By Trey Williams
Whether he was taking a toss from a quarterback or an opposing pitcher, Gary “Shorty” Adams was a home run threat at Science Hill.
A formidable mixture of speed and strength, the 5-foot-9, 189-pound Adams rewrote the Hilltoppers football record books and led a 31-7 baseball team with 19 home runs.
He was recruited by the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Nebraska in football. North Carolina, Texas and Florida courted him for baseball. And Clemson and Arizona State were among those interested in letting him play both, which was all the rage in that era thanks to the likes of Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, Frank Thomas and Cleveland Gary, who Adams played with in the minors after opting to sign with the Montreal Expos instead of going to college.
Adams played three years in the Montreal organization. He hit 17 home runs in 532 career at-bats, including one in the Pioneer League off rookie Pedro Martinez in 1990.
Adams was born to hit and run. His uncle Paul rushed for 1,984 career yards at Virginia Tech and his uncle Doc played baseball at ETSU. Adams vaguely remembers watching each as a young child, an experience that helped heighten expectations.
Shorty didn’t leave the Adams family legacy in a lurch. His oldest son, Addison, played football and baseball at Science Hill and played baseball for a national champion at Tennessee Wesleyan. His youngest son, Jaylan, played quarterback at Science Hill and is the starting quarterback for The Citadel. He ran for a score and passed for a TD in a loss at ETSU this season.
“I was fortunate,” Adams said. “I had some God-given ability with strength. I could dunk a basketball when I was in the eighth grade. A lot of my ability came from playing sandlot and having good genetics.”
Pickup games in the 1600 block of East Fairview Avenue at Miss Geno McKinney’s were a baptism by fire for Adams, who fondly recalls playing against older guys such as Robert McKinney, Jeff McKinney, Dion Scott, John Birchette and Deon Bachman.
“You played with older kids and got better,” Adams said. “I’ve had a tooth stuck in my forehead and everything else playing down there.”
Adams played football at Science Hill for Bob May, who played and coached at Science Hill and Dobyns-Bennett for parts of five decades. May’s Hilltoppers went 17-4 during Adams’ final two seasons (1987-88) and won a share of the Big 10 title in ’88.
Adams scored 51 career TDs and he tied a school record set by Sammy “Dee Dee” Stuart (1966, ’67 seasons) when he scored in 16 straight games.
“Gary was one of the best, if not the best, I ever saw at Science Hill,” May said.
Adams became Science Hill’s all-time leading rusher (3,800 yards) and its first 2,000-yard rusher in a season (2,004) as a senior. The highlight reel of a season included a conference record 342 yards rushing on 26 carries against Volunteer, a 99-yard kick return against Sullivan Central and a Herculean 41-carry, 221-yard performance in a 21-13 defeat of Dobyns-Bennett.
“It was a tough game,” Adams said. “I didn’t really realize I’d had 41 carries that night. I usually probably carried around 20-25 times a game, and I guess it just kept working and they kept giving it to me.”
Adams broke in as a sophomore playing in the wishbone when Science Hill’s talented backfield included Anthony Whiteside, Robbie Stuart and Trent Robinson. An injury to Whiteside, who Adams described as a D-I back, helped jump-start Adams’ career.
“We ran the wishbone my sophomore year because we had so many athletic running backs,” Adams said. “Andrel Anderson started out being the quarterback and then Bubba Harber ended up taking over and Andrel went to slot receiver and wide receiver. … It was unreal, Andrel’s athletic ability. He could do it all.”
Many would tell you that’s a fitting description for the record-setting Adams. Going over 2,000 yards was bittersweet. It occurred during his final high school game, a 21-14 playoff loss to Cherokee.
“Cherokee was big as mountains and ran it down our throat,” May said. “And we had a holding call about 15 yards behind Gary Adams when he was scoring on a sweep.”
Adams said it was actually consecutive penalties that negated scores.
“We had two touchdowns called back back-to-back,” Adams said. “We had one touchdown called back at 65 yards. We got a 15-yard penalty and the very next play I broke it again, pretty much the exact same play. … It really cost us in that game. …
“I feel like we had a lot better team, a lot deeper. They ran the wishbone against us, kept the ball away from us.”
Dobyns-Bennett’s Mike Faulkerson Dulaney, who went on to North Carolina and the NFL, arguably impressed Adams the most under Friday night lights. Tennessee High’s Rocky Clay, Gary Dandridge and Darryl Daggs were up there, too.
Adams was a left-handed power hitter, seemingly from the get-go. He busted out the doors at Keystone Presbyterian Church while hitting a home run at the old Little League Field (where Memorial Park Community Center is now) when he was 12.
Adams said Science Hill’s baseball team had as good a lineup as any in the state his senior season. Teammates included Harber, Tracy Buckland, Jeff Hostetler, Brian Pardue, Chris Berg, Brian Dunkelberger, Hanes Torbett, Warren Huddleston, Scotty Stoots and Chip Rhea.
“We had so many college players on that team,” Adams said. “I hit 19 home runs that year. I think Pardue hit 15 home runs that year. Harber hit like eight. Buckland hit like seven. I mean we had guys that could hit.”
Pardue will tell you Adams was the cream of the crop.
“Shorty was gifted in whatever he wanted to do,” Pardue said. “He had tons of strength and power, and he had great speed.”
Adams said his school career concluded when the ‘Toppers lost to a Sullivan Central finesse pitcher after faring well against power pitchers such as Central’s Dallas Rinehart and Morristown West’s Richie Conway, who each went on to play at ETSU.
“We had hit like two or three home runs off Richie Conway the night before and the next night we face a guy that doesn’t throw nowhere near as hard, and everything we hit we just beat in the ground or hit it hard right at somebody,” Adams said. “It was probably my most disappointing game (in high school).”
Of course, disappointments were the exception when Adams ruled the roost at Science Hill. Hilltoppers teammate Bart Lyon, a color commentator for Science Hill on ESPN Tri-Cities, played with Adams beginning in youth leagues at Stratton Elementary School.
“We used to chant on the back of the bus,” Lyon said, “’Shorty to the left, Shorty to the right. Give him the ball, we gonna win tonight.’”