First Black scholarship athlete at Tech

Photo by Blake Israel

Over 50 years ago, a freshman from Gainesville, Florida came to Tech’s campus as the first Black scholarship athlete for the Tech football team. Eddie McAshan was a star in both football and basketball in high school and picked Tech over FSU and Miami as a highly recruited prospect. He holds a spot on the top ten of nearly every passing statistic in Tech’s record books and led the varsity team during the 1970-72 seasons.

McAshan’s first action on the Flats came on the freshman team, called the Baby Jackets and often referred to as the Frogs, in 1969. In his first action during Tech’s then-annual White and Gold intrasquad game, he stood out as a strong player and future Jacket star. The Technique notes him following the game, saying, “Let’s talk about Eddie McAshan, the cool, slick freshman from Gainesville, Florida, who took his rookie teammates on two superb scoring drives.”

McAshan was an immediate name to know on campus, and his freshman team coaches had plenty of praise for him. Dick Bestwick, the Baby Jackets’ coach in McAshan’s time, praised him early in the season, saying, “McAshan is one of the finest football players I’ve coached. He has a good football mind.”

Injuries marred part of McAshan’s freshman season, but his play stood out to coaches and fans alike. Bob Wallace, another of his coaches, showered him in praise during the season, saying, “Eddie McAshan is not this entire freshman team by a long shot. But he is the catalyst as well as a lot of other things. He is the leader with the expressionless face and the squeaky voice. He is a winner and he has always been one.”

Eddie’s success in his first year earned him a spot on the varsity team the next fall. He became the first Black quarterback to start for a major southern university when he led Tech to a 23-20 comeback win over South Carolina in 1970, cementing himself as one of Tech’s stars. Bud Carson, Tech’s head coach during McAshan’s first two seasons on varsity, detailed the scale of the win, saying, “McAshan, working under one of the most difficult starting situations that has ever faced a college quarterback, played a
tremendous game.”

Paul Dietzel became one of many opposing coaches to recognize McAshan’s talent when he echoed Carson’s sentiment after the game, saying, “McAshan’s going to be a great quarterback.”

McAshan indeed was a great quarterback, leading to comparisons to other great college quarterbacks at the time. Archie Manning was in his third year as a superstar quarterback at Ole Miss, and to the Technique at the time, McAshan was Tech’s version of Manning. During the 1970 season, one writer notes, “The offense…has begun to jell, and much of the credit must go to soft-spoken Eddie McAshan, Tech’s answer to Archie Manning.”

Tech would go 9-3 with a Sun Bowl win over Texas Tech in McAshan’s first season, finishing at No. 13 in the AP Poll. It was Tech’s first season finishing ranked in four years and their first bowl win since 1965.

The next season started off slowly, with a 1-2 record after three games. Against Clemson though, the team pulled off a rivalry win against Clemson on McAshan’s steady play. Coach Carson again praised him after the game, saying, “I’d also have to say that this was Eddie’s best game. He ran the club today and really proved that he can do it all. He forced Clemson’s defense. He ran the option much better today.”

Again sitting one game below .500 later in the season, Tech shutout Duke in Atlanta while McAshan piloted the offense to its third best scoring total of the season thus far. Duke coach Mike McGee acknowledged McAshan’s talent after the game, saying, “We have a lot of respect for McAshan and we knew he was capable of the game he played.”

Tech would go on to finish 6-6 with another bowl appearance, this time a Peach Bowl loss to Ole Miss in Atlanta. Bud Carson was dismissed after the season following fan disappointment and a regression from the 9-3 mark a year before. Bill Fulcher was hired as his replacement and steered the team for McAshan’s final season as a Jacket.

Hopes were high for the season, with a steady offense featuring McAshan predicted by Technique writers. During the season preview, one writer summed up his career so far by saying, “At the helm of this group is naturally quarterback Eddie McAshan. He has been somewhat of an enigma during his two years here. They have been good years, but he has always been stymied by interceptions, and inconsistencies…It will be a different Eddie McAshan this year. It is one more confidant [sic] and ready to realize that great future that has always been predicted for him.”

The 1972 season opened 2-1 for the Jackets, highlighted by an upset win over No. 18 Michigan State in East Lansing, MI. The headline in the Technique read “McAshan’s Accurate Aerials Riddle Spartan Secondary” following the win, which marked a sweep of the home-and-home with the Spartans.

McAshan’s play inspired awe in wins throughout his career, but his greatest feat to some came in salvaging a tie against Rice in game four of the 1972 season. In a barnburner that ended 36-36, McAshan helped guide Tech back even with the Owls after a blown lead. The postgame coverage summed up McAshan’s play with a flourish with a holy comparison, saying, “Although the Tech faithful might never admit it, Eddie McAshan is only human. He has yet to cure any lepers, he doesn’t walk on water, and he has never turned water into wine, or even into Gatorade. Yet, in his tenure at Tech, he has performed miracles.”

Tech would go 6-3-1 under McAshan in 1972. A disagreement stemming from McAshan being unable to get his family tickets to the rivalry game with Georgia led to him sitting out of practice before the rivalry game. Fulcher ultimately suspended McAshan for the rest of the season, effectively ending his
Tech career. 

McAshan declared for the 1973 NFL Draft, where he was selected by the New England Patriots in the 17th round. He left Tech as the all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns and still holds the single game record for passing touchdowns with five. 

McAshan was a trailblazer in many ways, transforming Tech football as a player and a person. While the statistics live on in the record books, his arrival on campus marked new milestones for Black athletes both at Tech and around the Southeast. His impact in the areas of racial and social justice earned him one of the three inaugural ACC UNITE Awards, where he was presented with a commemorative plaque at a ceremony during the ACC’s Winter Unity Week, recognized this year on Feb. 19-26.