One of Ga. Tech’s ‘Lost Dodd Boys’ looks back on experience

Published 4:21 pm Friday, August 21, 2015

To say Betty Wallace loves Georgia Tech is to say Romeo loved Juliet or hogs love slop. It is a simple fact. Who else do you know that attended Georgia Tech football games for some 80 years —that’s not a misprint — and was a season ticket holder for Tech basketball for decades until the practicality of age made her realize she could root just as hard from home as she did on site. And she does.

Betty Wallace is one of my most faithful readers and doesn’t hesitate to tell me or anyone else what she thinks. And what she thinks is that it is time I wrote something nice about Georgia Tech instead of always picking on her beloved Yellow Jackets. Can I take a hint? When it comes to Ms. Wallace, you bet your silver britches I can. It won’t be easy but it will be much easier than telling her “no.”

Looking for something nice to say about Georgia Tech led me to Marietta in search of one of the “Lost Dodd Boys” — the last group of high school seniors to sign with Georgia Tech football coach Bobby Dodd, but who would never play a down for him.

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Steve Norris is the owner of Long Life Strategies, LLC, and a certified advisor on senior living and long-term care issues, specializing in helping people with their long-term care costs. In 1966, he was a quarterback at Marietta High School. And not just any quarterback. He was a high school All-American, Class AAA Back of the Year in Georgia and highly recruited by a number of colleges.

“I considered going to Auburn,” he says. “My dad and Coach Shug Jordan had been classmates at Auburn and were close friends. I also thought about playing for Vince Dooley at Georgia.” But his dream was to play for Bobby Dodd, the renowned coach at Georgia Tech. “I wanted to be the next great Georgia Tech quarterback,” Norris says, “but most of all, I wanted to play for Coach Dodd.”

The high school star signed his Letter of Intent with Georgia Tech, having been assured by Dodd that he would be there throughout Norris’ career. But Dodd announced in February 1967 that he was retiring as head football coach for health reasons — he was diagnosed with kidney and prostate problems. He would remain as athletic director until 1976. Dodd died in 1988.

“In those days, if you signed a Letter of Intent to go to a particular school, that was it,” Norris said. “There was no changing your mind. I was stuck.”

Therefore, Norris, the outstanding high school quarterback who had high hopes of playing for Bobby Dodd and becoming Georgia Tech’s next great quarterback, found himself suiting up for Dodd’s successor, Bud Carson, a hard-nosed, defensive-minded coach who seemed determined to do everything differently than had his legendary predecessor.

Dodd won 165 games in 22 years. Carson’s five-year record was 25-25 and he would be the first Tech football coach to be fired.

For Norris, what had been a dream turned into a nightmare. He says, “I was moved to running back, then to defensive back and finally to tight end.”

Norris says he became a tight end after an assistant coach told him to run as fast as he could for 10 yards and then toward the sidelines and catch a pass. He did. “I couldn’t block a sheet of paper and suddenly I was a tight end,” he chuckles. He was to catch 25 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns at Georgia Tech. Not what a high school All-American quarterback had in mind when he signed on.

Norris passed up his final year of eligibility, graduated with a management degree and worked for Proctor & Gamble for five years before coming home to Marietta to start his insurance business.

Is he bitter at how things turned out at Tech? “No,” he says firmly, “That experience taught me a discipline I might not have learned otherwise. Things don’t always turn out the way you plan but you keep on moving forward. It was a valuable lesson.”

Steve Norris may not have had the stellar college football career he envisioned but he persevered and today is a respected businessman and doting grandfather. That’s even better.

And to think: Had it not been for Betty Wallace’s marching orders, I would have missed the opportunity to hear the story of the “Lost Dodd Boys.” The things I do for my readers.