Jan. 5, 2012
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As a high school senior at Tallahassee Lincoln, Billy Close had grand plans, which included parlaying his significant talents on the football field into a collegiate career and maybe more.
“I was heavily recruited as a defensive back,” said Close, who regularly attended Florida State football games in high school, and had the opportunity to visit with coach Bobby Bowden and Seminole-turned-movie star Bert Reynolds.
While Close was quite an accomplished track athlete as well, excelling in the vertical jumps and sprints, there was no reason to suggest his football dreams wouldn’t come true – until one night late in his senior season of 1982 with the Trojans.
“It was the seventh game of my senior season and we were playing Madison County,” Close said. “I had three interceptions and two touchdowns in the first half, but on the third interception I was tackled and broke my collarbone. That really changed the course.”
Nearly 30 years later, Dr. Billy Close, an esteemed professor in the College of Criminology & Criminal Justice at Florida State University, will be inducted into the State of Florida Track & Field Hall of Fame. Close will be honored Friday at the Florida Athletic Coaches Association clinic luncheon in Daytona Beach for a remarkable track & field career, which included high school state titles in the long and triple jumps, followed by four outstanding seasons with the Seminoles including the final two as the team captain.
“It has been quite a journey,” said Close, who will be inducted with his former FSU jumps coach and close friend, Dennis Nobles. “I love the university, but I never intended to stay as long as I have. The support and mentorship that I’ve had has been amazing. I have run into people along the way that have really given me meaning to my life.”
A year ago, Close attended the same luncheon where his former FSU roommate Thomas Johnson was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was accompanied by another Seminole teammate and close friend Ocky Clark, who had been enshrined two years earlier. Close remembers Clark telling him that he deserved a place in the Hall as well, which he summarily dismissed.
In reality, it’s not hard to make a case for Close’s inclusion. As a senior at Lincoln, with his injured collarbone healed, Close won every major meet in the state, including the Florida Relays, the Raines Trojan Invitational (now, the Bob Hayes Invitational), the Capital City Kiwanis Invitational and the prestigious Golden South Track & Field Classic. Along the way he posted the top triple jump mark in the nation, earning All-American honors.
Close held on to his football dream until the very end, initially signing a letter of intent to play for Tennessee-Chattanooga, where he also intended to run track. But when the Mocs dropped their track & field program, enabling him to move in a different direction, he signed with Florida State, earning a full scholarship on the basis of his academic excellence as well as his track & field prowess.
In four seasons with the Seminoles he excelled on the runway and in the classroom, winning the 1987 Metro Conference title on his home track after establishing a new school record indoors in the long jump; a mark that stood until 2001. He ranked among the top 10 nationally in the long jump and earned a spot in the NCAA Championship field. Close still ranks fifth all-time on FSU’s list of long jumpers.
“Billy was an outstanding high school long jumper-triple jumper and all-around athlete,” said former FSU head coach Terry Long. “He’s subsequently been named to the Golden South Track Classic Hall of Fame. He was a phenomenal high school athlete.”
Close, however, had special qualities that transcended the sand pits where he landed. He was a four-time member of the All-Metro Conference Academic List and the 1988 Metro Conference Medallion Scholar Athlete of the Year Award.
“He was always a guy who had a lot of character; a team leader,” Long said. “As much as anything else, his participation in collegiate athletics was instrumental in molding his ability to do what he does today and what he’s done throughout his life – be a positive role model.”
In Close’s mind, those two things went hand in hand.
“Transitioning those same skills that enabled me to do well in track & field has allowed me to do well academically and professionally,” said Close, who earned both his master’s and doctorate degrees from Florida State and in 2005 founded the non-profit, Beyond The Athlete.
“Probably the most valuable contribution I received as a student-athlete was the ability to recognize the value and importance of moving beyond the athlete, which is the name of the foundation which I have created. It’s very simple because success in life requires the same skills that are required to perform at the highest levels of athletic competition – dedication, perseverance, focus, competitive spirit. That’s the mission and purpose of the foundation.”
While generously giving of his time when it comes to mentoring others, Close holds dear the opportunities he’s had as the result of being an athlete and a professor. Forging relationships with track & field teammates with Seminole greats Arthur Blake, Deion Sanders, Sammie Smith and Clark, and instructing others like Charlie Ward and Bob Sura, have a special place of importance in Close’s life.
And just as he did as an FSU undergraduate, Close is once again serving on the board of the FSU Athletics Committee.
“That’s an area he and Dennis (Nobles) share,” said Long. “They’re both people persons and are very willing to give of their time.”
The significance of being inducted into the Hall of Fame along with Nobles, who was in his first seasons coaching the jumps when Close was a junior and senior, is not lost.
“That makes it all the more special,” Close said. “He was a phenomenal coach and a great mentor and continues to be a very close friend. Being inducted with him has a really unique and special value.”