Bobby Pope

Ham latest Macon product to kick for Georgia

Bobby Pope
Bobby Pope wmarshall@macon.com

With the college football season past the midway point, the Georgia Bulldogs have, for the moment at least, settled on redshirt freshman Rodrigo Blankenship as their place-kicker.

He has been in that role for the past four games and apparently will handle the duties this weekend in Jacksonville, Florida, when Georgia faces Florida. Former Stratford standout William Ham had the place-kicking responsibilities in the first three games, going a perfect 10-for-10 in extra-point attempts, including the game-winner in a 28-27 victory over Missouri, and 3-for-7 in field goal tries.

Blankenship is 11-for-11 on extra points and 4-for-5 on field goals, including a 3-for-3 day against Vanderbilt in the Bulldogs’ 17-16 loss Oct. 15. Georgia is now 7-of-12 on field goals this season. Last year, the Bulldogs made 18-of-25 attempts.

Ham is not the first player from a Macon high school who has been a place-kicker for the Bulldogs. The legendary Vernon “Catfish” Smith, a Lanier graduate, kicked 43 extra points and one field goal for the Poets between 1925 and 1927.

He went on to gain All-America status at UGA and is best known for scoring all 15 points in a 15-0 win over Yale during his sophomore season in the dedication game for Sanford Stadium in 1929. He fell on a blocked punt in the end zone for one score, caught a touchdown pass for another, tackled a Yale player in the end zone for a safety and kicked one extra point.

That extra point was one of 28 he made during his Georgia career, which included two drop-kick conversions. Yale and Georgia played 11 times between 1923 and 1934 with the only game played in Athens being the stadium dedication.

Smith and his Bulldogs teammates never lost to Yale, then a national power, during his time at UGA. His extra points against NYU in 1930 and 1931 provided the margin of victory in a pair of 7-6 wins. After college, Smith coached at Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi before embarking on a military career, spending 22 years in the Army Air Force before retiring as a Colonel in 1963.

He passed away at age 80 in 1988. He is one of 13 former Georgia players elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Another Lanier graduate, Jim McCullough, was the Bulldogs’ place-kicker from 1967 through 1969 and earned All-SEC honors in 1968, the first Georgia kicker to garner that recognition. Playing for Jim Nolan at Lanier, McCullough was an offensive and defensive tackle, and he also punted and was the team’s place-kicker.

In his senior season, Lanier’s offense was shutout in six of 10 games games and scored just 69 points with McCullough making 7-of-10 extra points. He went on to Georgia as a walk-on and earned a scholarship between his freshman and sophomore years.

In his debut game against Mississippi State in 1967, he set a then-Georgia record for a place-kicker by scoring 12 points, going 3-for-3 on extra points 3-for-3 on field goals in a 30-0 win. That game was played before a then-record crowd at Sanford Stadium of 54,512.

His most memorable kick came against the explosive Houston Cougars in 1968 when he connected on a 38-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs a tie at 10. Houston, with its vaunted veer offense, outgained Georgia that day 532-276.

For his career, McCullough made 84 extra points and 22 field goals while leading Georgia in scoring three consecutive years. After graduating from Georgia, McCullough worked in sales in the food industry. He resides in Grayson.

McCullough came from a line of kickers. His father J.C. “Nip” McCullough was Lanier’s place-kicker and a starting end in the early 1930s and was a member of the program’s 1931 state championship team. He went on to a 30-year military career before moving back to Macon when Jim was a seventh-grader.

Jim’s older brother Bill, who was born in Macon but played his high school football in Oklahoma when his father was stationed in that state, was Georgia’s place-kicker in 1962 and 1963 for head coach Johnny Griffith. Bill went on to have a 44-year coaching career with stops at Lanier, Mark Smith, Cedar Shoals, Hart County and Woodward Academy where he spent his final 24 years as an assistant. He lives in Newnan.

Smith and the McCullough kickers were all of the straight-on variety. Hungarian Pete Gogalak introduced pro football to the soccer style in the mid-1960s, and that concept eventually made its way to the high school and college game.

Kim Braswell, who followed McCullough as Georgia’s place-kicker, and Steve Crumley, who had the job from 1985 through 1988 are the only straight-on kickers for the Bulldogs since McCullough.

Contact Bobby Pope at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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