. For on Easter Sunday, after a highly publicized recruiting battle, Herschel Walker, a future Hall of Famer, signed with Vince Dooley’s Bulldogs.

The rest is history. In Walker’s three years at Georgia the Bulldogs would go 33-3 with three SEC championships and one national championship. In 1982 Walker would win the Heisman Trophy. He became the greatest player in Georgia history and one of the best ever in the sport.

But there is a little-known footnote to the Georgia signing class of 1980.

“We signed the most highly-recruited player in college football,” Dooley, the Hall of Fame Coach, said. “But we also signed the least-recruited player in the country.”

He was Terry Hoage of Huntsville, Tex., a smallish defensive back with a great mind. In fact, when no Division I teams offered him a scholarship, Hoage planned to enroll at the University of Texas and begin preparations to attend medical school.

“Football was fun but it just wasn’t something I was going to chase in my life,” said Hoage.

But Dooley still had some scholarships left and sent his coaches back on the road looking for good players with strong academic credentials to round out the roster. They remembered Hoage, who always seemed to be at the right place at the right time when he was on the field. Georgia offered him a scholarship.

“It was an easy decision and the best decision I ever made,” said Hoage. “I packed up my truck and headed to Athens.”

And thus began one of the most improbable journeys ever to the College Football Hall of Fame. Terry Hoage played four years at Georgia, where he was a two-time All-American, a two-time Academic All-American, and finished fifth for the Heisman Trophy in 1983. In 2000 Hoage was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

“I’ve said it on many occasions,” said Dooley, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994. “Terry Hoage is the greatest defensive player I have ever coached and may be the best I have ever seen.”

It didn’t start out that way for Hoage as a freshman in 1980. He played on the scout team and did not see any game action. Georgia finished the regular season 11-0 and ranked No. 1. A win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl would give the Bulldogs the national championship.

On a December practice dedicated to special teams, Hoage was put on the unit charged with blocking kicks. Hoage blocked two field goal attempts in that practice. Dooley and his staff added Hoage to the travel squad for the Sugar Bowl.

Notre Dame led 3-0 in the game when Harry Oliver attempted another field goal. Hoage blocked it.

The blocked kick energized Georgia which went on to win 17-10. Walker rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns despite playing with a dislocated shoulder.

The next season Hoage was moved to a “rover” position, which is a hybrid defensive back-linebacker. It took advantage of Hoage’s innate sense of always being around the ball.

But everything did not go smoothly for Hoage at Georgia. In the spring of 1982, with so much of his time being consumed by football, he wondered if he wanted to keep playing. He got through spring practice but considered not coming back for the 1982 season.

He eventually did decide to come back and Georgia was glad he did. That season Hoage led the nation in interceptions with 12 as the Bulldogs won another SEC championship and lost to Penn State for the national championship.

And when he left Georgia after the 1983 season, Hoage had been a part of the school’s best four-year run (43-4-1, three SEC championships, 1 national championship) in history.

“I’m just grateful that I was part of all the things that senior class accomplished,” said Hoage. “It was a very special time.”

Hoage never considered playing professional football.

“I couldn’t tell you who was in what division in the NFL. I didn’t follow it,” said Hoage.

But when the New Orleans Saints chose Hoage in the third round of the 1984 NFL Draft, he thought he would try to make the team.

“I just wanted to make a little money to help pay for medical school,” Hoage said.

Terry Hoage played in the National Football League for 13 seasons.

“Believe me. I was as surprised as anybody,” he said.

When his playing days were over Hoage and his wife, Jennifer, purchased a 26-acre vineyard near Paso Robles, Calif. Today TH Estate Wines has visitors and customers from all over the world.

Other than following his beloved Georgia Bulldogs, Terry Hoage says he knows little about college football.

“I root for Georgia but I really don’t follow any sports. Saturday is a busy day around here,” said Hoage, now 57.

But Hoage says he does recognize—and appreciate—everything that football and the University of Georgia did for him. He still stays in touch with Dooley. On Sept. 7 Hoage went back to Athens when the field at Sanford Stadium was named in honor of the coach who took a chance and offered him a scholarship 39 years ago.

“Georgia gave me the chance to get a college education and the opportunity to play in the pros,” said Hoage. “The amazing thing now is that I’ve been in the wine business (17 years) as long as I played football. I am very grateful for that.”

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