Living in Hall County made a tremendous impact on Jerry Paul, even though it was a relatively short chapter in his life.
A three-sport standout at South Hall High in the 1960s, Paul made a lasting impression for being elite at everything he did in sports and in the classroom, but eschewed boasting about his own accomplishments.
Originally from Shawnee, Oklahoma, Paul moved to Flowery Branch when he was 12. He was a star running back, outfielder on the baseball team and sprinter in track and field. So good, in fact, it earned him a football scholarship to play defensive back at Georgia Tech, where he was also relay-team runner for the Yellow Jackets’ track and field program.
After graduating from Georgia Tech, he went on to a long and successful career working for the State of South Carolina in the Governor’s Office and Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Still, those six years living in Northeast Georgia had a lifelong impact on Paul, said Rita Paul, his wife of 27 years.
“The friendships he made with people in Hall County meant so much to Jerry,” Rita said. “He was blessed with athletic ability, and everyone thought so much of him.”
Paul died suddenly May 1 in Columbia, South Carolina. He was 71.
In his honor, the Jerry Paul Memorial Fund has been established through the North Georgia Community Foundation. According to Paul’s widow, it will go back to helping athletes in the area he called home when he was a star athlete, as well as a straight-A student, at South Hall.
Paul’s athletic accomplishments at South Hall knew no bounds. He played all four years on the South Hall varsity football team — an anomaly in his time. As a senior in 1965, he was part of the All-State team and was Back of the Year in his classification.
In track, he was even more versatile, winning the 100- and 200-meter state championships in Class 2A his junior and senior year. He added the broad jump to his list of championships his senior year, which was documented in former Times sports editor Phil Jackson’s Book ‘Cheers and Jeers.’
And in baseball, Paul capped off his career by hitting above .400 his senior year as a fleet-footed outfielder.
However, those closest to Paul pointed out how the local hero was so cordial to others and modest about his athletic prowess.
“Jerry was just so unassuming,” said his South Hall teammate and friend Don Smith. “He was famous here in Hall County, but never let his success get to his head.”
His success at the small high school did not go unnoticed by the biggest college coaches.
Paul, who was geared toward being successful academically, committed to play football for legendary Yellow Jackets coach Bobby Dodd over 32 other Division I football offers, according to his closest friend at South Hall, John Roberts.
Roberts remembers going on a recruiting trip with Paul to Georgia Tech to meet with Dodd. Georgia Tech’s coach came in a conference room and told Paul he’d be an asset to the program. Then, Roberts said, another assistant coach walked in and said there was one more visitor there to meet with Paul.
“A few minutes later (Alabama coach) Bear Bryant came in and introduced himself,” Roberts said. “He told Jerry, ‘I am preparing Alabama to win another national championship and I want you to help me achieve this goal.’
“Jerry (told him), ‘It is a privilege to meet you and I will talk with my by family about your offer.’”
All his friends remember it was Paul’s speed in all the sports he played that made him elite. The offense at South Hall was crafted around getting the ball in the hands of its talented fullback, Roberts said.
In his final year of high school, Paul rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
“We would run that pitch pass to Jerry,” said Roberts. “And if he got a step on a defender, he was gone.”
Then there was the track meet against Gainesville High that Roberts will never forget. Anchoring the 1600-relay team, Paul was 50 yards behind the race leader when he grabbed the baton. By the time he reached the goal line of the football field for the final stretch, Paul was even with the leader. Then when it was all done, Jerry cruised to a win by about 20 yards.
“He could fly,” Roberts said.
Friends will never forget the low-key superstar who excelled at everything he did.
“It just all came natural to Jerry,” Roberts said.