Not being one that has much interest in following the crowd, I have been a Tech fan for as long as I remember. The only real reason I can find for that is that Daddy was a Tech fan. As for why, I don’t really know. That’s another one of those questions I never got around to asking.
I remember a Saturday in the fall of 1980 that I was at Lake Lanier with friends. In addition to doing things we probably shouldn’t have been doing, we were listening to a football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Tennessee Volunteers.
We had a special interest in the game because one of Cherokee’s own was the starting tailback for the Bulldogs. His name is Donnie McMickens.
Although he was a few years older than me, Donnie and I went to elementary school together at North Canton. He was a product of North Canton and a product of Cherokee High School. This means he was coached by Danny Tippens in elementary school and Danny Cronic in high school.
Head Coach Danny Cronic spoke at a Rotary meeting just before Reinhardt University’s inaugural season. He said during his talk that if players didn’t want to hear about God and doing the right thing, then Reinhardt wasn’t the place for them.
It’s a private school. He can say that. But even when he taught at Cherokee, I have no doubt he got the same message across.
The values Donnie learned from these two men no doubt played a part in how he handled himself in the fall of 1980.
At some time during the first half, Coach Dooley gave Donnie a break and inserted another running back. The running back’s name was Hershel Walker. By the second half of the game, Walker had become the new starting tailback of the Bulldogs and Donnie’s future seemed uncertain.
How unlucky can you get? The coach gives you a breather and replaces you with a future Heisman Trophy winner.
This had to be devastating to the former North Canton Tiger and Cherokee Warrior. This would be a test of his character as a human being. So how did Donnie handle it?
Bulldog reporter Loran Smith wrote a piece about Donnie McMickens and how he handled this adversity. He titled it, “McMickens Turned a Lemon into Lemonade.”
In his article he quoted Donnie several times. Donnie’s statements didn’t deny it was painful in the beginning. But he talked more about how much he wanted to be a part of the team. He praised Walker’s ability and understood he had been replaced by a phenomenal athlete.
Donnie could have quit. He could have taken on a sour attitude. But he didn’t.
He went on to become captain of Special Teams for the 1980 National Champion Georgia Bulldogs. He is quoted in Smith’s article saying he has no regrets and is thankful for being able to be a part of that special team. He even said that after the initial shock wore off he thought back to his high school days at Cherokee when he played offense and defense for Coach Cronic.
There is no doubt many would have quit had they encountered the same obstacle. Others would have transferred so they could be the star. But that wasn’t what was in the heart of Donnie McMickens.
He came from humble beginnings like most of us life-long Cherokee residents. He went to an elementary school that taught morals and values above everything else. He went to a high school that continued teaching the same.
Donnie’s football career kicked off with the North Canton Elementary Turkey Bowl, followed by four years starring at Cherokee High, and ending with a National Championship ring with the Georgia Bulldogs.
But of all he accomplished, nothing was greater than how Donnie represented Cherokee County in the face of despair.
Had it not been for his local mentors, he might have made different decisions. But he made us proud.
I can’t help but think that when he was replaced, he could hear both of them telling him to do the right thing. And he did.
Chris Collett is a lifelong resident of Cherokee County.