The more devout Georgia Tech fan knows that this season marks the 70th anniversary of Clint Castleberry’s single glorious season as a Yellow Jacket, when he finished third in Heisman Trophy balloting (the highest by a freshman to that point) and led the Jackets to a 9-2 season for coach William Alexander. Castleberry went off to fight in World War II, never to return. His No. 19 is the only football jersey that Tech has retired.
His story is told with expertise and detail by Tech grad Bill Chastain in “Jackrabbit,” available here. It has been a great history lesson not just about Castleberry but also about Alexander, Bobby Dodd and the city of Atlanta in that era.
Bill was good enough to answer a few questions for the blog about the book. For those interested in Tech’s football history and Castleberry specifically, this is a terrific read.
1. How does a Tech grad end up in writing?
Like a lot of college students, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I graduated with an Industrial Management degree in 1979. I always figured that I would graduate, make money and be happy. But that wasn’t enough. I had always been an avid reader, a sports fan, and I liked to write, which prompted me to begin writing articles for local publications as a free-lance writer. I was hooked. Eventually I parlayed the articles in the local publications into articles in national publications and that led to full-time work as a sports writer with The Tampa Tribune. After leaving the Tribune I began to write books and I continued to do so after I began covering the Tampa Bay Rays for MLB.com.
2. What were your reasons for working on this book?
Growing up in a Tech household, I had always heard about Clint Castleberry from my father. Once I became a sportswriter I wanted to know more about the only player in Tech history to have his number retired. Unfortunately, save for a handful of articles that had been written over the years, I couldn’t find out much about him. So I decided to write the book and find out as much as I could on my own about Castleberry. The book actually had been scheduled to come out four years ago, but the first publisher ended up having financial problems and there were some problems with contract the second publisher offered me. Fortunately, in 2011 I found a home for the book.
3. What were some of your most useful resources?
Many of those who played with Castleberry had died, but I was able to locate some who knew him in high school and in college. Their interviews were invaluable, as was the interview with Charley Trippi and many interviews with Catleberry’s widow. The Georgia Tech Department of Living History was unbelievable, especially its director, Marilyn Somers. And, obviously, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was invaluable. I enjoyed the research process, particularly the days when I uncovered a jewel or two that enhanced the story. Those were the good days.
4. What did you learn about Clint Castleberry that you did not expect?
I wasn’t exactly surprised to find out he was a gym rat. This guy loved sports and was a talented athlete in football, basketball, and baseball. He loved to compete and he was a winner. Learning about his days at Boys High was not only fascinating, but it was also something I did not expect. I had no idea that the Atlanta-based high school was a national powerhouse that traveled all over the country to play games. And Castleberry dominated in those games.
5. What was the reaction when his plane disappeared?
Total shock. His father never get over his son’s death and many believed that he somehow had found a way to survive. Some figured he would turn up as a survivor on a distant island. Castleberry was so revered that Bobby Dodd kept his framed picture in his office until he retired.
6. What might the course of his life had been had he returned from war?
I don’t know whether he could have returned to the playing field or not based on the knee injury he sustained. During my research, there was no way of finding out the extent of his injury or whether he truly got the injured knee repaired. Arthroscopic surgery was farther away at the time than walking on the moon. Based on some of what I learned about Castleberry, I believe he would have become a high school football coach and lived a happy life while doing so.
7. If you could ask him one question, what would it be and why?
I think I would ask him if he would have continued playing upon his return. There is nothing sadder in sports than wondering what might have been.
8. Is there a Tech player, past or present, that, either by virtue of his playing ability or character, that reminds you in some way of him?
I did not know Joe Hamilton, but I watched most of his games. In hindsight, some of what I observed about Hamilton reminded me of Castleberry. “Little Joe” was the smallest player on the field, but he tilted the field in favor of the Jackets every game he played. That’s Castleberry to a T.
You can learn more about Bill on his website here. You can also purchase his novel, Peachtree Corvette Club, which is set at Tech.
Thanks for reading.