Friday, September 14, 2012 - by B.B. Branton
Leon Hardeman was “too short” according to Georgia football coach Wally Butts who passed on offering a scholarship to the north Georgia prep sensation.
Ga. Tech coach Bobby Dodd saw something coach Butts didn’t and later would say Hardeman was the best runner to ever play at Ga. Tech’s Grant Field.
In 1948, West Point (Ga.) high school head coach Carlton Lewis described Hardeman as the best he ever saw.
West Point was 13-0 and state champs that season and escaped with a 19-18 win (most points scored that season by an opponent) over LaFayette and Hardeman in the regional finals.
At 5-8, Hardeman wore a 42 size jacket, had a 31-inch waist and could run with the best of them.
All-city and all-state in high school – he played at Trion, Lafayette and Baylor School (1946-49) – Hardeman was a two-time All-American, rushed for 1,790 career yards and was the 1953 Sugar Bowl MVP for coach Dodd’s Ramblin’ Wreck Yellow Jackets.
“Leon had great balance, could cut on a dime and used his blockers well,” said Dick Inman who was Hardeman’s teammate at LaFayette HS and roommate at Ga.
The 1952 season was special as Tech was crowned national champs (12-0 and Sugar Bowl champs) by the International News Service, had an unheard of six All-Americans, beat two bowl game winners and three top-20 teams.
Honored This Weekend: Hardeman and Dick Inman and other members of the SEC champion ’51 and ’52 Ga. Tech squads will be honored Saturday at halftime of the Tech-Virginia game at Bobby Dodd Stadium. (3:30 p.m., ESPNU)
On Friday afternoon, a ceremony on campus will be held to unveil a Bobby Dodd statue.
“We had a really good teams in 1951 and ‘52 and it will be good to see some of my teammates this weekend,” said Hardeman whose Lafayette HS jersey number is retired.
“We played several tough opponents in those years, but to beat Georgia was a high point since they were our biggest rival,” stated Hardeman who helped beat the Bulldogs three straight years.
He was so revered in LaFayette that many football fans would either attend Tech home games in Atlanta on many a fall Saturday afternoon or listen to the games on the radio. One sports writer suggested the town name be changed to Hardemanville.
A couple of high school highlights showed Hardeman scoring the winning touchdown against Rossville and future Ga. Tech teammate Pete Brown in 1948 and scoring three touchdowns in his final high school game for Baylor in 1949.
In the Rossville win, the Ramblers orchestrated an 80-yard scoring drive in the second quarter for what proved to be the winning touchdown. Hardeman accounted for all 80 yards in the rain on runs of 40, 30 and finally 10 yards to reach the end zone.
LaFayette High School did not have a 12th grade in the late 1940s so after their junior year, students had to attend other schools for the final year. Hardeman played one year (1948-49) for Baylor, was school athlete of the year and earned all-state honors.
Ga. Tech Football, 1951-52 … 23-0-1 (11-0-1, 12-0-0) … tied Duke, 14-14, in 1951 … beat Baylor in the 1952 Orange Bowl and beat Ole Miss in the 1953 Sugar Bowl.
1952 All-Americans (6): Pete Brown (center, Rossville HS), Leon Hardeman (running back), Buck Martin (end), Hal Miller (tackle). Bobby Moorhead (def. back), George Morris (linebacker).
Leon Hardeman Honors
Halls of Fame (4); City of Chattanooga, Baylor School, Ga. Tech, state of Georgia
Jersey Retired: LaFayette High School
High School: All-City, All-State
College: All-SEC, Two-time All-American
College: led Ga. Tech to three bowl wins (1951-52-53), three wins against rival Georgia and was voted 1953 Sugar Bowl MVP.
Baseball: Played high school, college and semi-pro
Military: Inman and Hardeman faced each other as opposing U.S. Army coaches in the service football playoffs in Germany in the mid-1950s ... Hardeman’s team won that game in the quarterfinals in 1955, but lost in the semis … Inman’s team also lost in the semis in 1956.
Contact B.B. Branton at William.firstname.lastname@example.org