Georgia’s Royce Smith Weightlifting Pioneer 1971

In the old days, football coaches didn’t really believe in weightlifting. A majority of them thought that weights added bulk which slowed down their players. I saw a little of that when I was growing up and my high school had those old Universal Weights. I don’t know about other high schools in the middle 1970’s but our ‘weights’, if you even want to call them that, were in the middle of our dressing room. They were set up in one big unit and you moved around in a circle trying to fit a bunch of kids around at the same time.

It was basically a waste of time.

The serious players came in after school when there were only 4 or 5 guys and worked out on their own.

The Universal Weight systems are good as a supplement to free weights, but back then most schools

didn’t even have the free weights. The old style Universals are still used at gyms all across the country and you can use them for arms, back and other body parts. But, they are mixed with so many other weights and machines. But, the 1960’s or 1970’s were the stone age. Today’s high schools have better weight rooms than colleges had back then.

Things were primitive for high school sophomore Royce Smith in Garden City, Georgia back in the 1960’s. If you don’t know where Garden City is, as I didn’t, it’s located right outside of the beautiful southern city of Savannah.

Smith was playing high school football and basketball as a freshman.  A wise man, his football coach Jack Miller, told him to give up basketball and focus on football.

Smith started pumping iron, however primitive it might have been, but he worked hard at it.

Royce Smith played tight end at Garden City and a Georgia Bulldog assistant coach named John Donaldson started showing interest in him.

Bear in mind, that back in those years there were no scholarship limits and you could sign as many recruits as you liked. I remember recruiting classes of about 75 or 100 players. There was no harm in offering a young player if you saw potential in them.

John Donaldson saw something in young Royce Smith that Smith didn’t even know that he had. Donaldson brought head coach Vince Dooley to look at Smith and they signed him.

Royce Smith was now a Georgia Bulldog.

He showed up in Athens, Georgia at 190 pounds and the Georgia coaches thought his best position might be offensive guard. It sounds funny now for a guy that size to be thought of as an offensive linemen.

Back in the 1960’s, it was a totally different ball game. A lot of offensive linemen barely broke the 200 pound barrier which seems incredible considering today’s behemoths that crush the 300 pound mark.

The old saying, ‘he lives in the gym’, definitely applied to Royce Smith. He may have been the first

football player of his kind. The workout warrior that built himself from a guy that was probably not going to be a factor for his football team to a multi-year starter.

Smith started as a sophomore for the Georgia Bulldogs in 1969 on a not so good football team that finished the season with a 5-5-1 record. The following season was not much better with a 5-5 finish. Obviously, there was no internet back in those years, but the grumbling for Vince Dooley’s job must have been intense. I was just a kid back then, but the pressure to win has never changed.

The 1971 season came along and changed all of that.

Vince Dooley was head coach at Georgia from 1964 until 1988 and he led the Bulldogs to a 201-77-10 record. He had some great seasons and some not so great seasons, but he is a legend at Georgia. He won SEC titles in 1966, 1968, 1976 and then the glory years of 1980, 1981 and 1982 with a national title in 1980. Glory years

A large reason for Dooley’s early success was legendary defensive coordinator Erk Russell. In the 17 years as the Bulldogs defensive coordinator, the Bulldog defense shut out the opponents 27 times. 4 of those shutouts happened in the 1971 season.

But, it wasn’t all defense as the offense really clicked that season averaging 30 points per game. That may not sound like that much in today’s game, but in this time period that was really good. Nobody other than the most dedicated of old school Georgia fans have probably ever heard of Georgia quarterbacks that season Andy Johnson and James Ray and their numbers are forgettable.

Leading the way that season was the offensive line which was led by consensus All American offensive guard, Royce Smith.

Yes, that same Royce Smith that was a puny 190 pounds when he arrived in Athens a few years earlier.

In 1971, the kid that thought he wasn’t good enough to play college football was now 6-3, 250 and

was a consensus All American.

That’s credit to much hard work and dedication in the weight room in a time when the majority thought that weightlifting bulked you up too much and slowed you down.

Smith ran a 4.77 40 yard dash at 250 pounds which was quicker than any of the other offensive linemen on the team and was good enough to get him noticed by the NFL. He also set a then Georgia record with a 440 lift in the bench press.

Smith was a 1st round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints. He was never much of a factor in the NFL, but he played there 5 seasons, 2 with the Saints and 3 with the Atlanta Falcons.

Royce Smith passed away in 2004 and is probably not remembered by that many fans. But, he was one of the people that was instrumental in what we do in today’s game. He set the standard and demonstrated what hard work could do.

He was an early weightlifting pioneer in the game of football and should be remembered.

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