They made a name for themselves as prized high school tailbacks in North Carolina but Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley first met in South Carolina on the day they faced off on the track in a 100-meter race of the World Youth Trials.
“I won,” Marshall said sheepishly Friday. Gurley got his own first place that day in the 110-hurdles.
Now they will try to help Georgia win this season by gaining yards and holding up in pass protection.
“Nowadays at most schools, you don’t want to carry the load by yourself,” Gurley said. “You want to have two or three other running backs so you can share with.”
Marshall and Gurley are getting first-team reps just like sophomore Ken Malcome and senior Richard Samuel.
“I think all of us are ready to play,” Marshall said.
What they may not be ready for is American Idol.
Marshall and Gurley joined others this preseason in standing up in the running back meeting room to sing.
Marshall belted out “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly.
Gurley went with “Just A Friend” by Mario.
“I don’t think either one of us can sing to be honest with you,” Marshall said.
Gurley begs to differ.
“I won that competition right there,” Gurley said.
It’s the tailback competition that is a focal point at Georgia this month.
Coach Mark Richt said Friday he won’t be hesitant to turn to the freshmen.
“I just think whoever’s the most productive, we’ve got to get them in the game,” Richt said. “If it’s one of those two guys, we’ll get them in there. …I’m not afraid to play them.”
Georgia coaches told Gurley — the No. 42 ranked player nationally by Rivals.com — to be ready to play when they recruited him out of Tarboro, N.C. Marshall, a top-15 overall prospect by Scout.com and ESPN.com out of Millbrook High in Raleigh, committed before Gurley, but they wanted to go to the same school.
“I think I fit in perfect,” Gurley said. “I think this is the best place for me. Now I feel why I picked Georgia.”
After Isaiah Crowell, Georgia’s leading rusher last season, was dismissed in late June following an arrest on felony weapons charges, any chance to redshirt was gone.
“We’re definitely going to play them, it’s just a matter of how much,” Richt said.
Marshall, an early enrollee, practiced alongside Crowell this spring before a pulled hamstring sent him to the sidelines.
“I know that put more weight on me and the other guys’ shoulders, but I wasn’t happy to see him leave or anything,” he said. “He was my teammate. Obviously we’ve got a chance to step up now.”
As might be expected for freshmen tailbacks, being able to hold up against pass rushers is a work in progress,
“It’s how bad you want to do it and I definitely want to do it,” Marshall said.
Richt is confident Gurley and Marshall can run the ball.
“Keith, everybody knows he’s a speedster, but he’ll stick his nose in there and he’ll get it,” freshman offensive tackle John Theus said. “Todd, normally most people know him as a bruiser, but he can also turn it up and he’ll go too. They both have a little bit of a difference in them, but they’re both great backs with great potential.”
The 6-foot-1, 218-pound Gurley rushed for 58 yards on six carries in Georgia’s first preseason scrimmage on Wednesday, including a touchdown run of about 30 yards.
The 5-foot-11, 216-pound Marshall managed only 11 yards on seven carries
“I might not have had many yards, but I lowered my shoulder and felt like I got the tough yards,” he said. “I had a lot of good blocks.”
Marshall is practicing with a brace on his left knee for what he said is tendonitis.
“My knee is really not bothering me, it’s just to make sure that we keep it under control,” he said.
There are small victories along the way now before Marshall and Gurley debut for the Bulldogs.
On Friday, it was recognizing blitz pickup in practice to give the quarterback enough time to hit a pass.
“They know enough to function,” Richt said. “To get reps in a ballgame, there’s no doubt they know enough to do that. Would I be totally comfortable in certain situations, certain plays? Probably not with either one of them yet, but they’re getting there.”