Originally created 12/30/98

Page became a center convert



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Football centers aren't born, they're molded. They're formed from necessity, in weight rooms and training tables across college campuses.

Centers are usually the last position filled, like right field in little league. Why? Because kids dream of stardom, of glory and headlines and touchdown dances. How many Pop Warner players crave becoming the center of attention, squatting like Mike Webster or Dwight Stephenson?

Count Georgia Tech's Craig Page, the latest in what is becoming a long line of All-American centers, among those who scoffed at the offensive line position. Notice the past tense of scoff.

"I can remember watching the offensive line mess up in high school and saying `How hard can this be?' " Page said as the Jackets prepare for Friday's Gator Bowl game against Notre Dame.

"Boy, what a goof I was."

That's because Page, recruited as a defensive lineman from Jupiter, Fla., became a center convert. Literally.

His life is one about constant environmental change, whether it be living in two countries and seven states as a son of an Air Force pilot, or attending two high schools, or starting his football career at Louisville before transferring to Tech.

It would be no surprise that Page changed positions, too. Defensive pass rusher to offensive blockhead.

"I was on the scout team, going up against (All-American) Michael Cheever each day in practice, and I gained a new found respect for what the center is responsible for," Page said.

"I just wanted to play, and when Mike graduated, we needed someone to take over at center. It was hard, no doubt. You tend to get beat up more on offense than defense. You get slapped. You get kicked. You get spit on. I know all the tricks. Defensive guys show no mercy. At least I get to touch the ball each play."

Page starts his 35th consecutive and final Tech game Friday, and the change has reaped a stream of decorations.

First-team All-ACC. Jacobs Award, given to the ACC's top blocker as voted by the league's defensive coordinators. Then he became the first Tech blocker to be an Outland Trophy finalist.

"He knows what to expect from defensive lineman because that's what he was bred to be," offensive line coach Doug Marrone said. "He had to adjust to a new spot, but mostly it was improving technique and terminology. But Craig's a smart guy. It didn't take him long."

Not long to entrench himself in Tech's annals. Even if it's not at the position he started at.

What makes him such a punishing blocker? Most cite his strength -- Page earned strongest Jacket honors by bench pressing 225 pounds 39 times, and by squatting an astounding 670 pounds.

"He gives you a good feeling being behind him," quarterback Joe Hamilton said. "I know Craig's not going to be beat. I know he's going to be there for us leading the way."

Page isn't the weight room freak that once carried him through ever-changing scenes. Whether he lived in Germany, in Kansas, Alabama, Alaska, Texas or Florida, he's always had his weights with him, the one friend that wouldn't leave him.

"It's probably the best thing I'm at because I've been lifting since forever," the 6-2, 300-pound Page said. "No matter what side of the ball you play on, you need all the upper body strength you can get."

"You can't move him," defensive lineman Jesse Tarplin said.

Page's courtship with Tech started when then-defensive coordinator George O'Leary had offered him a scholarship. When Bill Lewis was hired, he didn't honor the commitment and Page ended at Louisville with hard feelings.

Page returned when O'Leary did. A center in tackle's body.

Center of attention

Georgia Tech has had 45 first-team All-Americans on at least one nationally recognized All-America team. The center position has more honors than any other, with nine first-team choices. The list:

Player//Year//Comment

Bum Day//1918//Walter Camp All-American

Peter Pund//1928//Augustan named top Tech center 1920-44

Paul Duke//1946//Captain of coach Bobby Dodd's first team in '45

Pete Brown//1952//Played on national championship team

Larry Morris//1953//Member of College Hall of Fame

Don Stephenson/'56-57//One of 5 multi-year Tech All-Americans

Maxie Baughn//1959//Top NFL linebacker in '60s, '70s

Jim Breland//1966//Also Academic All-American

Craig Page//1998//Ex-defensive lineman converted to offense

Sports columnist Rick Dorsey can be reached at (706) 823-3219 or rdorsey@augustachronicle.com.