It took Terry Hoage's teammates at Georgia more than a year to figure out that he wasn't out-and-out strange. Just very, very unusual.
First of all, what was a Texan doing on scholarship in Athens, Ga.? More suspicious was the news that Hoage finished his freshman year with a 3.75 grade average—in genetics. And, besides, if a guy's that smart, he shouldn't be as quiet as Hoage was. Nobody saw much of him in the TV room of the jock dorm, and when he did show up, he was always asking whether anybody would mind turning off the sports and putting on M*A*S*H or Hill Street Blues. You bet they minded. Next thing you know this guy was going to start tracking down Reese's Pieces instead of split ends.
It might have helped Hoage's teammates to understand him if they had known that he'd been taking college classes since ninth grade; that his father, Terrell, is a biology professor who spent as much time helping Terry understand polysaccharides as he did preparing him for Punt, Pass and Kick competition; and that the younger Hoage came to Georgia to prove that he's as big-time on the field as in the classroom.
"By the end of my senior year in high school, where I was a strong safety/quarterback, not a single major college had offered me a scholarship to play football," says Hoage, a 6'3", 196-pounder from Huntsville, Texas. " Columbia, Furman and my hometown school, Sam Houston State, were interested, but I wanted to play 70,000-people-in-the-stands kind of football or none at all. I'd just made up my mind to go to Texas and study premed—no walking on in football—when Georgia got a tip from an alumnus who's head of the political science department at Sam Houston and offered me a scholarship. At first, I was stuck on the specialty teams here. I spent my whole freshman year visualizing a blocked field goal, because I knew I needed to impress the coaches some way."
Hoage got his big chance against Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 1980 season. On that New Year's night with the Irish leading 3-0, he came flying out of nowhere to block a field goal, thus helping Georgia win the game and the national championship. Now, in his junior year, Hoage has emerged as the nation's leading pass interceptor and as a spark plug for the Bulldogs' sometimes sputtering offense.
Hoage has 10 interceptions, putting him within reach of the NCAA single-season record of 14 set by Al Worley of Washington in 1968. But that mark may not be broken if opponents continue to do as Kentucky did in Georgia's 27-14 victory Saturday night, which ran the Dogs' record to 7-0; the Wildcats paid Hoage the ultimate compliment of not throwing a single pass to his side of the field. "We have great respect for him," said Kentucky Coach Jerry Claiborne, "and we didn't want to add to his total."
Until the Kentucky game, Hoage had intercepted at least one pass in every game this season and was so brilliant in Georgia's 27-13 victory over Vanderbilt on Oct. 16—intercepting three passes to set up 17 Bulldog points—that afterward, when Coach Vince Dooley came over to shake Hoage's hand in the dressing room, the entire Georgia team gave him a standing ovation. That's a tribute previously granted only to Bulldog Tailback Herschel Walker.
"I can't explain why everything is going so right all of a sudden," says Hoage. "I started seven games at roverback as a sophomore and never touched a pass, let alone intercepted one."
Hoage was overlooked by most college recruiters because he doesn't have the sprinter's speed necessary to go stride for stride with today's offensive backs and wide receivers. He's a throwback to the defensive-back-as-centerfielder type, to someone like Jake Scott, a Georgia All-America (1968) and a four-time All-Pro with the Miami Dolphins whose school record for interceptions has been tied by Hoage.
No matter how you clock him in a straight line—4.75 in the 40—Hoage has been galloping all over the field this year. He leads the Dogs' defensive unit in practically every category: tackles (77), tackles for a loss (8), passes broken up (9) and fumbles caused (3). Within a three-minute period against Mississippi State he blocked an extra point and knocked down a two-point conversion pass.