FOOTBALL / GYMNASTICS
Former University of Georgia all-star quarterback Buck Belue and national champion gymnast Heather Stepp McCormick will be inducted into the State of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame Saturday evening during annual ceremonies held in the Macon City Auditorium.
Belue led the Dawgs to the 1980 SEC and national championships while Stepp led the Gym Dawgs to the 1993 national title.
Belue was a winner, leading Georgia to a record of 27-3 in games he started. He came from the high school football hotbed of Valdosta. Dawg fans got their first taste of Belue in 1978. As a true freshman, he came off the bench late in the game to lead Georgia to a dramatic 29-28 come-from-behind victory over arch-rival Georgia Tech on national television.
Over the next three seasons, he led Georgia to two SEC championships (1980 and '81), a national championship in 1980, and earned first team All-SEC honors twice (1980, ‘81).
Belue was probably the most productive quarterback to play under Vince Dooley who coached the Dawgs for 25 years. Following his senior season, Belue was prominent in the Georgia record books. He was second in career pass completions (264), second in career passing yards (3,864), second in career completion percentage (54.6%), and second in career TD passes (32).
While his career was exemplary, he is still most remembered for a single game in his junior season. Dawg fans will certainly never forget November 8, 1980, against Florida in Jacksonville. Georgia, ranked second nationally in the polls and undefeated, had been carried all day by Herschel Walker and a stingy defense, but the Dawgs found themselves down 21-20 with less than two minutes to play. Even worse, the Dawgs were backed up inside their own ten, and Belue was suffering through one of the worst games of his career.
But late in the game on a third and seven from Georgia's own seven-yard line, Belue scrambled out of the pocket, found wide receiver Lindsay Scott going across the middle, and completed what has become a legendary 93-yard TD pass. The improbable touchdown with 1:04 left in the game kept Georgia's undefeated season intact and elevated the Dawgs to the nation's number one ranking over Notre Dame which had been tied earlier the same day. Georgia then defeated Auburn and Georgia Tech to close out the regular season 11-0 and defeated Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to claim the undisputed national title.
He was also an all-star college baseball player being named All-SEC first team as a freshman. That year, he hit .373 and set a Georgia record with 13 home runs. He continued his college baseball career and, as a senior, hit .328 with six home runs and 31 runs-batted-in.
Stepp’s gymnastics career couldn’t have ended any sweeter. In 1993 the native of Mt. Clements, Michigan, led the Gym Dawgs to their third NCAA national team title and the next day she added two more individual NCAA championships to her already impressive resume.
In all, Stepp was one of Georgia’s most decorated gymnasts, winning three individual national titles and two individual SEC titles. At the time of her graduation, she held the school record on every event including the all-around. She was named an All-American a total of nine times.
But it wasn’t the titles that defined Stepp’s career at Georgia. In 1991 she suffered a season-ending elbow injury while warming up on the vault at a meet in Utah. Suzanne Yoculan called it the most serious injury in her first eight years as head coach.
Doctors said Stepp had just a 10 percent chance of regaining normal use in her arm – much less attempting any more gymnastics. It seemed as though her Georgia career was over.
But Stepp proved the doubters wrong. She immediately began the rehabilitation process that lasted all day, every day, for the entire summer of 1991. What started as mobilization and range-of-motion exercises eventually turned into strength and flexibility drills. Somehow it looked as though she would compete again.
As a junior she had arguably her best season. Stepp won the all-around competition in Georgia’s first meet of the year, but that was just the beginning. She was the national vault champion and the national runner-up in the all-around. She was a first-team All-American on three events, won two SEC titles and two NCAA regional titles and was the team MVP. The Honda Sports Awards Program honored Stepp with a unanimous selection for the Inspiration Award, which is presented to a female athlete who shows courage, perseverance and determination in overcoming obstacles to compete athletically.