Small, the 12th overall pick in the draft, played three seasons with the Falcons and two with the Detroit Lions, but it was his work off the field that he was most proud of, according to a profile by The Augusta Chronicle in 2003.
He and his wife, Lucia, raised a family of four, but Small found time to speak at schools and hospitals. He started a ministry program to help troubled youth and founded JKS Team Inc., a company that uses faith-based principles to serve others. He was passionate about getting community leaders to work together to help youths.
“They can help a kid find his way in life,” he said in the 2003 article.
He hoped to get the CSRA Sports Hall of Fame & Museum running to reach out to students and give them opportunities.
“The best athletes aren’t going to college,” he said. “They’re not passing the tests. My mission is to get resources so they can make better grades. I want to sell them on their dreams.”
Small moved to Augusta in the early ’60s when his father was stationed at Fort Gordon. Already a decent baseball player, Small played organized football for the first time at Langford Junior High,
At Richmond Academy, Small was No. 22 until his friend and teammate, Billy Leister, was killed in an accident. Small then switched his number to 66.
Small was courted by many big schools, including the University of Georgia. He opted for The Citadel, a military college in Charleston, S.C..
“I didn’t want to sell my flesh to any school,” Small said. “The Citadel offered me four years of academics.”
He graduated with a degree in physical education and became a consensus All-American. The Citadel retired his jersey in 2003.
Citadel athletics director Les Robinson told The Chronicle in 2003 that Small made his mark on the field and off.
“John brought as much recognition to The Citadel as any athlete did in history during his athletic career as a Bulldog,” Robinson said. “John was a great leader not only on the football field but in the barracks as a member of the Corps of Cadets.”