By Robert Alan Richardson sports writer
When you talk about the greatest running backs to grace the red and black, you have to put Ricky White into the conversation. The 57 year old 1976 graduate was the leading rusher on one of the few undefeated teams during the regular season in school history and his numbers and honors don’t lie. His speed and elusiveness along with the talent-laden team he played on place him high on the list of tailbacks that have played for the Morgan County Bulldogs. The juniors’ accomplishments during the 1974 season include: First team all-state at running back in Class A as he rushed for more than 1400 yards, Named Northeast Georgia Player of the year by the Athens Banner-Herald, and would have been elected as a high school all American by High School All Americans publication had he been a senior (only about 1 percent of all high school football players nationwide make the cut for this list), and was voted MVP for that year’s team. That’s pretty gaudy stuff.
Ricky Cochran, who was the quarterback on that team, commented on his teammate, “There aren’t too many MCHS runners that can claim to have scored a touchdown in every game of the season, but here’s what makes it even more special. We only scored one touchdown in four of those 10 games. I remember Ricky as a quiet guy and an extremely hard worker at practice. He was a good teammate, but I’ve always kidded and joked with him that he wouldn’t have gained a yard if I hadn’t handed the ball off to him.”
When White was asked about doing this article, he didn’t hesitate to agree and I can see why. The conversation started with his earliest days as a Dog, “I dressed out in two games my freshman year under Coach Kelly Sargent and only played in one, but my sophomore year I was the backup to George Hunter until he got hurt and I started the last eight games. I don’t recall exactly, but I believe it was about 600+ yards (He was most valuable back that year). Of course my junior year was my best year on a great team when I gained over 1400 yards and scored 14 touchdowns in the regular season.” White’s performance on that 1974 team launched his career into high gear with major NCAA division I teams vying for his services including Georgia, Clemson, University of Tennessee Chattanooga, and Florida State in the chase. Unfortunately for White a broken wrist his senior year would derail his hopes of playing in Division I. However, after coming back from the injury, he rushed for 700 yards in the final three contests.
When Ricky was asked about some of his fondest memories of the 1974 season he mentioned a couple, “In the game against Oglethorpe I had hurt my toe that previous week against Washington-Wilkes and didn’t start. Coach (Wayne) Bradshaw told me before the game that I wasn’t going to play unless the team really needed me. At halftime the score was 6-0 and he came to me on the sideline and said, ‘my man, you got to go In the fourth quarter with about 3-4 minutes to go, Bradshaw told me, ‘we’re going to give you the ball on every play’ and he did. We went the length of the field in 20 plays with me carrying the ball every time and scored from the six yard line with 31 seconds left in the game. I’ll never forget that play with Big Fred Adams opening up a big hole for me to run through to win the game 7-6.”
Another favorite he mentioned was another 7-6 win against Greene County in the final game of the season where he sprinted 24 yards to pay dirt in the third quarter for Morgan’s only touchdown of the game. White carried the load in this game as well with 170 yards on 28 carries to become only the fifth team in school history to go unbeaten and untied in the regular season. White told a touching story concerning one of his middle school teachers, Mrs. Hilda Corry. “I owe Mrs. Corry a lot. I was put into a C group which was the lowest group, but after a few weeks she said that I didn’t belong in that group and moved me up into an A group. After that I missed one question on a test and she kept me after class to ask me why I missed the question. I told her I didn’t know so she asked me to read the question on the board, but I couldn’t. She told me that I couldn’t see, sent a note home to my Mom, and I got glasses. I really didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I did later on in life. Those were life-changing events for me. I’ll never forget it.”
He was not only a tailback but also returned punts and kickoffs and started at strong safety on the defensive side. When asked who he would like to thank for doing the dirty work in the trenches and blocking for him he laughed and said, “That’s a good question. I’ll probably leave somebody out, but there were a lot of them. Fullback Steve Jewell (deceased), Leo Laborn, Lee Ruark (deceased), Mike Ellis, David Eaton (deceased), Tony Harrison, Larry Carter, Aaron Carter, Freddie Adams, Eddie Mathis, Albert Whitaker, Ronnie Jordan, Ricky Cochran, Darryl Malcolm, and Hal Ruark were essential to any success I had. Jewell was a punishing blocker at fullback, Darryl was so big but you knew he was the best friend you could ever have and always looked out for me, and even quarterback Ricky Cochran would mix it up if he had to.” White was highly complementary of the receiving corps noting, “Guys like Aaron Carter took great pride in blocking for me. They knew if they did their job, I was gonna make something happen. That gives you pride in running hard for them and the entire team.” He also gave his quarterbacks some accolades, “Ricky was a leader that did what he had to do to win ballgames. He’s like a modern day Russell Wilson, without the speed, that just got the job done. Mark Walters was our quarterback my sophomore year and was an exceptional QB and athlete.”
When the region championship game against Harlem was mentioned, you could tell that it wasn’t a very good memory for him. “The penetration rule was one of the craziest rules ever put in by the GHSA. The game was tied 0-0 so we went into overtime. The rule stated that if the game was still tied after overtime, the team with the deepest offensive penetration would win the game so they beat us 1-0 based on the rule. I’ve always felt that if we had stayed with the old Southern Cal student body right and left we could have scored. I was so close to popping it the four or five times we ran it, but we went away from it as the game went on. Both teams had great defenses and it’s a shame that anybody had to lose in a game like that, but it is what it is. You learn from your losses probably more than wins and you don’t want to make the same mistakes again.”
His college career choices changed after the injury his senior year with most D-1 schools backing off except for Clemson and the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, but would only offer a partial scholarship. It was then that Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina came knocking on his door with a full scholarship offer that he took. White tells about the experience, “The funny part is my tryout at Catawba. Coach Bradshaw took me to the tryout and when we got there he asked Coach Murphy where I should change. Murphy took one look at me and said ‘he doesn’t. I can tell a guy can run when he’s a little bowlegged and has thighs like he’s got’.” He offered me a full scholarship on the spot without ever seeing me play. I didn’t have to pay a dime to go to college.” White mentioned that when he attended Catawba there were only 8 blacks out of 135 on the team, but today the number is up to 85. In his inaugural season at Catawba, he told this story. “In the first game of the year I carried the ball only two times with gains of 80 and 50 yards before I got hurt. All the coaches and players kidded me that I was the leading back in the nation with a 65 yards per carry average. It was pretty funny.”
During his junior year White became only the third runner in school history to gain over 1000 yards in a single season even though he sat out the last game with cracked ribs. He gave some final thoughts about his college experience, “I learned a lot about running wiser and how to block the 270 pound tackles out of the wishbone. People don’t realize that even though it was NAIA at the time (Div. 2 today), there were some great football players at that level. We got to travel to different states around the country, eat out, and stay at a lot of hotels. I really loved the college life and being looked at by pro scouts. It was a great experience for me.” Ricky White was truly one of Morgan’s finest. Thanks to Alvin Richardson and his book “It’s a Dawg’s Life” for some of the information included in this article. Thanks also to Gina Hicks Bridges for providing the photos of White and Cochran.