MONTGOMERY, Ala. ‚Äî Former Georgia tailback Isaiah Crowell‚Äôs dream of playing in the NFL is still very much alive.
The 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year said he has put his off-field troubles behind him and is now comfortable at Alabama State.
However, his allegiance to the team where he briefly starred hasn‚Äôt changed since his dismissal from the Bulldogs in June 2012 following an arrest on felony weapons charges. Crowell said he‚Äôs still friends with ex-teammates, including his backfield successors Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, and has high hopes for the fifth-ranked Bulldogs ‚Äî and for his own Football Championship Subdivision Hornets.
‚ÄúI watch them all the time,‚Äù Crowell recently said after a practice. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs still my team. I grew up watching them. That‚Äôs why I wanted to go there. I know those guys. They came while I was still there. They‚Äôre my close friends and I wish them the best, and I think they‚Äôre doing very good. I hope they win the national championship this year.‚Äù
It just won‚Äôt be his top priority.
Since the charges were dismissed in April, a trimmer Crowell has his sights set on leading the Hornets to a Southwestern Athletic Conference title and forging an NFL career.
Once the nation‚Äôs top running back prospect, Crowell was arrested at a vehicle checkpoint on the Georgia campus last June. He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and possession of a weapon on school property. Prosecutors dismissed the charges on April 24, saying they couldn‚Äôt prove a link to Crowell and the 9-millimeter Luger pistol with an altered serial number found under the driver‚Äôs seat.
That cleared Crowell‚Äôs record and his path to the NFL.
‚ÄúWhen I knew they were dismissed, I was happy,‚Äù said Crowell, who declined to discuss details of what happened that night or who the gun belonged to. ‚ÄúReally happy, because the NFL would know that it got dismissed. I knew all that was over and done with. That was the main thing.‚Äù
Crowell, who had earlier failed a drug test at Georgia, insists he‚Äôs not wasting time anymore on regrets. Atlanta attorney Steve Sadow, who represented him, said the running back has grown up since his dismissal.
‚ÄúI think he matured a great deal during the process, and I believe he handled it appropriately,‚Äù Sadow said. ‚ÄúHe didn‚Äôt express any anger. He didn‚Äôt express disappointment that his football career at Georgia got nipped in the bud over something he did not do wrong. At the same time, he saw it as an opportunity to go on and do better things at other places.‚Äù
Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow, a former NFL receiver, said Crowell hasn‚Äôt done anything worse than show up to a team meeting late during his stay at the historically black school located near the state capitol. He said Crowell finished the summer with a 2.7 grade point average.
Barlow believes Crowell is the SWAC‚Äôs best player and that the NFL is a realistic goal.
Crowell earned All-SWAC honors last season after rushing for 842 yards and 15 touchdowns.
‚ÄúI played in the NFL for eight years. I played with some really good backs,‚Äù Barlow said. ‚ÄúFred Taylor and Charlie Garner and some really good guys. Mike Pittman. He puts me in the mind-set of a Fred Taylor. He has that type of speed and explosiveness. He catches the ball well in the passing game and he understands protection. And when you have those three components, that‚Äôs exactly what the NFL is. You fit the pyramid. I think he‚Äôs an NFL running back.‚Äù
Barlow said scouts from six NFL teams have already shown up at preseason camp.
Crowell said he thinks about the NFL ‚Äúall the time‚Äù but hasn‚Äôt decided if he‚Äôll declare for the draft after his junior season.
‚ÄúI think I‚Äôm going to get a good shot,‚Äù Crowell said. ‚ÄúA good thing is I don‚Äôt get the pounding as much. I think I‚Äôm still the same running back that played for Georgia, except I got way better than I was my freshman year.‚Äù
The 5-foot-11 Crowell said he‚Äôs shed 15 pounds during the offseason and is back at his Georgia playing weight of 190 pounds.
The transition wasn‚Äôt easy after leaving a team where relationships with coaches and players started with his recruitment. Now, Barlow sees him more often chatting and joking around with teammates.
‚ÄúLast season I wasn‚Äôt very comfortable,‚Äù Crowell said. ‚ÄúNow, I‚Äôm way more comfortable than I was. I think I was dwelling on the past. ‚Äú
He is eager to prove he can still run against an SEC defense when the Hornets visit Kentucky on Nov. 2. That gives him one more chance to experience something he definitely misses on fall Saturdays: The bigger crowds and atmosphere of playing in the SEC.
‚ÄúThe games, that‚Äôs different,‚Äù Crowell said. ‚ÄúEverything else, nah, I don‚Äôt [miss]. But the football games, of course. Anybody would.‚Äù