Have you ever seen a Bulldog ready for his meat/Well to try to hold him back is a near impossible feat/It'll do your spirit good when you see that Bulldog might/But jump to your feet when you see those bulldogs bite. . . -- Georgia theme song, "Bulldog Bite"
Every time freshman tailback Herschel Walker breaks off a long run or charges for one of his frequent touchdowns for the University of Georgia, Sanford Stadium erupts and the faithful step into the aisles and dance and sing the "Bulldog Bite."
There's been a lot of dancing and partying after Georgia games this year because the Bulldogs, with Walker leading the way, are 5-0 and figure to remain undefeated after Saturday's home game against lowly Vanderbilt (0-5). Walker was probably the most widely recruited high school player in the nation last year, gaining 3,167 yards and scoring 45 touchdowns -- in one season.
But it is difficult to tell which Herschel Walker is more impressive: the one who stands 6 feet 2, weighs 220 pounds and runs the 100 in 9.5 seconds, or the articulate, prelaw-criminology double major who demonstrates that not all college football players register for snap courses.
Walker takes his football and his studies seriously. On the field, he has surpassed the expectations of everyone, including himself and Bulldog Coach Vince Dooley, by leading the Southeastern Conference in rushing for the first four weeks of the season with 463 yards and five touchdowns on 88 carries. A tender ankle has restricted Walker's playing time the last two weeks but the injury is not serious.
He says he expects to be just as successful in the classroom, having earned straight As through high school. He was not at all hesitant recently to politely end an interview because it was time for a study session. Walker wouldn't even sign his letter of intent to enroll at Georgia until he had finished a term paper.
"College athletics doesn't mean any-story about Walker's upcoming signing thing without academic dedication," he said.
"I thought it would be the sixth game before I played this well," Walker said after his third game, the second in which he rushed for more than 100 yards. "I'm from a small school (Class A, Johnson County High in Georgia) and I thought the adjustment period to a program the size of Georgia's would be pretty difficult for me. I've been pretty pleased and surprised with the way it's turned out."
Walker's Georgia teammates were just as surprised during the second quarter of a season-opening victory over Tennessee when the freshman entered the game as a substitute and ran the ball 24 times for 85 yards and two touchdowns. The run that still has Bulldog fans raving was a 16-yard touchdown dash on which Walker ran over or through six Volunteer defenders. The visiting Georgia spectators immediately hit the aisles for a quick turn of the "Bulldog Bite."
"My approach at the beginning of the year was that if Herschel could help us by the end of the year, I'd be happy," Dooley said. "But after the first week of practice, I said if he could help us sooner I'd be happy. But by the Tennessee game, I knew he could help us immediately.
"He didn't miss any practice sessions and is an extremely hard worker," Dooley continued. "And he's been fortunate to never have been injured. The temptation is to hand the ball to Herschel on almost every down. But as the tailback in our I-formation, he's going to get 25 to 30 carries per game, anyway."
Walker shredded defenses at Texas A&M and Clemson for 145 and 121 yards, respectively. He gained 69 yards on nine carries in the first quarter last week against Texas Christian before Dooley sat him down for the rest of the game as a precaution against a previously sprained ankle.
Walker already has shown a penchant for the big play, breaking off runs of 20, 41 and 76 yards this season."However, it's still early in the season and we have a lot of good backs," Walker said. "There's no telling when I'll be back on the bench. One slip and I could be on the bench at any time."
Walker is one of six children. His father works as a supervisor in a chalk mine, his mother as a supervisor in a garment factory. He says his first love is track (Walker will sprint for Georgia's track team this spring) but peer pressure in tiny Wrightsville, Ga., forced him into the Pop Warner football program as a child. He went on from there to rush for more than 6,000 yards in high school and was named to just about every prep all-America team in the nation.
The ensuing race to recruit Walker set off rumors around the state. The local newspspers carried stories daily on whether Southern California, Clemson, Alabama or Georgia would successfully woo him.
The best one had John Robinson (the name of the USC coach) checking into an Atlanta hotel in preparation for driving to Athens the next morning to sign Walker to a Trojan scholarship. Getting wind of such information, one Atlanta paper reasoned the head coach of the nation's premiere football program wouldn't have come all the way from Los Angeles if he wasn't certain about signing the star tailback. So the paper called the hotel and asked if John Robinson were registered.
Sure enough Robinson was registered but had checked out and headed for Athens. The paper ran a huge exclusive with Robinson -- John Robinson of Huntsville, Ala.
Other rumors had Walker receiving as bribes horses, female entertainment, personal visits from former USC tailback O. J. Simpson and a black trans am, which according to the story, had to be donated by Georgia because the Bulldog colors are red and black.
Walker's mother said she could tell the recruiting pressure was getting to her son because for the first time in his 18 years he began to talk in his sleep.
But Walker and his parents weathered the storm. They even said some of it was fun. Walker said he chose Georgia because, "I figured I'm from Georgia so I ought to play for a school here in my home state."
Said Dooley, "Herschel is such a likable fellow. He was trying to please everybody during the recruiting stage. And you just can't do that in choosing a school.
"But he had more reasons to come here than anybody who's ever been to Georgia. He's from a totally Georgia town. His sister (a track star) is a sophomore here. What he wanted academically was here. And it is very important that his mommy and daddy see him play football."
The modest Walker would rather talk about his academic exploits than his on-the-field skills, and says, "I play to satisfy my coaches and teammates. I'm grateful to the offensive line for taking me in -- a freshman -- as a member of their family."
"It's easy to take him in," says Dooley, who admits he is looking forward to a Nov. 1 showdown with South Carolina and its Heisman Trophy candidate, tailback George Rogers.
"If a coach could draw up the kind of kid he wanted on his team, that kid would be Herschel Walker," Dooley continued. "The last thing he is is a prima donna. He's still learning and developing his own style. The most impressive thing is all this attention hasn't changed him a bit. Still as down to earth as ever.
"All he has to do (to become a truly great back) is keep the same size helmet and follow a normal course of improvement."
If he does, they'll be doing the "Bulldog Bite" from Augusta to Plains.