December 11, 2012

Citadel Athletic Hall of Famer John Small Passes Away at Age 66

John Small, one of the true legends of Citadel football, passed away Monday afternoon at the age of 66. Small enjoyed a decorated career from 1967-69, including first team All-America honors from The Sporting News, Time Magazine and the Newspaper Enterprise Association his senior season following honorable mention All-America accolades the previous two years.

Small was a recipient of The Palmetto Award, the highest award given by The Citadel, in 1970. He was selected in the first round of the 1970 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons and also played with the Detroit Lions during his professional career. He was a member of the inaugural class of The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame in 1977 and was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame in 1988, the same year he was on the first team defense as part of the Southern Conference's 75th Anniversary team.

Following is a tribute to Small by Citadel Associate Athletic Director Andy Solomon.

A Salute to John Small 

By Andy Solomon

Perhaps the best example I can come up with – as far as athletic, on-field talent is concerned – is the University of South Carolina's all-everything defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.  That is probably the only way football fans of today can relate to John Small.

Like Clowney, Small dominated the line of scrimmage.  While offensive linemen consistently double-teamed him, Small played the game "large and in charge" as if he was a grown man challenged by young boys.  He was that good, and he showed it more than 40 years ago on the emerald green grass of historic Johnson Hagood Stadium and throughout the Southern Conference.

We still make reference to his domination on the field.

John Small, the living legend who battled multiple health issues for more than half his life, passed away around 3:45 p.m. Monday at age 66 in his adopted home of Augusta, Ga.  The emails and tributes started flowing later that day, and they will continue.

Many of us have memories of huge No. 66 dominating those lines of scrimmage.  Whether we were in the stands, press box or even on the sideline as his teammates, he consistently impressed us with his play on the field.

But there was clearly another side to John Small.

"John brought as much recognition to The Citadel as any athlete did in history during his athletic career as a Bulldog," said then-Director of Athletics Les Robinson when The Citadel retired Small's jersey No. 66 during a halftime ceremony in 2003.  "John was a great leader not only on the football field but in the barracks as a member of the Corps of Cadets."

We rarely hear about the combination of athletic dominance and leadership in the Corps.  But that was John Small.

Stories abound about Small – who clearly was misnamed – as a member of the Corps, and the terms I recall hearing range from and included "fear" to "respect," which is truly similar to what his reputation was on the field.

"John Small was a tremendous person both on and off the field," said Lt Gen John Rosa.  "As a knob, I ran the scout team and watched John practice every day — what an athlete!  After his playing days, he dedicated his life to helping those in need.  Each time he returned to campus, he would stop by and share all the great things he was doing to improve the lives of others.  I will miss big No. 66."

As a local kid who attended Citadel games, I remember when John Small played.  I recall being in awe at the first meeting I had with him shortly after I started working here in 1991.  I remember the first time he telephoned me.

I was honored to be in his presence.  And that's what he presented, a sheer presence.

He had that flair that when he walked into a room, people would notice.  He was among the first in my world to have "charisma."

John always talked about helping get the "blue-chip" recruit to come to The Citadel.  He never held back.  He was certainly a "giver."  Big No. 66 loved this school so much that his pride kept bubbling over.  He was proudly tied to The Citadel.

And we, as an institution, proudly reciprocated.  John was a member of the inaugural class of The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame in 1977, and joined legends like Cecil Johnson (Class of 1911), Richard King (Class of 1929), W.F. "Gunner" Ohlandt (Class of 1951), Paul Maguire (Class of 1960) and Coach W.L. "Matty" Matthews (Honorary).

John was also a proud member of the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame and rarely missed an induction ceremony that was held in Columbia, even when he was in a wheelchair.

This past September 29, The Citadel enshrined five new members into our Hall of Fame and, once again, John returned.  As I recall, during the "Parade of Bulldog Greats," in which past inductees are introduced, walk through the audience and are greeted at the podium by Gen. Rosa, Small, who had already lost one foot to diabetes, was wheeled in and greeted warmly by the General, his old friend and teammate.  Prior to the embrace, the audience provided Small with the only standing ovation of the night.  

And he was simply returning for the event, as he has done for many years.

Our fans … they don't forget.

We had nearly 400 people in the Courvoisie Room that night, and we inducted five new members into the Hall of Fame.  Everyone graciously applauded the new honorees and those participating in the "Parade of Bulldog Greats."

But only one person got a standing ovation -- John Small.

We had no idea it would be the last time we'd see him.

But Big John Small will always be a large part of Citadel athletic lore.  He'll be a huge part of our history, as we were to his.

While Mr. Clowney may rival John Small for his on-field gift, perhaps he could learn a thing or two from the life and times of John Small.

We all can.

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