From Herschel Walker to current Georgia workhorse Nick Chubb, Georgia has a history of gifted running backs. And in the past four years, the stream of freshmen talent has been constant.
In 2011, Isaiah Crowell was the best freshman in the Southeastern Conference. In 2012, the tailback tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall — or “Gurshall” as the power couple became known — shined in the Georgia offense, combining for 2,144 yards. In 2014, Chubb, with the help of classmate Sony Michel, has powered Georgia to be the No. 2 rushing offense in the SEC while dealing with the absence of Gurley due to suspension and now injury.
And when it comes to recruiting, Georgia’s staff zeroes in on and attracts players with competitive mentalities, according to Bryan McClendon, running backs coach and recruiting coordinator.
“A lot of guys like the idea of competing, but when it comes down to it, the true competitors kind of rise to the occasion,” McClendon said. “It was very similar when Isaiah was still here, he was the SEC Freshman of the Year, and then Todd and Keith both came in as freshmen, and both of those guys were excited about the opportunity to just be able to compete.”
It would seem fair that a loaded depth chart could intimidate a high school senior looking to play as soon as possible at the next level. But Georgia is looking to find players to fill out the depth chart as complimentary talents instead of one-man-show rushers.
“I think the playing time question was more common when you used to see the one premier back, where he got a bunch of carries per game. Now it’s about getting guys quality carries versus quantity, keeping guys fresh, rotating backs, keeping them in situations where they can be successful and be 100 percent,” said Ben Brandenburg, recruiting operations coordinator.
McClendon said he has no doubt that young running backs deciding on the next three to four years of their athletic careers have playing time on their minds. That is the ultimate goal of the recruiting process. But with the physical nature of the position, McClendon echoed Brandenburg in the necessity of keeping players healthy, something Georgia has struggled with in recent years.
“That guy gets hit every single play, whether it be running the football, and he gets hit more than one time, whether it be blocking or pass protection. Their body isn’t really made for it,” McClendon said. “I haven’t seen a football season yet where somebody hasn’t gotten banged up in one way, shape or form.”
Between those injuries, player dismissals and one very notable suspension, the depth at the running back position has been almost as important as any name listed.
“We’ve been an example why it’s important to have more than one, or even two, or even three guys at that position that can come in and win football games for you and play good and be productive,” McClendon said.
Like most of their SEC opponents, Georgia runs a multi-back offense — the style of offense McClendon believes football has developed to accommodate both the health of the players and the overall approach to the game.
“I think the young men nowadays understand there’s value in having depth. There’s value in not having to carry the load,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “But if you’re in a system that’s going to highlight these guys’ skills, they get excited about playing."
While playing time, positional competition and skill advancement all play their roll in getting guys to don a Georgia hat come Feb. 4, 2015, McClendon knows that a guy can find those things at a number of schools. What he considers to be the key to landing a recruit won’t show up in a statistic.
“The biggest thing when it comes to recruiting is it’s about the relationships,” McClendon said. “They’ve got to trust you and feel like you are telling them the truth and you’ll be fair no matter what.”
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