Tuesday January 23rd, 2018 12:57AM

Gurley hopes to help restore UGA's 'Tailback U' traditions

By The Associated Press
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ATHENS -- Todd Gurley knows the storied history of Georgia's running backs.

Herschel Walker. Terrell Davis. Knowshon Moreno. Garrison Hearst. Robert Edwards. Rodney Hampton. The illustrious history goes on...

He also knows the much different path taken by some of his more recent predecessors.

Isaiah Crowell. Washaun Ealey. Caleb King.

All arrived on campus with plenty of hype. None of them lived up to it between the hedges, their careers sidetracked by everything from off-the-field troubles to pompous attitudes.

Gurley is determined not to go down that path.

"You just want to stay on top of things and try not to make the wrong decisions," he said. "It's so easy to get in trouble and so hard to get out of trouble."

So far, he's off to a good start.

Gurley had quite the debut for the Bulldogs (1-0) last Saturday, rushing for 100 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries. That's not all. He also returned a kickoff 100 yards for another score, leading No. 7 Georgia to a 45-23 win over Buffalo.

It seems just a matter of time before Gurley takes over as the starter - perhaps as soon as Saturday night's first Southeastern Conference game at Missouri - but Gurley shot down that sort of talk.

He wants to fit in with his teammates and quietly earn everything he gets. He quickly deferred to the guy who started the opener, third-year sophomore Ken Malcome.

"Ken is the starter," Gurley said, more decisive about the depth chart than even the coaching staff. "He started the last game. He's still going to be the starter this game."

No matter who takes the first snap, Gurley will surely get plenty of playing time against the Tigers (1-0). Coach Mark Richt is impressed with the freshman's physical tools, but seems more excited about the intangibles.

His humble demeanor. His willingness to listen and learn.

"Everything I've seen so far has been outstanding," Richt said. "He got a couple of As in classes he took this summer. He showed up to everything we asked him to show up to, on time. He's got a good attitude. He doesn't seem to have a sense of entitlement."

Those were telling words from a coach who clearly went a bit overboard after the Bulldogs landed Crowell, the state's top prospect a year ago. He was essentially anointed the starter on signing day, so maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that he showed up in Athens like he owned the place. He turned up hours late for a scheduled interview session. He treated schoolwork like an imposition. He failed a drug test, loafed at practice and irritated his teammates.

Even though Crowell showed plenty of promise on the field, leading the Bulldogs in rushing and winning the SEC's freshman of the year award, it wasn't much of a surprise when he was arrested on a felony weapons charge after the season. He was quickly booted off the team by Richt, who is determined not to make the same mistake with Gurley or another freshman back, Keith Marshall.

"When you have success early it can change a guy," Richt said. "It can make you feel comfortable too soon. We have not sat down and talked to (Gurley) about it, but we do have to keep an eye on him."

In recent years, none of Georgia's most-hyped runners has been able to complete his college career with the Bulldogs.

Crowell is now playing at lower-division Alabama State. Ealey, the leading rusher in 2009 and `10, took a similar path after he was arrested for a hit-and-run accident on the Georgia campus and failed to follow through on disciplinary measures. He wound up transferring to FCS school Jacksonville State, where he was arrested on misdemeanor drug charges just this week.

King, who was one of the state's top prep prospects, turned out to be nothing more than a backup at Georgia. He, too, was arrested after he failed to appear in court for a speeding ticket and wound up being declared academically ineligible for his final season with the Bulldogs. He tried to make it in the NFL, but was has been cut a couple of times.

Those at the examples Gurley wants to avoid.

"He knows the situation that occurred here," said Georgia's star linebacker, Jarvis Jones. "You've got to know what you want. You've got to sacrifice some things, not get in trouble and make the right decisions to get where you want to be. I think him and Keith and the rest of those guys have got their heads on straight and know where they want to go. They've been striving for it since day one."

Gurley and Marshall are both highly rated backs from North Carolina who were intrigued by the possibilities at Georgia, a team that bounced back from an 0-2 start last season to win the SEC East.

Marshall graduated early from high school so he could enroll at Georgia. Gurley decided to play for the Bulldogs, as well, even though he knew he'd have to compete for playing time with another top freshman. They're roommates and have remained good friends, even though there's plenty of competition once they step out on the field.

"There's a lot of things you can dream and hope, but they're still very young in their careers," said Mike Bobo, the Bulldogs' offensive coordinator. "They have a chance to be great players for us, knock on wood, as long as they stay healthy and keep getting better over time."

Gurley is taking nothing for granted.

Heck, there were a couple of immediate things to work on from his first game. For one, he had to leave for a while because he got lightheaded on a sweltering day. Might want to work on that conditioning a little more. Also, he let go of the ball a little soon on one of his scores. The officials didn't catch it, but his coaches and teammates noticed.

Gurley can take the critique.

"There's a lot of things I need to work on," he said.

That sort of attitude will go a long way in Athens.


-- No. 7 Georgia (1-0, 0-0 SEC) at Missouri (1-0, 0-0), 7:45 p.m. (ESPN2)

-- Line: Georgia by 2.5.

-- Series Record: Georgia leads 1-0, won 14-0 in 1960 Orange Bowl.

-- WHAT'S AT STAKE: Missouri totaled 48 wins its last five seasons in the Big 12 yet there's a perception it must prove itself worthy all over again in the SEC. This is the first step, and an overflow crowd is expected to witness a game coach Gary Pinkel said ``will go down in history.'' Georgia seeks to build momentum after dropping one notch in poll following an unimpressive 45-23 opening victory over Buffalo, picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the MAC. Getting back some or all of the players who missed the opener because of disciplinary suspensions or injury would help.

-- KEY MATCHUP: Missouri QB James Franklin vs. Georgia defense. Franklin is dangerous with his legs as much as his arm after rushing for 15 TDs last year. He'll put pressure on a defense that will be without CB Sanders Commings and LB Chase Vasser, expected to serve out two-game suspensions for offseason arrests. No word yet whether two others suspended for the opener, S Bacarri Rambo and ILB Alec Ogletree, will be back this week.

-- PLAYERS TO WATCH: Georgia: Freshman TB Todd Gurley was SEC co-freshman player of week after rushing for 100 yards in eight attempts and two TDs and returning kickoff 100 yards for TD. QB Aaron Murray is the active SEC career leader in total offense, completions, TD passes and yards passing.

Missouri: Marcus Murphy was SEC special teams player of week after setting school record with punt returns for TD of 70 and 72 yards in opener. Murphy is backup TB behind Kendial Lawrence, who had career bests with 76-yard TD and 121 yards rushing overall. LB Zaviar Gooden had 20-yard INT for TD in opener and has an interception in last three games.

-- FACTS & FIGURES: NFL Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton was Georgia QB in only meeting between schools. ... Georgia has lost its last two SEC openers, both times against ranked South Carolina teams. The last time Georgia faced a school other than South Carolina in the SEC opener was in 1991. ... Georgia had seven NFL draft picks last season, tying Oklahoma for second most in nation. ... Missouri plays its first four games at home, where it's 2-1 the last two seasons vs. ranked opponents including a win over No. 3 Texas in 2010. ... Missouri has won five in a row. ... Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is 9-2 against SEC members, including 5-1 against fellow ex-Big 12 member Texas A&M. ... Tigers scored five TDs on offense, two on defense and two on special teams in opener.
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