Friday, September 21, 2007

PULPWOOD SMITH, PART ONE from Nov. 2005 by Robert Preston, Jr.

Robert Preston, Jr.

Douglas Daily News

ATLANTA — Football is still Andre "Pulpwood" Smith's life. It always has been, and it always will be. The description given of Pulpwood in his senior yearbook states "Andre centered his career at CHS around athletics."

Pulpwood made no bones about his priorities. He was an athlete first, and school was his ticket to an athletic career. And now, 20 years removed from the spotlight, he is still an athlete. "Pulpwood comes in here and talks football all the time," said a clerk at a Days Inn located near his apartment. "He'll come in the lobby and run plays for us."

Some have argued that he may have been a better baseball player than football player. A quick look at his stats during his junior year shows some staggering numbers: a .590 batting average with 14 home runs, many of those homers hit on the South Georgia College baseball field, which sports a 400-foot centerfield fence. "Man, we used to hit balls in those trees behind that fence," he said during his interview with the DDN.

As good as he was, he wasn't the best baseball player on either the 1981 or 1982 teams. But he still had an opportunity to join a professional baseball team after his senior year. He didn't want to play baseball, instead choosing a football career at the University of Georgia under legendary head coach Vince Dooley.

Georgia was only two years removed from a national championship when Pulpwood joined the team. "Ray Goff was the tight ends coach," said Pulpwood. "He's the one who recruited me. He came to Douglas to get me."

Pulpwood played sporadically in 1983, his freshman year. But the 1984 season was his best — and last — year with the 'Dawgs. That year, he rushed for 665 yards from the fullback position (leading the team), scoring four touchdowns, two of which came against Alabama in front of a national television audience.

Still, though, Pulpwood didn't talk too much about the University of Georgia.

He did talk about scoring touchdowns between the hedges in Sanford Stadium. As he reminisced, he smiled, almost as though he were embarrassed, and said, "It felt good, kind of like when your girlfriend says, 'I love you' for the first time."

What Pulpwood really wanted to talk about were his playing days in Douglas. He didn't recall any specific details about the 1982 season, instead speaking of several different aspects of his senior year. His favorite moment? "Before a pep rally, Kyle Waldron gave a great speech that pumped all of us up." However, he didn't specify the game before which the speech was given, nor did he quote any parts of Waldron's address.

But he did talk about his head coach, Bonwell Royal. "Man, I love Coach Royal. I remember before the playoffs, he said to me, 'Andre, I need you in the playoffs, and I'm going to give you the ball.' He didn't try to take credit for our success. He worked with us and he kept us together," said Smith.

He also remembered that Coach Royal's offseason workouts included a lot of "gator ball," a rather loosely organized form of tackle football in which it was every man for himself. Gator ball was a staple in the P.E. department under Coach Royal. "Coach would get out there and play with us. He'd tackle us himself. Coach Royal was tough."

Pulpwood also said Royal wouldn't hesitate to scold his players when the need arose. "He'd discipline us. He kept me out of the Fitzgerald game once."

He recalled spending time with the families of John and Cleary Tanner, and Ronnie and Malois Anderson. "I love the Tanners and the Andersons," he said. "They used to let me travel to games with them. I remember riding in the Tanners' Winnebago going to baseball games. They let us climb all over that Winnebago. I have friends here in Atlanta who have never ridden in a vehicle like that. And we were riding in one when we were 12 years old."

The primary point of the DDN's interviewing Pulpwood was not to discuss the Trojan Hall of Fame, but it certainly warranted a question or two. Smith knows he isn't in the Hall. "When I first heard about the Hall of Fame, I didn't know how big it was. But I knew that one day, it would come down to me getting in," he said. Pulpwood also seemed largely ignorant of the intensity of the recent Hall of Fame discussions. And why should he know what's going on? He's 200 miles away from Douglas, hasn't been here in three and a half years, and doesn't make a habit of staying in touch with his old friends.

Smith wanted to talk about his two children, a 16-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter. His son is especially interesting. He's a sophomore at Lovejoy High School. "He's a great football player. He plays linebacker and running back, and he's a straight-A student," said Pulpwood.

A quick check with Lovejoy confirmed what Smith said: Such a sophomore does play on Lovejoy's squad. His coach reports that he has dominated at the JV level and has played well at the varsity level. The coach said he could be heavily recruited, particularly if he grows a few more inches.

And his grades are excellent. He also benched over 300 pounds his freshman year. It appears as though he is following in his father's footsteps.

He said his daughter is going to be a track star.

As the interview with Pulpwood drew to a close, one question begged asking: What did Pulpwood regret about the journey that landed him in a small Sandy Springs apartment as opposed to drawing a pension from the NFL?

Answered Pulpwood: "I regret that I'm not a completer. I realize the money I could have made, and the way I could have changed my mother's life."

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